Sexual Politics

by Kate Millett

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Sexual Politics by Kate Millett is a work of nonfiction. It discusses historical figures who contributed to the evolution of patriarchy and hegemonic misogyny and focuses on how cultural elements both reflect and create patriarchal ideology. Millett discusses several important thinkers and writers as central examples of her arguments.

Sigmund Freud

The Austrian psychologist and neurologist Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) is well-known as the "father" of psychoanalysis. Freud himself would consider his work descriptive; in other words, Freud and his followers would argue that Freud's work simply reports observations of how the human psyche works and contains universal truths about the nature of people's minds.

Millett argues that Freud's work is actually normative—that is, it advances a specific cultural agenda about the nature of gender and functions to enforce patriarchy. Freud, for Millett, normalizes the idea of women as passive and nurturing by nature and considers strength, independence, and ambition in women as a departure from their normal mental heath that needs to be "cured" (in order to realign women with a patriarchal society). Millett argues that, if certain mental health issues are caused in women due to tensions between their desires and patriarchy, what needs to change is not women but society.

Norman Mailer

Norman Kingsley Mailer (1923–2007) was an American writer who produced both imaginative and journalistic works. He is among the founders of a movement known as "New Journalism," which was characterized by mixing personal, autobiographical, and even novelistic elements with traditional reported journalism.

Although Miller portrayed himself as a radical who was strongly opposed to the Vietnam War and sexually "liberated," Millett argues that the anti-feminist and homophobic elements in his writing are distorted versions of the world that were produced by Mailer's own anxiety about his masculinity. Mailer reacted vehemently to Millett's critique of his work in a virulently anti-feminist article that was later developed into a book titled The Prisoner of Sex.

D. H. Lawrence

D. H. Lawrence (1885–1930) was an English novelist and poet. Among his contemporaries, he was harshly condemned for sexually explicit content, and his work was generally panned as pornography; his novels, however, were eventually celebrated for showing a liberated and frank vision of sexuality. Millett, in contrast, argues that the vision of sexuality in his work is based on gender stereotypes, with women serving as passive receptacles for male fantasies and sexual desires. While others placed Lawrence at the forefront of a sexual revolution, Millett defined him as a reinscriber of patriarchy.

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