Sexual Politics, Kate Millett’s closely reasoned analysis of the patriarchal bias that underlies literary productions, was one of the earliest works to apply feminist literary theory to specific works of literature. Millett demonstrates how male-dominated culture has produced writers and literary works that are degrading to women and hurtful of efforts to reform and alleviate the conditions of women’s lives. Sexual Politics is recognized as a classic work of the feminist movement and is arguably the most brilliant and cogent statement on the tyranny of sexual stereotypes to appear in twentieth century North America.
Chapter 1 deals with what sexual politics is. Millet makes the attempt to define, describe, and provide examples of the “ancient and universal scheme for the domination of one birth group by another—the scheme that prevails in the area of sex.” It is Millett’s view that sex underlies all political questions and that it is necessary to bring this principle to the public attention before any positive steps can be taken to remedy it. Chapter 2 provides a cultural and historical background of the feminist movement, pointing out the direction that feminist agitators needed to follow.
Separate chapters on D. H. Lawrence, Henry Miller, Norman Mailer, and Jean Genet demonstrate the relevance of the general concepts of sexual politics to the field of literary criticism. In the development of Millett’s analysis, Lawrence is ridiculed for his sentimental presentation of macho virility, Miller is exposed as a misogynist of the first order, Mailer is seen as anxiety-ridden and fearful of losing power to women and homosexuals, and Genet is shown to parody heterosexual love relationships in his depiction of homosexuals. The common thread in all these male writers is their concern to perpetuate (consciously or unconsciously) male domination over the female. It is important to observe that Millett believes that all these writers are important and gifted writers—despite what she believes to be the deleterious effects of their literary productions.