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Alum Kate Millett Dies

The author of Sexual Politics was "a defining architect of second-wave feminism"
September 18, 2017
English Chair Ellen Messer-Davidow
Professor Ellen Messer-Davidow

Kate Millett (BA 1956), the author of Sexual Politics, passed away September 6 in Paris. She was eulogized widely as a pioneer of second wave feminism. The U granted Millett an honorary doctorate in 2014, and then English Chair Ellen Messer-Davidow spoke at the ceremony. Professor Emerita Toni McNaron, PhD alumna Jigna Desai, and friend of English Arvonne Fraser wrote tributes to Millett at that time, for CLA's Reach magazine.

According to The New York Times, Millett's first book began life as her doctoral thesis: "Sexual Politics sold 10,000 copies in a fortnight [after its release]. Time magazine called Ms. Millett 'the Mao Tse-tung of Women’s Liberation' and featured her on the cover. . . . The Sexual Politics project, Ms. Millett told Time, 'got bigger and bigger until I was almost making a political philosophy.' From depictions of the sexes in literature, she examined how women were socialized to accept, even defend, their lower status in society, a process she called 'interior colonization.'"

Millet, wrote Professor McNaron, "influenced my own thinking directly because she used literature as her frame of reference." McNaron recalls Millett returning to campus to give the Joseph Warren Beach Lecture, in which she focused on Chaucer's relationships between women and men. "Millett’s writings urged me to confront the classics, because she understood firsthand how limiting and debilitating it can be to an aspiring female undergraduate to keep studying ideas and works from theoretical positions that ignored characters and experiences like her own."