After being named one of the most active and passionate of the pioneer feminists, Kate Millett now lives a far more relaxed life along the Hudson River in Poughkeepsie, New York. But she still has the cause in her, for all women to be equal and make a difference in our world.
A natural artist, she became increasingly politically active in the antiwar and civil rights movements during the 1960s. Within the next decade, Kate would go on to publish her revolutionary book, Sexual Politics and be placed on the cover of Time Magazine. To date Kate’s accomplishments include diverse published works and films, yet her influence on feminist advancements is not over yet.
Olsen: When in your life did you feel the calling to become a feminist literary and social critic?
Millett: I think I was about 5 years old and I asked my mother, I said, ‘This isn’t fair the president of the country, George Washington was a man, the Pope is a man. Everybody’s a man.’ ‘Well life isn’t fair if you’re a woman.’ And I said, ‘Well that doesn’t sound very good to me ,’ and she said ‘You’ll learn.’ My mother was a feminist too you know, she voted in the very first election in which a woman could vote.
Olsen: Your book Sexual Politics critiques the sexism and heterosexism of the modern novelists and contrasts their perspectives with the dissenting viewpoint of the homosexual authors. Why do you think this piece made such an impact?
Millett: I guess it was timing, if they had published it a year before it would’ve fallen flat on its face. My publisher supported it. See, when a book is published and a publisher supports it then you got some mock on your side.
I’ve written a lot of books besides Sexual Politics. Politics of Cruelty, well that’s about history of torture and it starts with the Romans and Greeks and it ends up with America, Russia and Latin America. Because when Regan stopped torturing the Russians, he started torturing the Latin Americans. President Regan was kind of foolish.
Olsen: You have a large female voice in the arts and literature; do you see blatant sexism in the arts?
Millett: Oh, of course. I mean, why do we have the Guerilla Girls? There’s a lot of sexism in the arts, especially in the United States.
Olsen: March is Women’s History month, who would you say are some great feminist role models right now?
Millett: Susan B Anthony, you know these early historical people. And the Act Up Girls and the Guerilla Girls. There are a lot of feminists around. There’s a new bunch called the daughters of feminism or something like that.
Olsen: In 1979, you traveled to Iran to work for women’s rights. What were your main goals and projects there?
Millett: Well we hoped to bring about a revolution.
Olsen: What made the biggest impact on your life from visiting Iran?
Millett: Well a lot of things. Museums were closed for one thing, so we didn’t have the chance to see very much art, which is a real pity. Somebody I talked to the other day said that somebody had gone back to Iran and I asked why. The place is closed down, you can’t get any news out of it. She said it’s my destiny. What those women have put up with for 24 years you can imagine.
Olsen: Currently you run the Women’s Art Colony Farm in Poughkeepsie, New York. Why did you want to create these communities of female artists and writers?
Millett: Well why not? Women come that have never even held a hammer and it’s about time they learned something about reality.
Olsen: How are things at the Women’s Art Colony?
Millett: We’re expecting a big crop of woman this year. They come to the farm and do art projects. We have a big barn a real big barn and a big pond; it’s a beautiful place. And we have dark rooms, lots of stuff.
Olsen: How long did it take to create the Women’s Art Colony?
Millett: Oh it’s taken me my whole life to make the farm. I’ve owned it for forty years but that doesn’t make you a puritan, I’m from Minnesota. My real river isn’t the Hudson it’s the Great Mississippi.
Olsen: What are some of your fondest memories from your life’s work?
Millett: Well, beginning with my parents I couldn’t run the farm without my dead father. And I couldn’t begin to run the farm without my dead mother. I’ve submitted every manuscript practically till she died to her for her input. You know your mother knows the truth about you, nobody better. She said, ‘Just write what you know.’
Olsen: What advice would you give to young women in our society?
Millett: Keep going because you’re going to end up equal pretty soon. But then just keep going. You know Brazil has a new women president; Iceland has women all over the place. We’re the only backwards country in the world, America. We are the most backwards country of all we cant even have universal health care system without giving Obama such hell about it. But he keeps going. Republicans are gobbling everything up you know what they do. And if you write books oh my, my my my. The world is sort of past books; I guess they’re in the movies now.
Olsen: Have your ideas on feminism changed over time?
No, not at all.
(Photo: Happy/L.A. Hyder)