Shyaonti Talwar


"Another world is not only possible. She is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing."
- Arundhati Roy

Articles > Kate Millet and Sexual Politics

By Dr. Shyaonti Talwar

Kate Millet and Sexual Politics cover image

Kate Millet’s thesis ‘Sexual Politics’ was groundbreaking and radical in it that it challenged the so called sexual revolution brought about by certain writers of a leftist bent in the realm of literature. She refused to see sex as something natural and impulsive and sexual acts as a result of pure natural desire. She politicised sex and her thesis posited that there are certain ways in which sexuality and sexual acts are constructed which retain and sustain the domination by men over women and are highly misogynistic in nature. She critiqued writers like D H Lawrence and James Miller who, through their writings, created a perception of women regarding men with reverence and in awe of them for their manhood, the proud possessors of the phallus, symbolic of creative and procreative power. This perspective was seen as liberating sex and sexual discourse by publishers of the day since the writings of these men abounded in instances that were graphic and detailed in their description and presentation of sexually intimate acts and emotions related to sexual desire.

Both male and female protagonists of these novelists seemed to be articulate and vocal if not in their admission at least in their imagination of sexual desire within the narrative space of the novel. People however seemed to conveniently ignore that these predominantly male writers were articulating on behalf of their female protagonists. Millet, likewise was severely and unapologetically critical of Freud whose works she denounced as being highly prejudiced against women and based on sexist and patriarchal presumptions that treated women as objects of enquiry and experimentation rather than subjects speaking for themselves and apportioned certain mental and physical ailments to female bodies and minds.

These writers and theorists apparently also had a direct impact on the pornography industry which reflected similar ideologies and commoditised pleasure as a consumable through female bodies naturalising acts of extreme perversion inflicted on these bodies, projecting them as a pleasurable experience for women. Women’s experiences and voices were thus muted and the narrative around sexual experience through pornography which also in many ways centred around anal sex i.e. anal penetration of women was made to look like it was the ultimate orgasmic experience for women.

Women were dehumanised, objectified and animalised, frequently addressed as ‘bitch in heat’ or ‘whore’ in reviews of pornographic films. This whole trend in a way validates and legitimates the sadomasochistic narrative as revolutionising the whole sexual experience for men and women whereas in effect according to Millet, it is actually a false narrative like a lot of other narratives that are furthered only for the purpose of turning an experience into a desirable product that can have a market for the consumers which are primarily men in this case. It also promoted and justified sexual violence on women, building a perception that women actually enjoyed sexual violence and abuse. In fact, this also involved colonising the mind of the woman who was made to believe that her pleasure and more so the man’s pleasure lay in indulging and engaging in these kinds of non-normative acts. And thus this became the new norm and continues to be so.

Kate Millet and her works are not as celebrated or as popular as the works of some other feminist writers and quite obviously so, because they challenge some of the very foundational beliefs of our society which is largely patriarchal. She does not feature in the canon and her book also went out of print for quite some time. One of her referees in fact is believed to have commented that reading her thesis was like “having your testicles in a nut cracker” which exposes the sexist bias and the reluctance to empathise, in his statement.

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