Authors: Shere Hite
The Hite Report:
A Nationwide Study of Female Sexuality (1976)
The Hite Report on Male Sexuality (1981)
Women and Love: A Cultural Revolution in Progress (1987)
Good Guys, Bad Guys and Other Lovers (with Kate Colleran, 1990)
The Divine Comedy of Ariadne and Jupiter (1992)
Women as Revolutionary Agents of Change (1993)
The Hite Report on the Family (1994)
The Loyalty Taboo Between Women
(Wie Frauen Frauen Sehen, 1997)
Voice of a Daughter in Exile
Arcadia Books would like to thank the following for kind permission to quote from articles they originally published:
Ms magazine, the London
We are also grateful to Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, for granting permission to reproduce their press release for
Like most women, I did not start out with a silver spoon in my mouth, nor all the keys to getting along in the world. Sexuality and emotions were a very attractive part of life, but ones which seemed to cause general disapproval and lots of problems, as well as pleasure.
This is my story, the story of how I began, how I enjoyed my work, managed to see my theories become influential internationally – and how I got into a Lot of Trouble for doing this! When I documented that most women need and enjoy clitoral stimulation to orgasm, at a time when it was universally believed that a Real Woman should orgasm from vaginal stimulation, this caused a storm. Next, when I questioned seven thousand men about their sexual-emotional feelings and published the findings, as well as my own conclusions and theories based on these findings, this became the first modern study of men’s psycho-sexual identity. Later I tried to understand what female sexuality means to women emotionally, asking ‘What is love?’ researching 3,000 women. I wanted to understand why ‘femininity’ is seen so negatively by many, and to document an emerging new frame of mind. My theories deepened with my analysis of growing up ‘male’ and ‘female’, in
, published in the 1990’s.
At a certain point in my career, due to my curiosity and controversial theories about sexuality. I came under
enormous public attack from some right-wing groups in the US – groups that still include me in their target list of those who should be eliminated, those most a threat to ‘civilization’ and ‘family values’.
Nevertheless, I survived and went on to write some of my most important books, and develop several major theories about gender identity, ‘in exile’ – that is, since living outside the US and finding a new home in Europe. Here I have grown and matured in both my personal life and work, in ways I never imagined possible.
Today, looking around me, I am amazed to see all the things I have done and am doing. I am a professor of gender and culture with a Ph.D. in International Relations. I write columns on sexual politics for ten newspapers worldwide, I have published five Hite Reports as well as a satirical novel, am often interviewed on television and by newspapers in various countries, and have many interesting friends. I also know some of the world’s powerful and famous people. I am asked to give speeches by numerous universities and institutions such as the United Nations, as well as having a happy, flourishing personal life. It seems hard to believe that things have not always been so simple.
Here in this book, I have had a chance to stop mid stream and ponder what my work means, my life. I hope that readers can see here how a woman came to be who she is and who she is still becoming – imperfect, full of shyness, self consciousness, fear and pride, but somehow achieving a lot of what she wants. And hopefully having a positive impact on the world!
One day, just after I finished the university he paid for, my grandfather died. I received the news in a telephone call: ‘Your grandfather has died.’ This put me in a sombre mood, as he was truly my father. He had had Alzheimer’s Disease for some time, and so we had really said goodbye several years ago – but it still hurt, for in essence, he
That night, I looked through my scrapbook. There was the long-ago picture of me feeding the chickens, playing with my dolls, my grandfather holding me. Once he even asked me to call him ‘Dad’. I was enchanted with the idea, but he was so shy that he took the offer back before I could respond.
I loved my grandfather. I love to look at the picture of him holding me on his shoulder in our front yard, looking so happy, proud and pleased – the way I saw him look at me so many times during his life.
A few years before he died, he told me goodbye, even though it would actually be some time before he would die physically. One day in the kitchen when we were alone (he was lying on a cot there so he could be near us, he was no longer able to walk about), he started talking to me, haltingly and with effort. As this was the
first time, with increasing Alzheimer’s, that he had shown a sign of recognition in some time, the moment was riveting for me. He said, ‘You’ll have to take care of yourself from now on. I love you. I love you so much. Take care of yourself. Get a good place. Don’t let people bother you. You’ll get a little hell, but it’ll go away. Don’t let it bother you. Goodbye.’
When I heard him actually say goodbye, I knew that he knew. It broke my heart, but I was so happy to hear him speak! Then there was a long silence. It was evening, everyone else had gone grocery shopping and we were there, waiting for them to come back. I had turned the light on, it was getting dark. The silence continued while I looked at him, taking in what he had said.
He began again, ‘You’ve got to go to Sunday school …’, a pause, then, ‘You know, Venus and Mercury, they seem very very far away to us, but sometimes they come near – Goodbye, honey – You’ll have to take care of yourself now …’
I sat there and remembered in a flash evening walks with him, looking up at the sky while he explained the constellations to me, so many years before. We would walk around the block, he pointing out to me the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper, the Bear and many of the other constellations. It was beautiful to look up at the huge dark velvet night sky. You can see it so clearly in Missouri, coming down on all sides around you, on every horizon, as the land is very flat. The stars twinkle very clearly. I remember the brilliantly quiet, profound soundlessness there that seems to send its own messages
– the stars more beautiful than diamonds – and my grandfather’s rough hand tenderly holding mine.
