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April Theory Book Club: Kate's Millett's Sexual Politics.

(48 Posts)
StewieGriffinsMom Wed 30-Mar-11 21:50:53

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Prolesworth Wed 30-Mar-11 23:22:45

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madwomanintheattic Thu 31-Mar-11 01:05:21

i haven't read this for aaaaaaaages. smile not buying a new one just to get a new intro though - anyone want to precis anything interesting in the new edition?

StewieGriffinsMom Thu 31-Mar-11 08:01:24

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TeiTetua Thu 31-Mar-11 18:19:07

Well that one's easy. Got it on my bookshelf (old version, for sure). It, uh, is pretty substantial though.

Prolesworth Thu 31-Mar-11 20:03:17

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StewieGriffinsMom Tue 26-Apr-11 09:01:53

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TeiTetua Tue 26-Apr-11 14:09:15

Sad to say, the size of the book (large) and the size of the print (small) convinced me to leave this one to more dedicated people.

StewieGriffinsMom Tue 26-Apr-11 14:16:13

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StewieGriffinsMom Tue 26-Apr-11 22:43:59

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SybilBeddows Wed 27-Apr-11 13:23:45

I've just got to the bit about the Nazis.
Brilliant book.

StewieGriffinsMom Wed 27-Apr-11 20:22:09

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SybilBeddows Wed 27-Apr-11 21:03:25

Hello! Is anyone there?

I've only got as far as The Counterrevolution (p164 to be precise). It is a very impressive book.

StewieGriffinsMom Wed 27-Apr-11 21:03:56

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StewieGriffinsMom Wed 27-Apr-11 21:04:08

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SybilBeddows Wed 27-Apr-11 21:08:28

I haven't got to Freud yet but the Freud chapter in The Feminine Mystique left me firstly, enraged, and secondly, very much wishing I'd read it before, because of that feeling that everything I'd always suspected about Freud was turning out to be true and I wish I'd known that earlier.

this is my feeling about several of the writers Millett talks about too. I did D.H.Lawrence for A Level some 20 years ago and I always had a sense of unease that I couldn't put into words, and Millett does put it into words, magnificently. And Henry Miller - I remember buying some thinking it was going to be really radical and amazing and being utterly freaked and disgusted by the misogyny and kind of not understanding why I was supposed to like it.

answer - I was supposed to like it because the people who made the rules about what you were supposed to like were on the side of misogyny.

I really wish I'd read Millett 20 years ago....

SybilBeddows Wed 27-Apr-11 21:11:41

the historical chapter, about the women's rights movement in the 19th century, was fascinating, because it was a north American narrative instead of the Anglocentric one I was used to that basically goes 'Mary Wollstonecraft, Suffragettes'. The idea that suffrage was really only one issue and in a way it was harmful the way it was focused on to the exclusion of all other issues, makes sense; in a way where we are today, with the sort of 'what are you complaining about, you've had the vote for decades' attitude, is a result of that.

StewieGriffinsMom Wed 27-Apr-11 21:12:17

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StewieGriffinsMom Wed 27-Apr-11 21:15:49

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SybilBeddows Wed 27-Apr-11 21:18:03

I wonder why it has come to be taught so differently.

You mentioned earlier that you're wanting to go off and read Genet now - me too.

StewieGriffinsMom Wed 27-Apr-11 21:22:17

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SybilBeddows Wed 27-Apr-11 21:26:40

you know when she's making the argument that sex is political, and explaining what she means by political in that context - this all seems very obvious to us; was it a new argument in 1970?

StewieGriffinsMom Wed 27-Apr-11 21:33:44

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DontdoitKatie Wed 27-Apr-11 21:36:30

It was absolutely a new argument in 1970.

I found this by Andrea Dworkin recently, hope it's OK to add it to the thread:

"The world was sleeping and Kate Millett woke it up. Betty Friedan had written about the problem that had no name. Kate Millett named it, illustrated it, exposed it, analysed it. In 1970 Kate Millett published the book Sexual Politics. The words were new. What was "sexual politics"? The concept was new. Millett meant to "prove that sex is a status category with political implications". She pointed to male dominance in sex, including intercourse. In challenging the status quo, she maintained: "However muted its present appearance may be, sexual domination obtains nevertheless as perhaps the most pervasive ideology of our culture and provides its most fundamental concept of power."

