Site content © Kate Millett 2012



had they been erased?


Women's Studies were a natural marketplace for Kate, but gradually all her books went out of print, including SEXUAL POLITICS. She framed the problem succinctly and unemotionally. It wasn't only that the books were out of print. She was out of fashion.


Kate needed money. I raided my Rolodex and organized several dozen friends to come with me to the Bowery and buy her pictures. I instructed them to bring at least one hundred dollars each but to stay away if they were not serious. I was stern. Everyone had to buy something! I pushed them around as if they belonged to me and their money already belonged to Kate.


They arrived in caravans of cars and vans. The women who came were wonderful. They followed my instructions, which were actually obnoxious when I later thought about it. Everyone mingled and bought, bought and mingled. Kate was ecstatic. I was relieved. Kate seemed as moved by my support as she was happy about the money. I believe she was also turned on by the boldness of the idea and the audacity of my behavior. I knew that Kate--despite her doctorate, eleven published books and global celebrity--really enjoyed having customers. In some ways she was an old fashioned shopkeeper, opening "lemonade stands" as she called it, in order to make a couple of bucks here and there. She's still doing it.

For years, she has suffered the stigma and shame of being labeled and defined by others as manic-depressive. She thinks and cares about mental illness and is a passionate participant in the anti-psychiatric movement. She's not too crazy about the pharmaceutical industry either, as suppliers of drugs that medicate patients and who are, therefore, in her view, complicit in their situation or captivity. Viscerally opposed to "anything that threatens liberty of person," she is repelled by involuntary confinements of any kind and has found a home for her views at the United Nations where she spoke out in 2006 against "psychiatric torture."


Almost twenty years earlier, in 1990, Kate wrote a breathtaking and painfully personal book, THE LOONEY BIN TRIP, which describes her experiences of being diagnosed as bipolar by mental health professionals and being held against her will in psychiatric facilities. A masterpiece, it displays Kate's graceful, brave and evocative writing at its most mature.


In spring 1991, I reviewed it in On the Issues, describing the book as a "psychological thriller of unflinching examination of an evolving life and psyche...the story of an extraordinary woman in ugly circumstances, struggling against her many personal demons."


State psychiatry is Kate's enemy; being institutionalized is her greatest fear. Too many misguided friends and relatives, she told me, have put her away over the course of her adult lifetime, situations where she has been at the mercy of substituted judgment. She needed my promise never to do that to her. I sighed, not with indecision but with sadness, and gave my word. It was a heavy conversation.


After years of trying--and failing--to achieve an academic career, we sat at dinner one night and talked about Kate's failure to land a steady and substantive job. Decades earlier she had been fired as an instructor at Barnard because of her sexuality and perhaps--to a lesser extent--her behavior during the student takeover of the Columbia University campus. This was a lost post she would forever mourn--an early and fatal turning point in her professional life, she believed. At dinner, Kate told me that she was confused by her inability to find sustainable work at a university, "a real faculty appointment." Wasn't she qualified, credentialed enough? It hurt to think of herself as unemployable and left her with a sense of defeat. Worse, she confessed to being envious of a mutual friend who had arisen to dizzying heights in that world, a woman she had sometimes come to view as a rival. Kate looked down at her meal in misery, and I knew she was thinking about our friend, the person who had succeeded where she had not. It was clear that I needed to do something to lighten her mood so I comforted her with a flat truth. "Yes," I said. "But you will be in the history books and she won't." She rewarded me with a reluctant smile, but it was enough. The words had worked.


We have been "hanging out" for 54 years, having marvelous conversations and being amused by each other. Over the years, she has supported my prison work as an advocate for women who I believe to be unjustly incarcerated, lending her voice and presence on behalf of female inmates whenever I asked for her help, as well as the tattered but still intact prestige of her name. Her own work--whether political, literary or through graphic arts--consistently reflects the enormous empathy and compassion she feels for incarcerated and institutionalized persons. I am proud of her for that. When she was being honored by the Veteran Feminists of America as an icon and historical figure--I had the privilege of helping to organize the event and speak about my old friend.

Kate Millett is still very much in the game. In May 2011, her prestigious alma mater, Oxford University, honored her. She returned from London happy after a meaningful and triumphant trip where she was acknowledged and feted for her many contributions and achievements. The circle of her academic life was complete.


In October 2010, we celebrated Kate's birthday at The Farm in Poughkeepsie, New York. As I looked at her, a 76 year-old icon who still enjoys making trouble, it was impossible not to smile and do a little time-tripping.


I was reminded of the young Kate and her short career as a kindergarten teacher, a job inspired by the example of my own steady paycheck and one I strongly encouraged her to take. She cheerfully became a kindergarten teacher in Harlem and had a lovely time with the children, painting and listening to chamber music. Yet she was terminated from that job because her class was unruly and the noise (and the children) spilled out into the halls. But most of all, because of bitter complaints by the 3rd grade teachers that Kate had taught the tots to read! This was an outrageous and fatal offense because reading wasn't on the curriculum until 3rd grade!


That was Kate, then and now--a rebel, an anarchist, a free-spirited gangster who wouldn't behave, a woman who, at enormous cost to herself, led the rest of us--sometimes kicking and screaming, often at her--into the future.

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The State Department must have sprinkled its magic dust because she was thankfully released and expelled from the country. But I couldn't breathe properly until she was back again, safe on American soil.

Kate wrote eleven published books, scissoring her life into compartments in order to make art. She never understood the new cottage industry of Women's Studies that seemed to exclude or ignore her. I remember discussing this many decades ago over lunch with Kate and Robin Morgan, both of whom lamented that primary sources were in disuse, including their own books.  None of the titles listed on the recommended reading lists were recognizable to either of them.   Where in these courses were the feminist classics of the Second Wave?  When

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