Flying by Kate Millet. Part I: Japan

Kate Millett is the author of Sexual Politics, a book which Andrea Dworkin described as the “alpha and omega of the women’s movement.” Sheila Jeffreys wholeheartedly agrees, stating that “it was not just a book of theory; it was a book that created a movement.”

Reading it for the first time, I was struck by how much men’s books had starved me of roughage and substance, but here, finally, was a piece of work that sated my cravings for intellectual stimulation.

Now, I am not a person you would describe as an “intellectual” by anyone’s standards, but I knew immediately that Sexual Politics was the real deal. Kate Millet  was the first person to identify and name patriarchy as a political system of oppression, a theory now taken for granted by today’s radical feminists, and even society at large, but one that did not actually exist before the book’s publication. Patriarchy i.e male rule, and all of the horrors and atrocity that it entails, was assumed to be natural, or at least inevitable, even by those women in the past who were radical for their time, such as Beauvoir and Woolf.

But thanks to Millett we now understand its inner-workings, and the precise ways by which it is enforced; and we have learned that they are identical to any other political regime. Women are kept down by the use of tried and tested war-tactics such as: censorship, brainwashing via schools and the media, as well as dehumanization of the enemy (pornography).

A recent, and predictable development is the imposition of sanctions against women meeting together in private, which we saw with the recent opposition to the Radfem 2012 conference in London by trans activists and MRAs , who demanded that it should not be allowed to go ahead unless males were present. This mirrors the same paranoid restrictions found present in any autocratic regime.

Not to mention the fact that female dissenters– those who defy men–from lesbians to wives, face violent retribution for stepping out of line. The most important card up the sleeve of the patriarchy is violence. Which makes it no less than a political reign of terror,  whereby men terrorize women into submission by murdering as many of us as possible. Daily.

After writing the three-part series  on Sexual Politics for the Radical Hub, I wanted to know more about this woman, Kate Millet… What makes her tick? How did she decide to put pen to paper? I wanted to walk in her shoes and to see the world through her eyes. So I am currently reading Flying, her autobiography, and have decided to put my thoughts in order with a three-part post under the headings: Japan, Love and Writing and the Movement.

Note that she has a very interesting style of punctuation and sentence syntax, in keeping with all the best radical feminist writers. But unlike some of the others (Daly, Dworkin, Mackinnon), the content of her writing gives us the strong impression that she is fallible, human and ultimately imperfect. It does not make us like her more. She is merely a visionary who endeavours to cope with her gift.

Part 1: Japan.

Kate Millett lived in Japan! So do I!

I like to align myself with the Greats when I can. I reckon I’ve got loads in common with Andrea Dworkin! Moving on….

As you read Flying, you see that Japan is a recurring theme. I do not know exactly how long she was here, but it does not matter because it’s clear that the country made a tremendous impression on her. And I can see why.

When you live in a society as patriarchal as this, you cannot help but see it for the farce that it is. Extreme gendered behaviour is strictly enforced, though only for women, not for men (male transvestites and transsexuals abound whereas–outside of men’s paranoid pornography– lesbianism is invisible), and male sexuality is so.. how can I put it… rampantly and unabashedly perverse, that you can actually see the cogs that turn the system at work. It’s farcical. It’s like living in a parody of what a patriarchy should be. The ultimate patriarchy… And then the whole pack of cards comes tumbling down… because you understand that none of it– none of it– is natural.

But there is no doubt about the fact that Kate Millett was in love with Japan.

She made friends.

I made a whole circle of friends, Yo-chan the glamorous and Kon the struggling architect. Fumio and these two women. Fumio’s in America again waiting for me. The circle will fall apart. They will not stay together when I leave–though they love our parties at Toshiko’s or the wild nights in Ginza, Shinjuku, Shibuya, Roppongi, dancing eating long dinners in bars. Mori-San laughed in the car going to Yokohama to put me on the boat. I am the tiresome foreigner, the gaijin, always -in-a-hurry, American. “You are freer than we are,” she says. Mori-San a virgin at forty, face of a child, still supporting her mother, father, uncle and the brother who went blind during the Occupation when there was no medicine. But one brother is a high court judge, has independence and a family. After the neighbourhood bar Mori-San has to climb in a window of the house she owns and supports lest uncle find out how late it is. The maid is her accomplice. Mori-San a sculptor doing commercial art on the side to support this menage where everybody’s her boss.

She killed.

