Shere Hite

Women and Love

VTR Date: December 6, 1987

Shere Hite discusses the high level of dissatisfaction among women.


GUEST: Shere Hite
VTR: 12/6/1987

I’m Richard Heffner, your host on THE OPEN MIND. I think, and I hope some of you at least will agree, that it’s perfectly legitimate to say, simply, “Hey, for the next half hour let’s just talk about women and love”, even as we set aside such questions as how many women? What percentage of all women? Women from where? From which ethnic groups? With what education? From what economic and social strata? And so on and on.

Let’s just say that in her new Alfred A. Knopf book, Women and Love, today’s guest, Shere Hite, describes what she sees as a startlingly high level of dissatisfaction among certain women with what traditionally we have called “love”, and with the men they traditionally have said they love.

Now, that in itself, is an intriguing perception of a relationship between certain women and certain men, of the war between the sexes, if you will. Of itself, surely it deserves to be analyzed and evaluated.

Now, others insist that the personal imperative to develop and set forth such a perception itself ought to be analyzed as well as realized. Anyone, after all, is free to make all kinds of ad hominem – or rather, in this instance, ad feminem – arguments that delight or infuriate or titillate whoever swears by or swears at Ms. Hite.

And, of course, those who do take harsh exception to the fact that Women and Love is called a “report” (The New Hite Report, to read from the book’s cover jacket, simply The Hite Report, to read form its title page)…well, they can argue till the cows come home about Ms. Hite’s statistical basis or bias. That’s not my intention today. For I’ve invited Ms. Hite to The Open Mind simply to explore for the sake of understanding what it is she says about what women – whether a few, some, many or most – feel about love today.

Before this, Shere Hite’s books have dealt with female sexuality and male sexuality. Now I want to ask her why the claim is made that her new book on Women and Love has the potential to change the shape of our society. And what changes does she anticipate? Ms. Hite?

Hite: Well, thank you very much. I do appreciate the opportunity to talk about what the book is trying to say, since many people have focused on statistics. The statistics are important, but really they’re only illustrations of an overall trend and whether or not the trends are exactly perfect numerically really, to me, is not the point. It seems quite clear that women are in the midst of a transitional stage and perhaps since women are a majority of the population, that means that the society is in the midst of a transition.

Heffner: But you say, “revolution”, a “cultural revolution”. And I was delighted, as a fellow student of history that when you begin the book you quote from J.H. Plumb, “perhaps the greatest problem which any historian has to tackle is neither the cataclysm of violent revolution nor the decay of empire but the process by which ideas become social attitudes”. And I gather you’re talking about that transformation.

Hite: Exactly right. And the three books, altogether are trying to summarize what is happening in personal life at this point in time. Sexuality is often seen as something very far astray from that. And yet, to me, all of the issues of private life haven’t been taken into account in terms of the general society. I other words, the home has been a sort of private enclave in which values could be different than those in the larger society. Men were supposed to go out and compete in the work place just like beasts in nature, to be dominant over one another. Now the home was a different story. The home was supposed to be where women were nurturing and men rested or something like that. Democracy was praised in the outer world in which men were basically the ones in charge of government. At home you still had a kind of monarchical system.

Heffner: But has there been no change? Because I wanted to ask what you thought of Gloria Steinem’s observation, “women are still giving more than they get. But I think it’s getting better. We are in the middle of a revolution and its moving in the direction we want”. Somehow or other, as I read your book, I have the feeling that you don’t believe it’s moving in the direction that you and Ms. Steinem might want.

Hite: I think it’s moving and the very fact that we’re talking about these very hidden sort of issues or issues that haven’t been defined before is a great sign of progress. We’ve been in what maybe Peter gay would have considered the Freudian century. Freud, of course, had used a sample of three upper class Viennese women to talk about what female psychology might be. There is a presumption among many psychologists that you can use a small sample to discuss psychology because it is somehow linked to biology. That to be a man or to be a woman has to do with inner hormonal workings. And yet, if there is so much pressure on men and women to behave a certain way, which they learn from the very beginning, how men and women are held as babies differs, then you cannot say that it’s biological. I suppose one of the basic premises of feminism is that much of what we do, which is gender-based, has to do with upbringing, culture and can be changed.

