Kate Millett, the prominent feminist writer whose 1970 doctoral thesis, Sexual Politics, launched her from a Columbia student to a second-wave revolutionary, died Wednesday at the age of 82.
Millett's book was considered a more queer-friendly alternative to Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique; a few years after Friedan's book was published, she labeled lesbians as the "lavender menace." In a movement spearheaded by Millett, queer feminists reclaimed the term "lavender menace," and Millett eventually came out as a lesbian herself. Her book questioned the origins of patriarchy, claiming they were political and cultural, and asserted that sexual revolution relied on breaking down the traditional heteronormative family.
Millett was born in Minnesota in 1934. Her father, an alcoholic, abandoned her family when she was 14, leaving her mother and two sisters in poverty. A wealthy aunt paid for her education, leading her to study comparative literature at Columbia University and to teach at Barnard College, Bryn Mawr College, and the University of California, Berkeley.
The writer, whose work many consider a milestone in the fight for legal abortion, gender equality in the workplace, and sexual freedom, sought not to be a spokesperson for the feminist movement. “Better to operate on an even keel like Friedan and Gloria [Steinem] and the others,” she later reflected. “All far better politicians. But I am not a politician. Not ‘Kate Millett of Women’s Lib’ either.”
Millett is featured in the 2014 film She's Beautiful When She's Angry as a feminist leader. After Sexual Politics, Millett wrote memoirs on sexuality and mental health, including Mother Millett and The Loony Bin Trip.