Kate Millett was the first notable feminist after Simone de Beauvoir to address the construction of woman within male writing. According to Millett, the man-woman relationship is deeply embedded in power structures with political implications – thus she derived the term “sexual politics”.
Sexual Politics (1970), an important document of the second wave feminism, argues that patriarchy was a political institution which relied on subordinate roles of women, and that Western social institutions are covert ways of manipulating power. Like de Beauvoir, Millett believed that women were subjected to artificially constructed ideas of the feminine, and that all aspects of society and culture functioned according to a sexual politics that encouraged women to internalise their inferiority until it became psychologically rooted in them. Millett identified literature as a tool for political ideology because it recreated sexual inequalities and reinforced patriarchal values of society. To expose the depth of this insidious indoctrination, Millett examined the work of four 20th century male authors, including DH Lawrence (Lady Chotterly’s Lover, in which Millett exposes a sustained celebration of masculine sexuality and a misogynistic presumption of female passivity). Millett’s analyses rocked the foundations of literary canon by castigating classics — DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn, Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead for their use of sex to denigrate women. In contrast, she applauds the gender politics of homosexual writer Jean Genet. Millett is also noted for her distinction between the concepts of “sex”, which is rooted in biology, and “gender”, which is culturally acquired.