Heffner: what kinds of changes do you want to see take place?

Hite: One thing that I’m talking about in here…or one thing that made me very happy with these results and unlike a lot of the media, I don’t see it as a dismal, unhappy bunch of women, I see it as women who are now ready to name things for themselves. We believe in ourselves in a way we didn’t, maybe 40 years ago, when Simone de Beauvoir wrote her famous book, The Second Sex, describing women as “the other” – as seen by men in any case as “the other”. I think we’re just coming out of that feeling that we are “the other”, that we don’t have the right to define society. In the beginning of the Women’s Movement in the seventies, there was an attitude something like we were knocking on the door of the big male world, “Oh let us in, we’ll wear suits, too and we’ll be as smart and as cool as you. We won’t be overly emotional, we promise”. And I think we’ve gone through that stage and although we never became President, yet, we have shown that we can do whatever it is that needs to be done, PMS aside. And silly things like that. So, now I think, however, women have felt that “Wait a minute, we’re kind of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. There is more to life than going out and competing in the job place”. There’s also been a presumption that women were the brainwashed group and if we weren’t brought up the way we are then psychologically, we would be like men have been. But men, too, have been acculturated to think they should be very competitive, not be too loving, don’t talk too much, then you’ll be womanly. Women can wear skirts and pants, but men can’t wear skirts they can only wear pants, because that would be a step down. So psychologically speaking it was a step up for us to become more like most men have been. Therefore, if Pat Schroeder runs for President or doesn’t and cries when she doesn’t, that’s seen as a sign of weakness. Whereas if colonel North cries it’s seen as a sign of the “new” male.

Heffner: Let me…wait a minute, before I end up being confused myself as to now who “the others” are or “the other”…

Hite: Yes.

Heffner: who are “the others”?

Hite: well, hopefully nobody is going to be “the other” anymore. But, I think women are feeling now that we have a right to name things. We have a right to look at a relationship, if you’re talking about this book, personally and say, “Wait a minute. I don’t need to go to a shrink. I mean it might be nice to go to a counselor, but I am not crazy in what I’m saying about this relationship. If I want more, it doesn’t mean my expectations are too high, it means men could learn from women some of the values of nurturing, emotional support”, the kind of things women have been known for. Whether we’re brought up this way, whether we choose to do it, whatever the reasons, women in friendships with each other have been giving this kind of non-competitive listening, signs of feedback when the other is talking, trying to think about what could be done to help that person who’s talking to you. Whereas men are brought up not to do quite the same thing in conversation. They’re brought up to never let a person attack you because you have to come out on top, so if someone says, “You didn’t do the dishes”, you say, “Well, you didn’t do them the other day, either”, so it becomes a battle. It’s not a kind of nurturing thing.

Heffner: Let me ask you this. If your observation is that a huge percentage of women, however one wants to accept or reject that observation, but your observation is that a huge percentage of women have extramarital relations, right?

Hite: Right.

Heffner: Alright. Is this something that generally makes Shere Hite feel good or makes Shere Hite feel badly?

Hite: It made Shere Hite feel very startled in the beginning when I first started getting these answers. In the men’s study that I published previously, men would say, “I believe in monogamy, but not I’m not monogamous” and everyone had said, of course, to believe this of men, but I was startled by that, too. And women say the same thing, “I believe in monogamy, but basically I’m not monogamous and I wish I could be”. But neither men nor women seem to feel very guilty. Now in the case of men, the statistic jumps up after two years. For women it doesn’t jump up until after five years. So the huge percentage happens after five years of marriage. Most marriages…the average marriage lasts seven years, so maybe we’re not talking about a long period of time. Or maybe we are.

Heffner: Question remains…

Hite: How do I feel about it?

Heffner: …is this something that makes you feel more positively about the future? Does this mean that the revolution is being won, or that the revolution may not be being won? Or whether it is or is not, it ain’t good?

