The Hite Report on Shere Hite (10 page)

BOOK: The Hite Report on Shere Hite
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It was also
who later, in a review, labelled my book ‘The Hate Report' – a name which has been used in headlines around the world to bash me and my work ever since. The last time I saw it was in 1994 in the London
Sunday Times
. Yes, it hurts. I don't like it. My work is the opposite of hate, as anyone who reads it knows. Some say that
is terrified that feminists will give
such a bad name, we will close them down, and so they set out to target us. Andrea Dworkin has often talked to me about how pornography moguls have targeted feminist activists. It's true that in 1976 my worst attack came from
, and in 1981, with my next book, the worst attack came from an ex-
editor. And
chose to reprint this
photo almost fifteen years later, in its attack on my third book.

One of the biggest benefits of modelling was getting to travel The second year I was at Willie's, I went to Europe, to model at their sister agencies. I worked in Milan at the ‘Fashion Model' agency on Via Sepio. It was great, I had lots of jobs, and loved being in Italy. The owner of the agency was married to someone who owned one of the most luxurious nineteenth-century hotels in Milan, the hotel where Verdi had died, just down the street from La Scala. I lived there. The hotel gave a few models a special bargain basement rate – maybe to make the clientele look more exciting, I don't know. Most of the clients were Italian businessmen. The concierges at this exclusive hotel kept pornographic magazines behind their desk, and at night, when the men came back from dinner, the concierge handed them their key with one of these magazines automatically tucked around it. I was shocked, and I guess my expression showed it. When one of the nicest concierges saw me watch him do this, he looked sheepish and sorry. No one in the hotel, either employee or client, ever tried to approach me. It was very pleasant. In fact, it was an incredible amount of fun to live there, and I have loved hotels ever since.

All went well, what with exploring the museums of Italy, and keeping mind and body together via my jobs, learning Italian (since I already spoke Spanish, it wasn't too hard), until the best friend of the owner of the agency asked me to a disco. I said yes, but later said I couldn't, I was too tired. He was furious. I was punished after that, with lousy ‘go-sees' not leading to good jobs. One job, for example, was for a maker of bathroom
sinks, I remember. When I arrived, I put on the bathrobe (I was to stand at the sink, looking pretty), and the client said to the photographer, outraged, ‘Her breasts are too small! Couldn't you get a girl with bigger tits? Hers are
Let's get it over with.'

Even now, writing about modelling is a little painful to me. University was better, I remember it with more pleasure. It was not glamorous at all, but I liked it. Modelling was glamorous but painful. Why? I'm not sure. Perhaps because of all the status and class snobbery involved, the pressure from other models' families to push them, the fear of ageing all around me. Some models had fixations on finding husbands (‘before it's too late'). Or maybe it was just the shallowness of the whole enterprise which left a void in me, and felt like pain. Maybe it was the macho-ness of the business. I hated the way Willie's idiotic husband treated her, how little he knew about running the agency, even while watching her do it all. She was a supermom before the word was invented: starting her own business, running it, having a baby, being married, having to be beautiful. She died of cancer only a few years later. Willie, dear Willie. Her agency lasted, it still exists, and with her name.

Another time I was in Florence, doing a modelling job. I had time after work, so I went to a museum. When I came out, it was getting dark, and a fog was brewing. I got lost in one of the increasingly mist-filled streets. I asked a policeman the way. He was pretending he didn't understand my question, playing with me, hoping I would feel more and more lost, perhaps cry or get angry
so he could feel big, I guess. I was still a little overdressed, in some exotic make-up and shoes, and a strange chartreuse velvet coat from the 1920s. This probably provoked him, or something. Dusk was falling, it was getting harder and harder to see. I began to feel very nervous and uneasy.

