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Kate Millet's book Sexual Politics was published in 1969 and is seen as one of the early landmarks of feminist literary criticism. Although several of the central concepts of the book have since become a standard part of the discussion of gender in literature, this work was highly original in its own period.
The first important distinction Millett makes is between sex and gender. For Millett, sex is biological and has to do with such physical realities as DNA and ability to bear or engender children. Gender, on the other hand, is a social construct, with each culture determining what characteristics to associate with each gender, i.e. what is "masculine" or "feminine." What Millett attempts to do is show the problematic nature of mapping gender, concepts of "masculine" or "feminine" onto biological sexes.
Politics is, for Millett, part of the patriarchal system which essentializes gender, and turns sex from a simple biological fact to a system in which people are treated unequally and assigned differential types of rights and privileges, i.e. assigned different status categories.
In subsequent chapters of the book, Millett shows how various literary works by 20th century male writers reproduced patriarchal constructions of gender, assigned stereotypically weak and powerless roles to women, and commodified women as sexual objects rather than as agents. Her analysis problematized the political or power relations that made such works part of a literary canon that was, at the time, heavily dominated by white males and their political ideologies.
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