Looking at her, you wonder all the liberated women have become. Once she seemed to have embodied them, or at least a portion of them, that portion of them, anyway, who were molded by her book, "Sexual Politics."
Now Kate Millett has written another book, "Sita." It is autobiographical - she says that - and recounts the end of a love affair between Millett and another woman, a woman who (she won't look at it that way, but the reader has to) bossts her about, undermines her ego, and manifests, in short, a lot of the unenviable dominating characteristics women - women like Kate Millett for instance - have always deplored in men. There is, for example, this Passage:
"She goes to rule, administer, put in order. I stay only to fight confusion and lose. It is easier, being her . . . Beyond that, she lives in the real world, with adult cares, mature responsibilites; things I partly despise and partly revere. There, she is at home, capable, majestic . . ."
And so you look at Kate Millett, with her slight, soft voice and her short, soft build, Kate Millett who brought us all the way to liberation, or so we thought, and you say - Is this liberated? And Kate Millett shrugs, visibly annoyed.
"I'm describing a power relationship between two people, one of whom loves the other. And if that reminds you of behaviour you deplore . . ." She shrugs again. "It's not liberated? Well, surprise, surprise! I'm an artist. I'm not trying to follow some bloody correct political line."
Pausing, she shakes back a cascade of gray-streaked down hair that falls below her shoulders, a gesture of defiance belied by that small, ladylike voice. "What I was doing with that book was making music. I'm a writer and it's a beautifully written book. And no one notices. They're all outraged. We're not supposed to be vulnerable. We're supposed to suffer in silence." Abruptly she laughs. "We're supposed to be strong all the time - BE STRONG ALL THE TIME OR I'LL PUNCH YOU."
Kate Millett has written a book that seems to explore her every weakness with the same persistence, the same inexplicable repetition of our tongues exploring infected teeth. She is being ciriticized for that (just as shewas once criticized for an earlier book of condor, "Flying"); for that, and the fact that her new book is in fact not exquisitely written. But then Millett is no stranger to either candor - or its consequences. When the woman's movement got to its feet, Time reported she was bisexual.
"Yes," she says, grinning sardonically, "that's when the major media lost its interest entirely. You see, apparently I had confessed and admitted. Well Time magazine waits until the Movement is on its nerves, and then says, 'Guess what? One of your major leaders is a queero.' And suddenly I could no longer read or write or think logically.
"But look - when I became a feminist, a lot of people thought I was dreadful too."
When she became a feminist . . . When Kate Millett came out with "Sexual politics" in 1970, she became, in effect, the Engels of the woman's movement. Friedan had preceded her and Steinem was the media star. But Millett was the theoretician and ideologue who put it all into a more radical perspective.And she was treated accordingly. "I used to see it as a catastrophe," she remembers. "Into my nice studio came all this chaos." Letters came in, soliciting her advice, her help, he solace.
"I was inundated," she says now. "It used to cause me terrible suffering. Because I thought I should carry a whole lot more than I could.
She smiles gently. "And then I discovered I was just another woman, yes. Like all the rest of us. Well, you see I had earned first-class honors at Oxford and all the rest of it. But of course I was also getting this miserable slavey-slavey little wage.
"And then," she sums up in hushed tones, "then we made all this shout and pow-wow."
Here's what happened to Kate Millett since she got famous. In 1973 she was, as she puts it, "slammed in the bin." By which she means the 10 days she spent in the Mayo wing of the University of Minnesota.
"But I won my sanity trial in '73," she continues cheerfully. "It had to do with my silly family. I was very overworked, yes, well, I was trying to save a man's life, [vanity], trying to stop an execution (of civil rights leader Michael Malik) in Trinidad. So I was very overworked and kind of freaky. I'm not sure you can call it a breakdown. And I seem to have irritated my family . . . and my mother signed the commitment papers."
In 1973, also, she and her husband, Japanese Sculptor Fumio Yoshimura, separated.
"It was sort of a time-thing," she says, and there is a wistful note in her voice. "There came a time when it really didn't work that much any more. Fumio wanted it to be as it had been before. But I wanted to love women as well, and he couldn't accept that."
"It's pretty understandable, really," she sums up. "It happened . . . oh it happened . . . when we lost the studio."
Like her estranged husband, with whom she is still friendly, Millet is a sculptor. Ask what she has become and how she evolved, and she will happily tick off a list of all the shows she's having. "I'm sort of what I'm doing. I'm the book I'm writting, the sculpture I'm doing," she explains.
Then she smiles almost bashfully. "I guess all these things appear to you to be a series of catastrophes. I don't know. I'm a freedom fighter. I'm not in any of the places where you are stuck. I hate being stuck."
And yet she knows, Kate Millett knows, that what she's doing is not what people necessarily want of her. She's very much aware of that.
"Well I've always disappointed the expectations of people. They wanted me to be an author; I wanted to be writer. And there is a difference you know. But I've always been an artist. And they want the party line. Well I find that very tedious."
She looks up, staring off into space with a slight. "Everyone's ashamed of their lives and loves, and bemused and you're not supposed to talk about it. I short of blink when people say, 'How does it feel to bare your life and expose your soul.' I think, 'Do you lead such sanitary little lives. And really - do you think I don't know about them already?"
The smile grows broader, widens into a grin. "Every night," says the smile, "I pray to Colette and Proust."
But Colette, she is reminded, had a husband who kept her constantly in her room, writing.
"Yes," says Kate Millett, "But she always thanked him for making her a writer."
She bursts into a laugh of pure delight."And she also made sure to keep all the copyrights."