Millett was born in 14th September 1934 in St. Paul Minnesota. She was raised by her teacher mother who was also working as an insurance saleswoman to support her three daughters after Millett’s father, an engineer, left them when she was only 14 years old. Both of her parents were strict Catholics.
Millett started her academic career by receiving a degree from the University of Minnesota in English literature. Then she headed to the U.K. for St. Hilda’s College in Oxford where she became the first American woman to be awarded a degree with first-class honours.
But it was when Millett returned to America to pursue her doctorate in the University of Columbia that her life changed. Her most well-known book Sexual Politics was based on her doctorate in Columbia, and it was published shortly after she received her degree. At the time, she was working as a sculptor and was married to Japanese sculptor Fumio Yoshimura.
Even before Sexual Politics, Millet had written about ways in which women are trained for “service” and not achievement. But it was in Sexual Politics that Millett fully developed the concept that men have an institutionalised power over women that has been socially constructed. The book was published at a time when the women’s liberation was emerging. This theory and Millett became the foundation of what is known as the second wave feminism, because it allowed the movement and radical feminist ideas to reach a wider audience.
With the book, she has also explained to her readers how women are socialised into accepting patriarchal values and how they comply with male domination. She wrote; “Sex is deep at the heart of our troubles and unless we eliminate the most pernicious of our systems of oppression, unless we go to the very centre of the sexual politics and its sick delirium of power and violence, all our efforts at liberation will only land us again in the same primordial stews.”
After the book was published, Millett’s fame skyrocketed. New York Times wrote that the book has sold 10,000 copies fortnight, making her “something of a high priestess of the current feminist wave, a movement long on gimmickry but short on philosophy until Miss Millett appeared on the scene”. She was also featured on the cover of the Time magazine in August 1970. Andrea Dworkin later wrote: “I cannot think of anyone who accomplished what Kate Millett did, with this one book. It remains the alpha and omega of the women’s movement.”
However her Time magazine cover also received backlash from some feminist who accused Millett of trying to portray herself as the leader of the new wave of feminism. She had refused these accusations. But her position has been questioned again for the declaration of her bisexuality in the magazine. As Time claimed “[the] disclosure is bound to discredit her as a spokeswoman for her cause, cast further doubt on her theories, and reinforce the views of those sceptics who routinely dismiss all liberationists as lesbians”. At the time of the article, women’s movement was divided over the issue of lesbianism and many liberal feminist turned against Millett.
Nevertheless, Millett continued to write about women’s issues with a focus on her own experiences. In Flying (1974) she wrote about the fallout of a female literary celebrity based on her own experiences after the success of Sexual Politics. Later in The Loony-Bin Trip (1990) she shared her recollection of the time when she was hospitalized after being diagnosed with manic depression. Her final book Mother Millett (2001) was a memoir about her relationship with her mother during her mother’s illness that ultimately has taken her life.
In 7 September 2017, at the age of 82, Millett has passed away during a visit to Paris. The details of her death are not yet known.