Someone was passing by in the street, saw this, and stopped. He gave me straightforward directions. We walked along together. This was Alessandro, studying in Florence, but born in Venice, where his family lived. He invited me to Venice for the next weekend. I had never been to Venice, and was dying to go. We met at the train station in Milan, and took the train together. It was packed. Every student in the world must have been on that train, and we had to sit on the floor.

In Venice, we checked into a hotel together (much to my surprise – honestly), and made love all the afternoon. The room was on the lagoon. You could see the blue sky and sparkling water through the window, sunlight on the bourse. I was amazed and surprised at where I found myself and the emotions I was feeling. Where did the feelings come from? I seemed more alive, and my body more quick. I loved how passionate but gentle he was, not insistent or macho the way the photographers had mostly tried to be, not to mention the students at Columbia. I really liked him and saw him on weekends until I went to stay with him in his apartment in Florence full-time. Finally, my ticket back to the US had almost expired. I didn't want to leave, but felt I had to, as I had already started distributing questionnaires, had already entered the women's movement. I wanted
to begin reading the answers and starting work on the project I had planned and had promised to others.

One of my last jobs as a model with Wilhelmina turned me into a feminist (officially). I was doing a television commercial for a typewriter company, Olivetti. As I played the piano, I also typed very fast. So I tried out for the job, and got it. On the day of the ‘shoot', the director instructed me to flirt with the camera and cross my legs provocatively. ‘Why?' I asked, ‘Isn't this simply to demonstrate how fast the machine works?' ‘Not exactly,' he replied, ‘The caption will say, “The
that's so smart that she doesn't have to be.” You're supposed to be a dumb blonde – act it!'

I did: but later I noticed an article in the
stating that the New York chapter of the National Organization for Women (
) was picketing in front of the company's headquarters on Park Avenue because of this ad campaign. I was excited, but should I go there? Those women must be interesting, I thought, plus I sure agreed with them! But would they hate me?

I went, and made some of the most lasting friends of my life. I timidly joined a group, a committee called Women's Image in the Media, with Midge Kovacs the chairperson. I wore no make-up and didn't tell anyone, at first, that I was in one of the ads they were picketing. But listening to the animated discussion, I gained
, and finally, two hours later, whispered this to Joyce, sitting next to me, whom I had just met. She turned and looked at me, then burst out, ‘Listen
, you'll never guess who's here!' Everyone turned to
stare. She repeated the information. The reaction? They said, ‘You see! Even the women in the ads don't like them!' And off they rushed into new areas of discussing this point. I loved it. But George Lois, the executive at the advertising firm, was still attacking me for this, in
the trade magazine, as late as the 1980s.

Though it has been written many times in newspapers that I joined the women's movement because I was a model for a typewriter commercial that was picketed by the women's movement – as if at that specific instant, I was converted – that's not quite true. All my life I had been having experiences which made it clear to me that there was another, unacknowledged dimension to politics, a double standard. I could see it in the lives of my grandmother, my mother, my aunt and to learn that this concerned other women too, was great news. I was ready to hear these ideas.

One of the greatest things that ever happened to me was finding myself in the women's movement in the early seventies. It was
place to be. There was electricity in the air, brilliant ideas were a daily occurrence, and we knew how to have a good time! It was magical. We believed the whole world could change, was changing and we were changing it! (We did.) We knew that nothing would ever be the same again. It was the dawn of the future, a truly ecstatic feeling. Like a light suddenly switched on in a dark room.

I never had so much fun. It was new for me to find a place where I fitted in so well. In university I had been intellectually suited, but by virtue of my gender (remember it was still the sixties) I was suspiciously female, especially in graduate school. (‘When will she get married? Drop out?
is she here?' was the attitude at Columbia.) Here, in the women's movement, the intellectual debate was intense and passionate, and being female was more than positive, it was the preference! Talking, hanging out, making plans, comparing ideas and private lives – was a lot more fun than modelling! The conversations we had in the movement, and the
were wildly intoxicating. The movement's intellectual debates made Columbia University's look pale and anaemic.

