Post contributed by Sagan Thacker, recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Asheville BA in History. Read more in their senior thesis, “‘Something to Offend Everyone’: Situating Feminist Comics of the 1970s and ‘80s in the Second-Wave Feminist Movement,” forthcoming in the University of North Carolina at Asheville Journal of Undergraduate Research and available to read here.
I soon found several articles that turned popular notions of comics on their heads. Most notable was a February 1976 article from the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, newspaper Amazon: A Feminist Journal. Written by Barb Behm about the now obscure Pricella Pumps/Star Buckwheat Comic Book by Barba Kutzner (1976), the article cogently praised the book’s relatability and satire of American society and its metaphorical significance for all women. Behm touted Kutzner’s protagonist as both a character with which women could heartily identify and a way to break free from the oppressive system and celebrate non-normativity.
This source was instrumental in showing that feminist underground comics, far from being tangential and lowbrow parts of the second-wave feminist movement, were instead an important part of the intellectual discourse within feminism. By finding a critic who enthusiastically engaged with the work on a level beyond its perceived lowbrow status, it became clear that some feminists viewed comics as a valid and direct medium to write and engage with feminism on a level that would not be widespread until the zine revolution of the late 1980s and early ‘90s. This reframing of comics’ literary history deepens our understanding of second-wave feminism and gives a more nuanced portrait of its discursive diversity.
Post contributed by Kelly Wooten, Laura Micham, and Laurin Penland.
We were saddened to learn of Kate Millett’s passing on September 6, 2017. As many people have been writing and speaking about her legacy, we realized we are not alone in trying to grapple with the significance of her contributions to the feminist movement, to the creation of feminist theory, to the art world, to writing, to LGBTQ activism, to advocacy for mental health reform, and to many, many other realms. Here at the Rubenstein Library, her papers have been at the heart of the Bingham Center’s collections since 2000, and have inspired much scholarship, enhancing our understanding of the world.
The Kate Millett papers in the Sallie Bingham Center provide rich documentation of Millett’s activities as a feminist activist, artist, and author. These materials reflect the intensely personal nature of much of Millett’s work and the frequent fusion of her personal, political, and professional interests. Materials in the collection also cover feminism and the social conditions for women around the globe, especially in France, Italy, and the Middle East—most notably Iran, where Millett traveled in the seventies.
Many researchers have been moved by their encounters with the writings and artwork of Kate Millett in her papers. Dr. Michelle Moravec, Associate Professor of American History and Women & Gender Studies at Rosemont College, writes:
“Working in a person’s archived papers is always an intensely intimate experience, but in Millett’s case the resonances are amplified by the emotional reactions she left scrawled across her papers. ‘Ridiculous!’ she pronounced in a scrawling red hand, across a tedious letter regarding a speaking engagement. ‘That awful Barnard thing goes on’ she sniffed in response to a request to publish her presentation from the Scholar and the Feminist Conference IX: Towards a Politics of Sexuality. Interspersed are flashes of Millett’s intellectual process, dashed off notes for one of her many lectures proclaims ‘We now have to dare everything… Writing our lives… Break every taboo.’ Long handwritten letters attest to her poignant longing to create an artistic community at The Farm, an art colony she created, the economic struggles all too familiar to female artists and writers who did not become academics, and her engagement with deeply difficult material including sexual abuse and torture.”
Born in 1934 in St. Paul, Minnesota, Kate Millett was an internationally acclaimed artist, writer, and activist. A founding member of the Noho Gallery in New York City, Millet created the Women’s Art Colony Farm in Poughkeepsie, NY in 1978, and had shown her work internationally since 1963. She was known for her sculpture and installation works in addition to pen and ink drawings both abstract and figurative. Millet’s Columbia University Ph.D. dissertation, Sexual Politics (1970), placed her at the forefront of the women’s movement. Her other political works include The Prostitution Papers (1973), The Basement (1979), Going to Iran (1979) and The Politics of Cruelty: An Essay on the Literature of Political Imprisonment (1994). Millett also wrote a series of memoirs that combine deeply felt personal revelation with trenchant political analysis. These include Flying (1974) about her early years, Sita (1977) and Elegy for Sita (1979) the story of a tragic romantic relationship, The Loony Bin Trip (1990) Millett’s exposé of the mental health system, A.D., A Memoir (1995) in which she reflects on her early life, and Mother Millett (2002) a meditation on her upbringing in middle America and her experience as an activist and then outcast from the movements she helped to form and lead.
In these books Millett gave her readers the analytical tools and inspiration for making a revolution. Her words, such as these from Sexual Politics, will continue to resonate, “For to actually change the quality of life is to transform personality, and this cannot be done without freeing humanity from the tyranny of sexual-social category and conformity to sexual stereotype—as well as abolishing racial caste and economic class.”
Many moving tributes have been published in newspapers, on websites, and on social media such as this one by Gloria Steinem on Facebook: “As Andrea Dworkin said, ‘The world was asleep, but Kate Millett woke it up.’ Sexual Politics—and all Kate’s work—will keep us Woke.” The impact of Kate Millett’s life and work cannot be overstated.
The Rubenstein Library is pleased to announce the recent acquisition of the New Day Films Collection. The collection includes the founding films and organizational records of New Day founders Liane Brandon, Jim Klein, Julia Reichert, and Amalie R. Rothschild. Documenting a pioneering film distribution company and collective, the first to distribute feminist films in the early 1970s, the New Day Films Collection is an important record of both New Day’s formation and the Feminist Movement. New Day Films is a thriving organization, celebrating 40 years in 2012 as a participatory democratic filmmakers’ cooperative with 120 members and 250 titles. The Rubenstein is committed to preserving the New Day Films Collection for future generations to make this record of the evolution of progressive independent American filmmaking available for teaching and research.
In celebration of New Day coming to Duke, the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival will screen New Day’s founding films—Anything You Want to Be (Brandon), Betty Tells Her Story (Brandon), Growing Up Female (Klein, Reichert), and It Happens to Us (Rothschild)—on Friday, April 13, 2012 at 4:50pm. There will be a panel conversation with all four founding members about New Day’s exceptional history on Saturday, April 14, 2012 at 9:30AM.