Hite: This is one of women’s adjustments to what’s going on in the relationship. It isn’t satisfying emotionally and women also feel alienated because they feel put down by their husbands or their mates, whoever. Men still have stereotypes about women which put women in a special category. Women find these stereotypes condescending, which they are. And in an attempt to deal with that, women will often complain, quote/unquote, bicker, whatever, trying to get the man to see it. When he doesn’t, eventually they drift off emotionally. So they use the home kind of as a home base, the way many men have done. I don’t know what to say because on the one hand, I wouldn’t fault women or men, for that matter, for trying to adjust if they want to stay in a marriage but can’t make it work better. On the other hand, I think it’s tragic and upsetting and really…I mean people say, “Well, you know, marriage was designed for people who only lived until fifty, therefore, they were only supposed to be monogamous for twenty years. Now people are supposed to be monogamous for forty years”. None of this has anything to do with it. There’s a long discussion in here about does passion last? Can passion last or does it just automatically go away? I think what we’re looking at is a great problem in the emotional contract between men and women. It’s something we haven’t talked about. People say, “Well, men and women in a relationship somehow or another are on their own. Whoever they are, for better or worse, they’ll work it out”. I think that there are cultural problems that make a good relationship between men and women almost impossible. Women are solving this in two ways. One is to leave. Women…it’s generally women who bring divorces, not men. And the other way is to try and adapt within the marriage and one way is to have another relationship outside of the marriage. But whether or not the majority of people would want to be monogamous, I think it’s tragic that we can’t make relationships work. If we can’t make relationships work, we can’t make government work and we can’t make anything work because it’s…I can keep on this long monologue here, I’m sorry.

Heffner: Go ahead. No, please.

Hite: One of the concepts that’s never been discussed anywhere in this book, one of the major concepts, is something called “The Male Ideology”. I don’t mean it’s a biologically male phenomenon. It’s just a cultural phenomenon. But it’s the whole ideology or ethic of people wanting to compete and get on top. It also involves not having to listen to other cultures, say in Latin America. Or to women. Women in a way form another culture. We have a different value system, in friendships we behave differently than men do in friendships with each other. It’s much more verbal, more supportive and all of that if you want to generalize. So men in a way, by not listening to women in relationships, at least if women are correct, that’s what women say here, are doing the same thing that governments are doing by not listening to Latin America or to terrorist groups. Not being able to negotiate. Or even with the deficit, kind of sticking their head in the sand and maybe it will go away.

Heffner: But are you…

Hite: Big phenomenon here.

Heffner: …are you assuming…are you assuming then that women are not listening either because you’ve seen a growth in women becoming more like men. Or doing the same things that you’ve discovered men do?

Hite: Thank you for bringing up this point because I think that the culture now has to answer a certain question and that is, which value system are we going to follow? Are we going to have women becoming like men and going out into the workplace? We get rewarded more if we act more like men have acted. If we become less nurturing and say, “Well, it’s all for me, I’m going to go out there and get what I can get and you know, good-bye to all the rest”, we get more rewards. And even books such as Women Who Love Too Much would give that message that we love too much, we should love less, we should be more like men have been, some men. But men seem very reluctant to take on female values. I mean, to be like a woman is the biggest insult you can give a man. You know to be soft, wimpy, you know, the current media word. So it seems rather hopeless that most men are going to take on these values. Or that government will start becoming, in a more diplomatic way, able to negotiate with others.

Heffner: Yes, but your book is about women. Are women taking on those traditional male values?

Hite: A lot of women are. And the cusp that we’re on really and that I see in here is women lying in bed at night after the man next to them has gone to sleep or the man has gone home or something, thinking “what’s it all about? You know, he seems to feel close to me during sex, but I can’t get the kind of value system or the kind of relationship going with him that I want. Should I give up?” A lot of women do give up. Now there is a third choice and that is that women sometimes retain their believe in nurturing and not being competitive and spread that around with their friends, in their work with their children and don’t try to have a relationship with a man, if they can’t find one.

