Patriarchy: A Militarist Hierarchy
“However muted its present appearance may be, sexual domination obtains nevertheless as perhaps the most pervasive ideology of our culture and provides its most fundamental concept of power.” – Kate Millett (September 14, 1934 – September 6, 2017).
She used to maintain a distance with her father during her childhood, as the drunk father used to beat her up on a regular basis. One day, the father left his wife and their three daughters, giving some respite to all of them. The mother did not have any option, but to join an insurance agency to run the family… Later, Kate Millett thanked her mother for helping her become a successful person, as her life became a milestone in Global Feminist Movement!
Kate was born on September 14, 1934 at Saint Paul in Minnesota. She attended Oxford University and became the first American lady to earn a degree with first-class honours after studying at St Hilda’s College, Oxford. During the turbulent 1960s, she emerged as a feminist writer, educator, artist, and Women’s Rights activist. To study creative painting and sculpture, she arrived in Asia in early 1960s. However, she left for the US again only after tying nuptial knot with noted Japanese Sculptor Fumio Yoshimura (in 1965).
Kate stunned the global community in early 1970s, as 80,000 copies were sold immediately after Columbia University published her PhD dissertation – titled ‘Sexual Politics‘ – as a book. With this, she became the pioneer of Second-Wave Feminism…
She not only portrayed the real picture of Patriarchal Institutions in her writings, but also highlighted the sexual repression of women in the patriarchal society. She strongly criticised modern novelists D H Lawrence, Henry Miller and Norman Mailer – popularly known as the so-called advocates of ‘Women’s Liberation’. Having underlined the hatred against women in their writings, she questioned the origins of patriarchy, too, arguing that sex-based oppression was both political and cultural. According to this American feminist writer, educator, artist and activist, undoing the traditional family is the key to true sexual revolution!
In her publications, Kate defined politics as power-structured relationships by which one group (the male elite in this case) governs others. Patriarchy is, thus, delineated as the institutional foe! Labelling it as the “most pervasive ideology of our culture”, she argued that it provides us “fundamental concept of power”. Women are helpless, in other words, because men control the basic mechanisms of Society. Her solution is drastic: demolish the patriarchal system. Until this is done, women, and men as well, will “remain imprisoned in the vast grey stockades of sexual reaction. There is no way out, but to rebel and be broken, stigmatised and cured”.
Gradually, Sexual Politics became the Bible of feminist movement, and Kate secured her place among the front-line intellectuals in the US. She became a popular face in the US media and a sensation in Campus Politics. She also occupied the cover of the Time Magazine, with a caption: ‘Mao Tse-Tung of Women’s Liberation’. In late 1970s, she published her autobiographical novel ‘Flying’, and then ‘Sita’. In these books, she narrated the broken stories of her life: sex, marriage, body, homosexuality…
It may be termed unfortunate, as the contemporary feminists, seemingly, could not accept her fame, as they were jealous of the success of Sexual Politics. The lesbian community within the Women’s Movement was curious about the accountability of Kate’s lesbian sexuality. Even after her overwhelming success, Kate maintained a distance from contemporary feminists, like Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan. Once, she said: “I’m not a Politician.” However, the circle of Feminist Politics remains incomplete without her.
From Psychology to Politics, from Art to Sexuality… one can find everything in her writings. Perhaps, Kate narrated her own story through Sylvia Likens, the 16-year-old girl in her novel ‘The Basement’ who was brutally abused and raped. The novel could be considered as an ideal feminist post-mortem of a rape, where the author placed all the signs of rape in her own body. She did not get stuck in the same medium. Kate expressed herself not only through words, but also through documentaries, canvases, clay, bronze, wood and stone. She used to wear sunglasses inside classroom, as well to take the side of the students in campus politics (being a teacher). In her 1982 novel ‘Going to Iran’, Kate dissected the basic character of Khomeini’s fundamentalist state of Iran.
Kate Millett (L), reading from her new novel, ‘The Basement’, at a women’s group meeting in December 1977. Image Credit: Marilynn K Yee (The New York Times)
Time and again, Kate tried to break the concept of caged women! As far as her personal life is concerned, she developed and broke relationships with many men and women. Kate broke herself into numerous pieces in an attempt to find the true meaning of life. Before leaving this world on September 6, 2017 at the age of 82, she said: “Patriarchy is not only male domination of females, but also a militaristic hierarchy among males. Many of its concessions in the modern period: a universal franchise and representative democracy, rules of war or international law constitutional and civil rights, individual rights, and human rights, have been cancelled during this century in the breath-taking creation of concentration camps and gulags, the introduction of torture on a wide scale, massacres and genocide and the use of rape or starvation as policy.” If this sort of patriarchy exists, then we have to wait for Kate Millett’s rebirth!
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