Thirty-three years later, it is hard to remember or envision the convulsive shock of this new idea. Male-over-female had been seen as a physical inevitability not unlike gravity. Nothing that had to do with sex was open to questions of power, dominance or hierarchy. Social sex roles originated in and were determined by biology or a supernatural divinity. The male was the figure of action, even heroism. He alone was made in God's image. He ruled in religion, marriage and politics as conventionally understood. His sovereign place as head of the family was unchallenged. Millett called this arrangement "patriarchy", which she described as "male shall dominate female, elder male shall dominate younger".

Millett described the "consent" of the female to this male-over-female paradigm as a process of socialisation in which women were constrained to be passive, ignorant, valued if at all for bearing children, a function shared with animals; men were distinguished by the distinctly human characteristics. Women were socialised to accept both the superiority of men and their own inferiority, which was then justified by assertions of male biological superiority: men were physically stronger. Patriarchy itself was seen as inevitably derived from the superior physical strength of the male. Millett went on to hypothesise a civilisation that was pre-patriarchy; if this civilisation existed, she reasoned, then male strength could not be the signature reason for patriarchy.

Millett also attacked gender as such. There were too many varieties of biological phenomena associated with being male or female to reify any simple-minded biological determinism. She saw the constituent parts of gender as socially determined, ideologically reinforced by master-sex dominance.

Millett also described the economics of sexual politics: females worked for no money or less money. She described the ways in which women have always worked but without adequate recompense, which helped keep women under the sway of men. She also described the use of force against women, including the phenomena of compulsory pregnancy and rape. She analysed the role of the state in maintaining the inferiority of women and also the role of legal systems in various societies.

Remarkably, she noted how "references to wife-beating, for example, invariably produce laughter and some embarrassment". Jokes about wife-beating abounded while it was society's position that no such brutality really existed. Millett claimed that hostility towards women was expressed through laughter and "[m]isogynist literature", which she called "the primary vehicle of masculine hostility", being both a "hortatory and comic genre. Of all the artistic forms in patriarchy it is the most frankly propagandistic. Its aim is to reinforce both sexual fac-tions in their status."

Millett's methodology was new. While using anthropology, sociology, economics and history to back her argument, she found the meaning of sexual politics and sexual power in literature. She eschewed prior schools of literary criticism and declared her own criticism a "mutation": "I have operated on the premise that there is room for a criticism which takes into account the larger cultural context in which literature is conceived and produced."

Millett used contemporary literature to demonstrate her notion of "sexual politics". While other critics danced on the graves of dead writers, Millett dug some new graves herself. She especially concentrated on the works of D H Lawrence (dead but widely read as if he were a contemporary), Henry Miller (then living), Norman Mailer (living) and Jean Genet (then living). While she discussed ancient, medieval and Renaissance literature in the west and eastern literature in general as bulwarks of misogynist hierarchy, she opened her book with three sex scenes, one each from Henry Miller's Sexus, Norman Mailer's An American Dream and Jean Genet's The Thief's Journal. She explicated the power dynamics in each sex scene - Genet being contrapuntal because he approached "sexual hierarchy from the oblique angle of homosexual dominance". She used Genet because he dealt with sexual oppression.

When Millett wrote Sexual Politics, Miller, Mailer and Lawrence were the sages of sexual liberation. These writers were primary influences on the generation that came of age in the 1960s. It is hard now to understand the grip these writers had on the imagination. For the left and the burgeoning counter-culture, these were the writers of subversion. In fact, they helped to socialise a generation into believing that force and violence were valued elements of sex. Millett's analysis destroyed their authority.

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. Everything that feminists have done is foreshadowed, predicted or encouraged by Sexual Politics."

Also Sheila Jeffreys speaking on Kate Millet and Sexual Politics:

SybilBeddows Wed 27-Apr-11 21:37:12

that's true; even something as simple as reading Henry Miller vile rape scenes and then about the Victorian angel in the house mythology one after the other makes you think about how they are related.

the Ruskin analysis made me snigger.
the way she contrasts it with Mill and kind of uses Mill to argue back to Ruskin is very clever.

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