Heffner: Of course, there’s still another alternative that is so interesting when you raise it here toward the end of your book. In a chapter entitled, “To Make A World in Which More Love Can Flourish”, lo and behold I find a section entitled, “A Militaristic Strategy?” and you say, “If women did assume militaristic tactics toward attaining their rights, would this change women’s basic ideology of non-aggression”. And you go on quite a bit, talking almost as if you were a general leading your forces.

Hite: How did you feel about that?

Heffner: How could I feel…

Hite: (laughter)

Heffner: …when I’m confronted with a very powerful general facing me that way? You want to wage war, you seem to be saying.

Hite: But you put it so perfectly. Imagine then that that’s how we feel because we’re constantly up against these problems in trying to run for President or trying to get along with someone or, you know, facing a man who won’t talk and walks out of the room when you quote “bring up an issue”. What should we do? This is the whole point. Everyone…terrorists face this…it’s the same thing, you know. And finally, if somebody won’t talk to you, what do you do?

Heffner: I know you say…

Hite: What should you do?

Heffner: You say, “Are we…”, raise the question, “are we pacifists by choice or are we afraid to fight?” and then you go on to sort of identify a strategy, a military strategy…how much do you mean that?

Hite: Well, it’s something that you have to talk about. I mean you cannot…the whole end of the book, as you know, is devoted to strategies of how do you achieve change? Which relates to the Plumb quote that you mentioned in the beginning. We’ve been trying….I mean what needs to be changed is the ideological structure. A blend somehow between what we have and what women have to offer. Not just forcing women to become like men or to join the dominant structure. I think America faces a lot of questions right now and we are not thinking deeply enough and part of the reason is the structure, it’s become too rigid.

Heffner: You say we’re not thinking too deeply or deeply enough.

Hite: Right.

Heffner: It seems that you mean that women are not thinking down to the basic matter of force.

Hite: No, no. I think women are saying men are not thinking deeply enough. Women are thinking these thoughts. And not only in the United States, but other places. When a population or a group becomes frustrated long enough I mean they begin to have all kinds of questions. I mean as I quoted an editorial from the International Herald Tribune, about the South Africans, they’re asking themselves the same questions. And women…it’s against women’s basic value system. On the other hand, are we doomed if we don’t fight on your terms…not you…but on your terms, are we doomed to continue this kind of cycle of, you know, quote “complaining”, having a cycle of the Women’s movement whether it’s the 1890s or now. Getting a couple of reforms and then going back to the kitchen or whatever.

Heffner: Ms. Hite, it interests me so much that at a time when a number of others seem to be taking the point of view, well as I quote Gloria Steinem, saying, “There’s a revolution. We seem to be doing fairly well”. You’ve come up with something that’s almost apocalyptic and you seem to say, “Amelioristic measures, I don’t want any of these semi-socialist measures, ‘cause they just detract us, they sort of co-opt the movement”. That fascinates me about your position now.

Hite: Well, you know, I mean I love to argue this point because no one argues it. But, after, I do go on and say, “You know, if you don’t change the ideology, it would be just like Cuba. You might change who’s in charge, but women will still be in the same secondary position”. But it’s a kind of circular argument. How do you change the ideology if those in charge of TV networks, etc. still cling to the other value system? It seems to be a treadmill. Really, the answer is unclear. And unclear for those such…those in Cuba and other places, too.

Heffner: Well I grant that the answer is unclear, but I’m trying to tease out of you a description because I still come back to the question of change to what degree has this past generation, or this past decade, seen a change? And you’re negative about that.

Hite: In the study I did of men, which I published in 1981, I would say ten or twenty percent of men were quite different from the stereotype about men. But they weren’t of a particular age range, they were of all age ranges. So it seems that men who think for themselves, think for themselves. Maybe that’s true in any time period historically. So it may not be that we have really changed, but that men have thought through things and the ones who would be more likely to think new thoughts in any age have thought these new thoughts.

Heffner: You know, I incorporated in my Documentary History of the United States a speech by Martin Luther King in which he said, “Never in history have oppressors voluntarily, willing, peacefully given up their power”. And I gather you somewhat feel that way, too.