Joyce Snyder, the woman sitting next to me the night I first joined, had an hilarious, witty sense of humour. At one meeting, she began talking to those of us listening – including as I recall, Joyce Gold, Sydelle Beiner, Florence Rush and Dorothy Crouch – about the launch of Ms magazine by Gloria Steinem. Ms was created as a new title for women, instead of Mrs and Miss (since whether a man is married or not is not a way of labelling him, i.e., all men are just ‘Mr') but Joyce still felt there shouldn't be this title either. ‘Why?' she said with her irreverent Southern accent, ‘Because what do they stand for, really? Think about it! Miss equals unpenetrated vagina Jones; Mrs equals penetrated vagina Jones; and Ms equals vagina Jones!' ‘Of course,' she added, ‘Mr equals penis Jones!' She had a point and I have never forgotten what she said. Something we take so for
granted. Something people normally would not say to each other, and they say it every day.

So with wits as lively as this around, you can see that it wasn't boring. The lovely Anita Murray planned the abortion rights parade, lying in a coffin draped with white satin while other women carried her through the streets, to demonstrate how many women die every year from illegal or botched abortions. Poor women in particular.

There were the marches and actions, the demonstrations we planned, meetings and events. There was
, Older Women's Liberation, there was Off Our Backs, there was, besides
, the New York Radical Feminists, and on and on. An endless stream of outspoken women. In short, we took power over our own lives, and also we took the power to comment on the system, to critique it, and name it in a totally new way.

To be honest, there was some snobbery too. I didn't realize at the time that many of these women had gone to the same good, East Coast girls colleges, and stuck together, excluding others. But they were a minority. Betty Friedan's snobbism towards gay women was the worst. The groups, as far as I could tell, were about 75 per cent heterosexual women, and 25 per cent lesbian, but there was pressure to try loving a woman and so sometimes groups became more 60–40 per cent. It was said that if one loved men, one was betraying women, and did not take women seriously. (This is a question I came to debate in my 1998 book

Friedan, in the New York City chapter of
provoked a crisis, trying to rid ‘her' organization of the ‘lesbian menace'. Her faction tried to declare an election null and void, because ‘too many lesbians' were running and would probably be elected for office. This crisis was called the ‘lesbian purge', Friedan's idea was, as I understood it, you can't vote for
because then no one will accept the women's movement. They will say it is ‘just those lesbians'. The other faction considered lesbianism not only good, but
all women who were not lesbians were betraying their sisters. Eventually, choice was declared the order of the day and peace (more or less) broke out.

Later, I realized that I have really complicated feelings about women. I love them and, when they hurt me, I hate them. Relationships with women are at least as important as relationships with men; this is one of the cardinal points of the women's movement. Society at large leads women to believe that their friendships with other women, no matter how long or intense, do not matter as much as their relationships with men, especially men they fall in love with, or a man they have a child with.

My best friends have been, and are, both women and men, although for a long time, I didn't realize this. My most complicated relationships growing up were with my three mothers: my aunt, my mother and my grandmother. I now realize I have really complicated feelings about all women, although when I was in the women's movement, I thought that all my feelings were positive.
Whether I can love a woman as a lover, that is another question.

My memories of that time – the early second wave of the women's movement, and my friends in it – are indelible. What is seared in my brain is their intellectual brilliance, their passion and energy. Meeting and knowing Kate Millet, Ti-Grace Atkinson, Betty Dodson, Anne Koedt, Barbara Seaman (‘the Statue of Liberty of the women's movement') Janet Wolfe, Shirley Zussman, Leah Schaeffer, Midge Kovacs, Erica Jong, Andrea Dworkin, Gloria Steinem – women who changed the world, women who were fun, women who were independent and great friends, interesting, intelligent, brilliant, fun to be with, plus, interested in
, too! Who could ask for more?

BOOK: The Hite Report on Shere Hite
9.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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