One time I killed. Tutoring a spoiled boy from Waseda, got myself invited to his rich daddy’s hunting party in the mountains. I’d do the nature walk bit; they could hunt. Feudal pyramid of persons: big daddy, his minions–gun bearers, drivers, business underlings–the complete outfit to laugh at his jokes. I was the double outlander, a foreigner and a woman, Big Daddy treating me with an elaborate respect inexplicably insulting, outrageously waiving his right of precedence to be first in the bath every evening. After they’d thrown me shots for three days, the pressure was on. The Gaijin doesn’t fire. She was just dumb and arrogant enough to need to prove she could. All day building up tension to shoot. And in the late afternoon managing an overhead shot that astonished and elated me. The mark hit: the bird stopped in air. For a second overjoyed, thoroughly proud. Until it fell at my feet, flapping and bloody, its life for my ego.

She was a wife

At Inokuma’s house I am introduced as Mrs.Yoshimura, the old painter being good to me, making an honest woman out of me as I sit next to Isamu Noguchi, trying to get him to talk to me about sculpture. He will not. I am a wife. How do I tell him that I’m not, that my name is Kate Millett and that I had a show  in Tokyo Minami Gallery, he even knows my work. The man across from us is writing a book about Japan. He lived there eighteen months, doesn’t speak the language at all. I would like to say in Japanese to Isamu that this guy is a fool posing as an authority though he didn’t even bother to learn the language in all that time. But I am supposed to be polite. Inokuma and Noguchi are sacred persons, men who can help Fumio, his elders. We reverence them. No one speaks to me except Noguchi, bantering about women, outlining the submissiveness he finds attractive. I am expected to listen; should I obey the instructions or are they given only to underline the futility of my aspiration? Noguchi is so strong, so sensual. Looking across at his shaven head on my right, a man of such magnificent vitality at fifty. If I were not so angry I would like him. Inokuma’s wife is called Fumiko, a name like Fumio’s. I like her because her name reminds me of his. They are a love match too, they ran away together. She has breast cancer, we are all afraid she will die. I think this during dessert, keeping my temper with the old painter at my left, patting my hand, lisping, calling me Okusan–wife.

In the end, the country inevitably followed her home. Reverse culture shock. Not quite Japanese, but longing to be with the Japanese, gravitating towards them, and yet failing to be understood by all.

Yoko up there so high and lonely when she called me from California. Found me at Alvin’s cottage where I was hiding out. “You’re famous now, I read about you everywhere.” “It’s insane, horrible, I’m going crazy.” She is going crazy too but has found the perfect remedy in California. “John and I are getting primal scream therapy.” “What?” “It’s very simple, don’t you see what we all want is our mother’s breast.” It is incomprehensible to me–I want Celia. “Yoko, you mustn’t believe what you read about me in the papers, I don’t carry an axe like they say.” “Well, they say I broke up the Beatles.” “Of course I don’t believe them.” “There is always some truth in the media.” I was shocked by the idea.

In the elevator Yoko seems so distant, so far away in theses four years. John and Yoko like some myth alive in our time. Royalty, legend has entered the room and taken a seat on the davenport. All eyes inspect them. I sit next to John Lennon dying to whisper wow I’m glad to meet you I think your music is great it’s wonderful how you care about peace. Instead I offer him some chicken trying to be cool and nonchalant, to defend him from the eyes that devour him. In my smaller way I know how it feels. He doesn’t want chicken. Neither does she. We are pinned to the couch under a roomful of eyes. It is impossible to talk to each other so I make pathetic little jokes in Japanese. Yoko explains them to John, her voice a little shaky like a child reciting a lesson. “Kate says Yoko is sugoi onna, that means I’m like some hell of a dame, maybe a witch, a tornado. Kate talks this awful tough Japanese she picked up in bars, it’s like men’s Japanese ’cause it was men taught her. It’s terribly unladylike, that’s why it’s so funny.” Of course John can’t find it funny, so the three of us sit in a morose little file on the sofa. We don’t say a word. Everyone keeps on staring.

Part II will be “Love”.

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8 thoughts on “Flying by Kate Millet. Part I: Japan

  1. i dont blame you for being particularly interested in kate millet! what a vision it mustve been when the whole thing “came to” her — to name it, to conceive of it, to see a system there where before no one had. wow! interesting the part about japan being a gross characature of other patriarchies — good point that this “outsider” perspective probably gave her some insights. thansk for writing about her again. i was inspired by your series at the HUB too. 🙂

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