Kate Millett, whose 1970 book, “Sexual Politics,” made her, as one writer put it, “the principal theoretician of the women’s liberation movement,” and who went on to be a leading voice on human rights, mental health issues and more, died on Wednesday in Paris. She was 82.
Her spouse, Sophie Keir, said the cause was cardiac arrest. Living in New York City, they had been going to Paris every year to celebrate their birthdays, she said.
Ms. Millett was in her mid-30s and a generally unknown sculptor when her doctoral dissertation at Columbia University, “Sexual Politics,” was published by Doubleday and Co. Her core premise was that the relationship between the sexes is political, with the definition of politics including, as she once said, “arrangements whereby one group of persons is controlled by another.”
“However muted its appearance may be,” Ms. Millett wrote, “sexual dominion obtains nevertheless as perhaps the most pervasive ideology of our culture and provides its most fundamental concept of power.”
The book became a central work of what is often called second-wave feminism, but being a star of the movement did not come naturally to Ms. Millett.
“Kate achieved great fame and celebrity, but she was never comfortable as a public figure,” Eleanor Pam, another leading feminist, said by email. “She was preternaturally shy. Still, she inspired generations of girls and women who read her words, heard her words and understood her words.”
Katherine Murray Millett was born on Sept. 14, 1934, in St. Paul. As a 1970 profile in The New York Times put it, “after a series of clashes in the local parochial schools over her rapidly dwindling belief in Roman Catholic doctrine,” Ms. Millett enrolled in the University of Minnesota, graduating in 1956, then went to Oxford.
After teaching briefly at the University of North Carolina, she pursued her art career in Japan and then New York, where she took a job at Barnard College teaching English literature. In 1965 she married the Japanese sculptor Fumio Yoshimura, but she rejected many traditional ideas of marriage and eventually came out as a lesbian. (The couple divorced in the 1980s.)
Her autobiographical work “Flying,” published in 1974, told of the dizzying fame “Sexual Politics” had brought and her reaction to it. “Sita,” in 1977, dealt with her sexuality.