As a young man, he had been with the geological survey unit that mapped New Mexico during World War I. There had been no accurate map of that part of the United States before. They travelled by horseback, and perhaps used the stars in addition to their instruments, to map their locations. My grandfather wrote long, detailed letters back to his parents, one each day, about the way in which they did their mapping, about his horse and the other animals they worked with, and what they did – letters my family still have.
Now here I was in this kitchen with a bright light beaming from the ceiling, another night and years later, still taking strength from his companionship. I was sad he could no longer hear me, but grateful for what he was saying to me. Always considerate, always giving. Once when I was leaning over him where he was lying in the kitchen to ask him if he wanted some water, he looked up at me and smiled with delight, pointing a shaky finger at my long reddish hair, ‘That’s a nice sky you’ve got there!’ He had violently beautiful blue eyes like the blue sky on a snow-white landscape with the sun shining. Now his eyes were twinkling as I laughed.
Among my grandfather’s belongings was a photo of me he had had taken by the local photo studio. I remember the day. He had insisted on going, even though I had said, ‘But don’t you want me to put on a clean dress? My shirt isn’t very well ironed (I ironed it myself) – I’m just back from school.’ But he said, ‘No.
Like you are! You’re fine! We’re doing it right now. Come on!’ Nothing would stop him. And off we went to Schultz’s, the best photographer in town. We were close all my life. He paid my tuition at college and wrote to me too, every day, a wonderful short letter, sending his love. I saved every one of those letters. They were stolen when I moved to New York to go to Columbia. I had naïvely left them in the basement of my new building in a new suitcase my aunt had given me. I did not yet know the ways of New York. Someone stole the suitcase, and with it all my childhood notebooks and drawings.
On the back of his favourite photo of me, he wrote:
May 25, 1964
This picture was on my desk. The fire and water left it like this. Made in autumn 1953. I have another copy that was in desk drawer, not as bad shape as this. I keep it on my desk at home now.
Was he expecting me to read this later? Or did he send it to me, and I just don’t remember? Or was he simply reminding himself when it was taken, and where it was, for later reference? I was ten years old then.
You can see from my smile and my happy eyes that I loved him, that I was very happy. My eyes are shining, and I loved life, I loved him.
The day of my grandmother’s funeral, I was sitting on the floor of the house crying. Everyone else was talking normally – about the weather, what we’d had for dinner, etc. No one wanted to talk about their memories of my
grandmother, for better or worse, or to share as a family our memories. So I was mourning on my own.
It was Grandpa, not able to comprehend what was going on, not even realizing that it was the afternoon of a funeral (he had already had Alzheimer’s for quite some time), who came across the room to me, unsteadily on his thin, wobbly legs, and managed to say, shakily, ‘What’s the matter, honey?’ and put his arms around me. ‘I don’t know who it is or what’s wrong, but don’t let ’em upset you. I won’t let ’em bother you or they’ll have to fight me first!’ Then in a minute, ‘You’re real sweet, honey. You’re worthwhile. I love you, I really do, even if nobody else does.’ I was still shaking with tears. ‘Don’t cry. It ain’t worth it.’ And he continued to sit quietly with his arm around me for some time.
Then, later that day, he came over again and said, ‘I’m for you, hon. I’m all for you,’ staring straight at me. Then, ‘You’ll be all right. You’ve got your whole life ahead of you. And people envy you. They’d like to be your age, and have all you’ve got!’ But said with a puzzled look, a sweet look, as if wondering what the problem was. Then again, ‘I’m for you – I’m all for you’ in his frail, sweet, yet determined even though shaking voice. He was about eighty-five years old.
These were our goodbyes.
When I went to my grandmother’s house a few months before her death, her wardrobes were all empty. They had been completely cleaned out. Not even a random safety pin or an old bottle top. Had she given everything
away (her meagre belongings, as she called them), in preparation for her death?
The rooms of the house were a shock, they were so bare, empty, almost cleared out, so the prairie wind could move through them. She was ready to go. Even the chest of drawers were empty. I remembered them as a child, when they had been full of secrets and powder and small bottles and surprises – pressed linen handkerchiefs with embroidery – now nothing was in them. No hair pins or dust left in the bottoms of drawers. Only a few clothes, one or two dresses, in the closet.
She had made her own funeral plans. She had bought her coffin in advance, and specified the hymns she wanted sung. ‘The Old Rugged Cross’, and ‘Red River Valley’. ‘Red River Valley’ had always been her favourite song, as she came from a cattle ranch in the Southwest. She grew up the only girl with five brothers.
