Letter: Val McDermid on the importance of Kate Millett, author of Sexual Politics…

I tore through Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics over a weekend in 1973. At the time I was in my second year at St Hilda’s College, Oxford, studying English, which was in many respects a deeply conservative course. But after a friend lent me the book, it was as if an explosion had gone off in my head.

My politics had always been of the left, but I’d never really encountered a feminist perspective before. Sexual Politics allowed me – it forced me – to look at the world in a different way.

I was on fire with what I had read. I couldn’t stop talking about it. I went into my tutorial the next week and launched into a 10-minute rhapsody about the book and how it had transformed the way I looked at the canon. My tutor, Anne Elliott, a distinguished middle-class English Christian who specialised in The Faerie Queene, listened patiently, then said:“Ah yes, dear Kate. I supervised the thesis that became Sexual Politics.” It was as if Margaret Thatcher had claimed responsibility for Simone de Beauvoir.

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