Nation: The Liberation of Kate Millet

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"She was a very ordinary American liberal when I met her," Yoshimura says. But in the winter of 1964-65, Kate Millett attended a lecture series that was to make an extraordinary difference in her life. The lectures were titled "Are Women Emancipated?" Kate thought, "this is going to be one of those put-down sort of things, but maybe they'll take my point of view. All my life, guys said I was neurotic. I didn't accept my femininity, they said.

"At the next to the last lecture, I got all het up. Afterward, a girl came up to me and said, 'You look kinda interested in this; did you know there are civil rights for women?' And I thought like wow, this is for me."

Kate attended her first official Women's Liberation meeting soon afterward: "They said we need to have somebody to be chairman of education, and there was clearly nobody else to do it." The new education chairman for NOW "sat down and wrote this poop sheet" about women's colleges, Token Learning, a radical dissection of the quality of women's higher education.

For Kate, there was picketing, completing her Ph.D. course work, giving an impassioned speech at a faculty meeting during the Columbia University strike and the formation of new Women's Liberation groups. In November 1968, she made a speech at Cornell University. "I wrote a paper called 'Sexual Politics,' which was the germ of this whole book. It was a fiery little speech directed at girls, witty and tart and stuff like that—at least I thought it was. I used to listen to it rhapsodically on tape. It needed a job of editing, but at the time, I thought it was glorious."

Two days before Christmas, however, Kate was dropped from the faculty at Barnard. "Good old Christmas. I remember worrying about the presents. I was up against the wall." So she started to work on the thesis that was to become the book.

"I was trying to trace the reasons why the first phase of the sexual revolution started, and how it changed, through the currents of literature . . . showing how literature reflects certain sides of our life, the way diamonds reflect life—or the way a broken bottle does. From culture criticism it got bigger and bigger until I was almost making a political philosophy." Kate started the thesis in February of 1969, finished it in September, revised it until March 1970, when she defended it for her Ph.D. "I was really afraid to write this book so much. I used to go crazy with terror about it." But for 14, 16, 18 hours a day, she wrote it: "In eight months, 1 had 21 days off."

She works almost as hard now, since the release of the book, as she did writing it. A constant stream of interviewers works its way through her loft on the Bowery; telephone calls and personal appearances intrude on her casual dashiki-workpants-sandals lifestyle. The attention rubs off on her family, too; in St. Paul, her mother states her firm support of Kate's work, but wishes she would "dress herself up. Kate's missing the boat if she appears on the Mike Douglas Show without her hair washed."

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