I saw her death as tragic. Why? Because she knew she had never done what she wanted or was capable of – that she had never been free? ‘Going to meet her Maker’ was what she would call death. But, was her death truly tragic, or do I only imagine this? An intense personality, with a quality of greatness, capable of great love and unswerving devotion, to ideals and rightness of purpose. An ability to continue on a path, once chosen. An amazing person, certainly larger than life. Perhaps it was not her death, but her life, that was tragic. Does everyone see their parents’ deaths as tragic? Many have seen their mothers’ lives as a waste, sacrificed to someone else.
My grandmother had picked out a ravishingly
beautiful coffin with a luscious pale, pink satin, quilted interior. She was laid out in the viewing room of the funeral parlour, on this pink satin, with pink netting (so popular in the 1950s) all around her. I notice the carpet in this room is grass green, the walls, too – in contrast to the pink lights from the twenties that stand by her coffin.
Many of the furnishings of the funeral home are from the 1920s. The building, too, is twenties Spanish stucco, built around an interior courtyard with a splashing fountain.
I feel strange, afraid to breathe or make a sound. Everything here is muffled and scented. Yet it is peaceful, good for thinking, and there is something I want to understand. I don’t want to go to the church service. I want to stay here in the funeral parlour with her. I feel she is telling me something. What? Or what do I hear myself telling myself? I must be true to myself, and find a way to be me. I don’t feel I have yet found that way, to be all I can be, except for a few isolated moments. I need more time, another perspective somehow.
A few minutes later, I know that now I can transform myself from the life I am in. I am no longer beholden to those who need me as a familiar landmark, forced to remain as I was. I am grateful for this gift of release. My grandmother is released too, I can see it. When others need support and reassurance I give it, as I did to my family for so many years – as my grandmother trained me, even terrorized me to do! But now this is no longer necessary.
I think of giving a party in her honour, with music and food.
The next day, I look around her house, trying to understand her last days. I try to feel closer to her. My aunt is there too, and I talk to her about what I see. But I am met with silence. Silences or
, until I finally ask if she is embarrassed by something (death? emotion?). ‘No,’ she answered brusquely, ‘But if this is going to take much longer, I’m going to go wash my hair.’ She spoke so sharply, as if she were angry. Why? Was I an intruder? Did she resent being the one to sort out the house? Or did she want to be alone with her memories while doing it? I was hurt.
I began to wish I could be alone, to experience this on my own, and say goodbye in my own way.
On the day of my grandmother’s funeral, my grandfather, so ill with Alzheimer’s and not able to communicate more than a sentence or two, had comforted me when he saw me crying. No one else there was able to admit that anyone had died, or that there was anything to mourn. Or else they were afraid to show these feelings. My grandfather was the only family member who loved and approved of me in a way I felt and believed. Did his death cut off my connection with the living? My connection with my past? Yes.
The ending of my grandparents’ lives, when it was all over, was so tragic. Why? Because it was a doomed family, the end of an era? Because they had suffered, and needlessly? Had they led futile lives? Did
think so? It seems like an important tragedy, the death of my family, but why? Does the death of everyone’s family seem so important, significant, and more than personal – to them?
In the end, it seemed to me that all the world had died, and only I lived on. Only the past was real. Only the past as it had been, as I had lived it with them.
Feeding the Chickens · The Apple Blossom Festival ·
Playing with My Dolls · Stories at Bedtime ·
Kindergarten · My Love for the Forest ·
Discovering My Sexuality · Days with My Mother ·
My Baby Brother · My Best Friends: Becky and Jill ·
My Grandmother’s Bath ·
Being a Tomboy: My Blue Schwinn Bicycle ·
Our Fundamentalist Family ·
Day-of-the-Week Underpants ·
Falling in Love with Rachmaninov and Music ·
My First ‘Boyfriend’ · Leaving Missouri ·
In Florida On the Beach ·
When I was about three, my grandmother told me to go and gather the eggs from the chickens. Their house was a dark shed in our backyard, which had been a tiny garage for a 1930s car. The inside had never been painted, and the wood was dark. It was very cosy. The walls were lined on three sides with grainy planks, like wide bookcases. On these the chickens built and sat on their nests. Beautiful, soft round nests they had made of honey-coloured straw.
I had to reach my hand under the chickens to take out the eggs, then put them in my basket. The nests were warm under the chickens, and the eggs were warm, too. Sometimes an angry chicken would cackle or screech at you, even try to peck at your hand to stop
you from taking the eggs! It was scary, because once one chicken started a rebellion, most of the others would join in and tumble down from their nests, flying at you, flapping their wings, squawking, trying to chase you out. They succeeded almost every time in my case. I ran out, frightened – with a few hard gotten eggs. My grandmother would look frustrated and overworked. She would chastize me for coming back without enough eggs, and resign herself to going back for them herself. She was a lot bigger and certainly not afraid of the hens.
Feeding the chickens was far more fun. We did that outside the barn in the back yard, where they walked around and talked to each other, and were always glad to see us. You tossed grain out to them, and they ran quickly over to pick up the light brown kernels scattered on the earth.