Authors: Shere Hite
Shere Hite, the controversial author of books on male and female sexuality and love, found some unexpected allies at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association.
Critics of Ms Hite's 1981 study,
and her new book on women,
have accused her of dressing up questionable data in the guise of scholarly research.
But feminist scholars speaking at one of the most crowded sessions at the New York meeting defended her research as âground-breaking' and âpioneering'.
âToo much debate had focused on her methodology,' they said, âand not enough on her conclusions.'
Ms Hite, who was also at the session, said her findings had demonstrated that âwomen are in the midst of a dramatic shift.'
Taught to be nurturing and âto place love in the centre of their lives,' she said, âwomen in recent years have become more like men, and are playing down romance and emphasizing work and careers instead.'
Scholars argued that her findings raised important issues for the understanding of women in Western culture.
âLove is a product of patriarchy,' said Linda Singer, professor of philosophy at Miami University in Ohio. âIt has mobilized women's energies for men in the name of desire.
Shere Hite sees the changes in women's attitudes as part of a movement away from male-dominated society, and male critics don't like it.'
Said Carol Smith-Rosenberg, professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, âThis is an important theoretical issue for scholars to discuss.'
On the charges that the author's research methods were unscientific, the feminist scholars were equally supportive of Ms Hite.
No research on love or sexuality can ever be scientific, several of them said.
âSex doesn't take place in the laboratory,' said Karla Jay, a professor of English at Pace University in New York. âWe need to rethink researching love.'
During the question period at the end of the session, however, several people raised a different criticism of Ms Hite's work. It âhomogenizes,' they said, the experiences of women from different classes, races, and socioeconomic backgrounds.
Ms Hite responded that women have more in common than they have separating them.
She was supported in her assertion by other speakers at the session. âSex and love seem to cut across differences and to be more uniform than many other things,' said Ti-Grace Atkinson, professor of philosophy at Columbia University.
I was greatly honoured that day by the presence of so many great historical figures, women who had made seminal contributions, legendary figures. Barbara Seaman had a broken leg but she came on crutches, and Ti-Grace Atkinson came even though her father's funeral was that day. Also present were hundreds of
scholars, and the amazing anthropologist Ruby Rohrlich, professor of English Karla Jay and others. Later, several of us had a large dinner with Lois Banner and Linda Singer at an Indian restaurant in New York. This was great. It was there that Linda volunteered to go on the Phil Donahue show with me, which was coming up soon.
But emotionally, underneath it all, I felt like going into hiding, I was terrified (rightly so), and like a child, wanted to huddle under a bed or a table. I huddled under my friends.
Then I received a death threat. One's first impulse, when looking at a letter that threatens one's life, is to throw it away. Not to pay attention to it, to scoff and say, âHow ridiculous this writer is!' âA loony!' And of course, it is true, the writer must be crazy. But does it penetrate somewhere in one's brain? It acts like the verbal chastisement before spanking a child, inspiring fear â as Alice Miller describes.
It is interesting that the US is the only place I have ever received death threats or felt physically at risk (in the West). And only from males. Some people think, I suppose, that a âblonde sex writer' could never have her life threatened. How could anything like âsex' ever be that serious? In Denmark and Germany, among other countries, it is a crime to stir up hatred against individuals or groups: Isn't it a crime to stir up hatred against feminists?
Trying to change and challenge the system in a basic
way is how Malcolm X and Martin Luther King got shot. People said to me, âDo you really want to go forward as strongly as you might in this direction? With the kinds of threats and other interference (with publishing contracts and so on) you have received?'
Meanwhile, the attacks kept coming, one never knew when or from what quarter, for many gruelling months. It felt like living in the dark. I couldn't understand what was going on. It felt like walking through a dark, unfamiliar room, bumping into things. You try to turn on a light, but none of them work. You can't get any of them to work.
I had so many questions, they would circle and circle in my brain. My friends and Friedrich, too, were reeling. The main question everyone asked me, and which I asked myself, âWhy? What was the motivation behind the attack?'
Why was the nervous man from the
, who attacked me in print and telephoned my publishers, saying my work was a fraud, why was he doing all this? Just to make his reputation? Would âgetting me' (as Ben Bradlee had called it) really make him that much of a reputation?
Perhaps my âsin' was that I didn't blame women themselves for their problems but said, in effect, that there is a covert war of discrimination going on against women, a psychological war, and I suggested new ways women could deal with it. Many feminist books have dissected women's faults and said the true way forward is through rectifying our own flaws. Self-criticism is legitimate but women have been self-analytical and
self-critical for so many years that it cannot be the way forward now, or not exclusively.
Others said, you're on a Christian Coalition hit list, an enemies list; still others blamed the pornography industry which wanted to shut feminists up, lest they make pornography illegal or unpopular. Active campaigns of discrimination against women are underway from several sources in the US and other countries; it is important to be able to recognize and name these in order to stop them.
Around this time, I had a dream. I was standing on the roof of a tall building, where I had been chased by people following me, men, reporters.
I stood at the end of the roof, looking down for a way of escape, as they were coming up the stairs to get me. Down below, I could see my friends and people I loved, and people I didn't know, some standing in groups talking, some looking up at me. They wanted to help me, save me. They had two large round mats like fire fighters use to catch people who must jump out of burning buildings. They moved them around into different positions, trying to figure out how they could hold them so I could jump to safety. But the problem was, there was no way my safety could be guaranteed â in fact, it looked very doubtful Still, there was nothing for me to do but to take a chance and jump.
