Sexual Politics  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

"Sexual Politics offers a comprehensive critique of patriarchy in Western society and literature. In particular, Millett attacked what she sees as the sexism and heterosexism of the modern novelists D. H. Lawrence, Henry Miller, and Norman Mailer, contrasting their perspectives with the dissenting viewpoint of the homosexual author Jean Genet." --Sholem Stein

Related e



Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Sexual Politics is a 1969 book by Kate Millett on sexual politics, based on her PhD dissertation.


Millett argues that "sex has a frequently neglected political aspect" and goes on to discuss the role that patriarchy plays in sexual relations, looking especially at the works of D. H. Lawrence, Henry Miller, and Norman Mailer. Millett argues that these authors view and discuss sex in a patriarchal and sexist way. In contrast, she applauds the more nuanced gender politics of homosexual writer Jean Genet. Other writers discussed at length include Sigmund Freud, George Meredith, John Ruskin, and John Stuart Mill.


Sexual Politics was largely influenced by Simone De Beauvoir's 1949 book The Second Sex, although De Beauvoir's text is known for being more intellectually-focused and less emotionally invigorating than Millett's text.


Sexual Politics has been seen as a classic feminist text, said to be "the first book of academic feminist literary criticism", and "one of the first feminist books of this decade to raise nationwide male ire", Sexual Politics was an important theoretical touchstone for the second wave feminism of the 1970s. It was also extremely controversial. Norman Mailer, whose work, especially his novel An American Dream (1965), had been criticised by Millett, wrote the article “The Prisoner of Sex” in Harper's Magazine in response, attacking Millett's claims and defending Miller and Lawrence, and later extensively attacked her writings in his non-fiction book of the same name.

Psychoanalyst Juliet Mitchell argues that Millett, like many other feminists, misreads Freud and misunderstands the implications of psychoanalytic theory for feminism. Author Christina Hoff Sommers writes in Who Stole Feminism? (1994) that, by teaching women that politics is "essentially sexual" and that "even the so-called democracies" are "male hegemonies," Sexual Politics helped to move feminism in a different direction, toward an ideology that Sommers calls "gender feminism." Author Richard Webster writes in Why Freud Was Wrong (1995) that Millett's "analysis of the reactionary character of psychoanalysis" was inspired by Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex (1949). Literary critic Camille Paglia called Sexual Politics an "atrocious book", which "reduced complex artworks to their political content". She accused it of spawning what she sees as the excesses of women's studies departments, especially for attacks on the alleged pervasive sexism of the male authors of the Western canon.

Historian Arthur Marwick described Sexual Politics as, alongside Shulamith Firestone's The Dialectic of Sex (1970), one of the two key texts of radical feminism. Doubleday's trade division, although it declined to reprint it when it went out of print briefly, said Sexual Politics was one of the ten most important books that it had published in its hundred years of existence and included it in its anniversary anthology.

The New York Times published a review of the book in 1970 that predicted it would become "the Bible of Women's Liberation." The article, titled "De Beauvoir Lessening--Now, Kate Millett" was written by Marcia Seligson and praised the book as "a piece of passionate thinking on a life-and-death aspect of our everyday lives."

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Sexual Politics" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools