Mating with Millett: Sexual Politics

The political side of patriarchy is explored within Kate Millett’s pivotal 1970 work Sexual Politics. Her dissertation turned critical book on second wave feminism is now a classic in feminist thought. Millett contended that sex is political. Her argument is that the sexual revolution will begin with the rejection of patriarchy and the traditional heteronormative family. Only by utilizing this radical action, can women indeed become equal to men. Taking Millet’s ideas on the political basis of sex, she applies her theories to famous patriarchal authors such as D. H. Lawrence, Henry Miller and Norman Mailer. She looks at the male gaze through the patriarchal pen by analyzing scenes of sexual objectification.

Additionally, the lens of Millet examines classic and canonical works of female literature, giving both genders equal analysis paying specific attention to romantic love. In her own words, “The concept of romantic love afford a means of emotional manipulation which the male if free to exploit, since love is the only circumstance in which the female is (ideologically) pardoned for sexual activity. And conviction of romantic love are convenient to both parties since this is often the only condition in which the female can overcome the far more powerful conditioning she has received towards sexual inhibition. Romantic love also obscures the realities of female status and the burden of economic dependence.” Similar to Firestone, Millett argues the economic basis that love has within our society.

Within a patriarchal system, complete bodily possession is within the father’s control, according to Millet, “patriarchy granted the father nearly total ownership over wives or wives and children, including powers of physical abuse and often even those of murder or sale.” Second wave feminists such as Dworkin, Firestone and Millett were fighting, not only for equal pay and equal rights, but also for abortion and protection against marital rape. As Millet states, in rape, “the emotions of aggression, hatred, contempt, and the desire to break or violate personality, take a form consummately appropriate to sexual politics.” Millett was one of the first feminists to analyze the political basis of rape, as not only a crime of sex and power, but a crime against the class of womanhood.

For Bronte scholars specifically, her analysis of Lucy Snowe in Villette, the unsung hero of Bronte’s works, is original. Derided by Victorian critics, Villette is Bronte’s true masterpiece chronicling the life and struggles of the lower class women within a world of sexual politics. Jane Eyre was written in Charlotte Bronte’s earlier romantic days. Romantic love could redeem. In Villette, this was not the case. Charlotte Bronte lost three siblings in a single year. Happy-ever-after did not occur in Villette; neither does it occur in real life. This novel is Bronte at her bitterest and most effective. Millett’s analysis balances the complicate nuances of the character of Lucy Snowe, sexual, yet with no sexuality. She is a repressed virginal “wage slave” with no formal training or education who is able to create herself as a feminist role model and business owner. Unsurprisingly, her romance does not bloom and she enjoys a single day of equality to her lover. Yet, he makes the initial investment in her school, proving Millet’s thesis that romantic love has a price.

Veronica Popp is an Organizer for the United Academics Campaign, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers. Popp serves on the Modern Language Association Committee for Contingent Labor in the Profession and believes the feminization of adjunct labor is a growing concern. Popp is currently writing a novel about cranberry walnut loaf, J.D. Salinger, and Christmas in August and considers Chicago to be a character in all of her works. Find her tweeting about precarity at @veronicapopp.