I remember feeling a great sense of sadness at the distance I was from my friends. They wanting so much to help me and give me support, and me being in such a situation that made it almost impossible. This is when I woke up. But I can still see that roof.
This not knowing and not understanding, created many sleepless nights. Friedrich's body next to mine was wonderfully reassuring, and helped me sleep during this demanding and difficult time.
A couple of years later, I watched the Anita Hill hearings via satellite on
(Cable News Network) and understood for the first time that what was happening to her, and what happened to me, was similar. It was a type of rape trial scenario, in which any woman who talks about âsex' deserves what she gets; she is not ânice' for bringing it up in the first place! When Anita Hill brought up the issue of sexual harassment, some tried to discredit her testimony by saying she imagined it, that she was mentally unstable, that she was malicious. A spurned woman. If he
made a pass at her, it must have been her fault!
I too had had the impertinence to bring up the topic of sex, and apparently to criticize men, and this made me fair game for anyone who wanted to attack my character, integrity or personality. It was not necessary for anyone to âhear' what I was saying: it couldn't be accurate. I must be a woman with a problem, a woman âlooking for trouble,'; in fact, a âloose woman', for what ânice woman' would talk or write like that? And so some of the news media tried to build a case up about me â through an orchestrated smear campaign, a series of exaggerations, into a fantastical mixture of innuendoes calculated to discredit me.
Watching the events surrounding Anita Hill was an
important moment for me. A moment when I suddenly saw clearly the âwhy' of the very personal attack on me. Why those lurid adjectives had been used. Why that violent language. Why that nasty mob psychology. It began to make sense.
During the media onslaught, the support from Friedrich was incredible. He was strong, he was funny, he was good at analyzing things in a flash â and he wasn't afraid.
Since some friends I knew were unable to face the situation, I learned to present myself as one self that covered over a deeper self, which in turn covered over a yet deeper self. And under that, my real self survived, somehow. I hoped. My centre. I never had to hide anything or pretend with Friedrich. What was more amazing is that even with all the daily stresses and strains of what we were going through, he never stopped being romantic! I loved this.
Once Friedrich went to a radio interview with me. He said he was coming too, he really didn't think I should go alone â and he was right. We got to the building, which is surrounded by armed security guards, went in, went through the various locked doors into the room where my interview was supposed to take place, and there was the interviewer.
He was on the telephone talking to someone, and when we entered, he started saying abusive things to me, as in âDo you really want to do this interview? What the hell, I thought you decided not to come, you are a real bitch,' and so on. I tried to sit down and start the interview, but he and Friedrich started pushing and
shoving each other. I think there was supposed to be a fight. Fred told him to bleep off and we left. Going past all those locked doors and security guards, I was really glad Fred was there.
He stood up firmly and clearly to the media with incisive, powerful analyses of what was going on â he saw the dynamics and the press problems more clearly than anyone â and I could always count on his reactions to things as being correct. He was incredibly brave, and took on my problems, the attack on me, as his own. He took time out from his own career to go around with me, and shielded me from as much as he could.
We had been married just two years, and he was still being attacked by his family for marrying me. (In turn, once in a while, he attacked me! Understandableâ¦) During the year-long media bout, despite his own personal problems, he supported me massively and with diamond clear intelligence â and continues to do so.
Around that time, Friedrich especially enjoyed wearing a small, masculine lapel button â the kind that men often wear to represent membership in the Knights of Malta, or by alumni of Harvard or Yale, or sometimes the
(Daughters of the American Revolution). On Fred's small button were the initials in gold,
. People would ask him what this stood for and he would proudly announce, âDaughters of the Feminist Revolution. I
one!' And we would laugh.
Also during this attack, my Aunt Cecile, who had become my mother, was there for me. Jesse Lemisch and Naomi Weisstein also sheltered and cared for me, as did Janet Wolfe and Barbara Seaman. And while some
friends were afraid of âtrouble' (it didn't mean they didn't love me), other friends were just the opposite, and loved to dissect it all, and laugh!
All this was made more difficult by the fact that, during that year and the previous one, so many of those I loved and counted on had died. Julian, my close friend and associate for fifteen years had died suddenly. My beloved dog Rusty of sixteen years also died. And the year before that, my grandfather, who had been my father, died. (My biological father had already died.)
I thought I might never write again. The effect of the media onslaught dried up my income. Suddenly there were no competitive bidders for the paperback rights, so this meant I would have difficulty paying back my research debts. Fortunately, I had already put in process much of the planning for my next research, so I did not have to start from scratch. But the attack had a disastrous effect on my finances, as well as the my reputation. It created such a stigma around me, that, finally, in 1988, no major publisher in the US would publish me! This was astounding since my track record of sales of books was exemplary. None of my books had ever gone out of print, and they had sold millions of copies. I felt very strange.
My agent, Irving âSwifty' Lazar, did find a publisher who took the rights for a song â $10,000 (which I split with Knopf). I have always financed my research from the sales of my books. The attack reduced my budget enormously, as the US, the biggest market, had of course been my major source of income.
The type of research I do is time-intensive and costly, but yields better than average results. A well-known
failing of social science is that, unlike physical science, it fails to predict the future accurately. Yet the trends uncovered by my research were almost always later confirmed. For example, when I decided to investigate who divorces who, ignoring the presumption that we âalready know', that men leave women, I discovered in fact that the majority of divorces are initiated by women. Women who are emotionally exhausted from trying to make their relationship work. After I had put the issue on the table, the British, Japanese and US governments independently prepared statistics and found, some two years later, the same trend. This changes our perception about who women are and what they want.