Hite: Well, I feel as somewhat as he did at the end of this life, saying “You know, it’s not only a question of integration, but it’s a question of as Blacks move into the system, will they change the system?” And he was hoping that they would. And certainly, it seems to me, that if we give up the values women have had and they just simply moved into the work force and into the system, we’ll lose something extremely valuable. I think men will miss it, too, because men definitely turn to women for love and nurturing and expect they will find those values in women.

Heffner: Do you expect, talking about expectations, that this new book and its study of women and love, that it will foster further changes?

Hite: I think discussing it in this way will make people realize that we’re on the edge of a major cultural shift. And if they want to retain those values we’ve had in the home, love and, you know, faithfulness and all of that, we have to think, well, where we’re going, don’t just say, “Well, now everyone can go out and be competitive” and…

Heffner: But you say…

Hite: You know as Marx said, I mean the marketplace would eventually penetrate the family and the entire personal structure. And that seems to be what we’re moving towards, kind of marketplace…

Heffner: You buy what you want.

Hite: Economy. Yes. And you can go and, you know, find the most valuable mate and hook up and all that. I don’t think that’s what anybody wants,

Heffner: But that’s what you’ve described.

Hite: Women in here are waging a massive struggle, by themselves, one by one, to resist that system. And yet they feel they have little choice.

Heffner: In other words, the change that you want, this is sort of a signal, a cry…

Hite: Right.

Heffner: …to men, “change or else”.

Hite: Right.

Heffner: The women will continue to change.

Hite: Exactly. Exactly. (garbled)

Heffner: And the military and that aspect of it? Come on, you wrote it.

Hite: (laughter)

Heffner: You’ve got to take responsibility for this.

Hite: Unfortunately, as I conclude there, where could we get with that? And yet, people might, say in the next wave of feminism, become so frustrated that that’s where they would feel they had to go.

Heffner: What about feminism now? What about the NOW Movement? You’ve seen it move and shift and change in these years. Where do you think it’s heading? Politically speaking in this country, at this point.

Hite: Well, now it’s become an organization that’s very much focused on electing candidates, and very important things they’re doing. But I’m more involved in the cultural side of it and the ideological attitudes. I think that feminism has penetrated our culture in a way we would have never dreamed twenty year ago that it would. And women everywhere, women in Utah, all kinds of women here, of different classes, are thinking they’re not wrong anymore. We have a sense of dignity we didn’t’ have twenty years ago. A belief that we have a right to name things. Questioning why men behave the way they do and saying, “Maybe it’s a flaw in how men are acculturated. Maybe it’s not a flaw in our value system”. So, perhaps the ideology will change that way. We’re at a turning point, I really don’t know what will happen.

Heffner: Do you value this political approach, or do you feel that it is barking up the wrong tree?

Hite: No, I think you have to have everything all at once. As someone once said, “If you have an enemy that’s just one, it’s easy to (dropped out)”, but if you have lots of different ways that things are happening…and in any case, I think it’s a change that can’t be stopped. We’re somehow in a momentum, we’re going in some direction, and what that will be is very important to decide and discuss, not just to let it happen.

Heffner: We’re coming to an end of the program, but I want to ask whether you think, in the years, in the decade that you have been studying these questions, have you seen a willingness, a greater willingness, indeed, an insistence upon women to say it as it is?

Hite: Absolutely. I think women feel they have a right to speak now, whereas we didn’t’ before. And I, of course, by having mostly narratives in here, wanted to provide a place for women to speak and to re-define female psychology, to take away those Freudian stereotypes about women being masochists, not being able to define themselves. Sure.

Heffner: In one last question…

Hite: That is a revolution.

Heffner: One last question. The end of the century…do you think we will have achieved what you see and want us to achieve?

Hite: I hope so. Otherwise we won’t have any more topsoil and we’ll probably blow ourselves up. (laughter) I hope so.

Heffner: It’s that damn military approach that you take that bothers me.

Hite: Oho, what about your military approach?

Heffner: Thanks so much for joining me today, Shere Hite.

Hite: Thank you.

Heffner: And thanks, too, to you in the audience. I hope you’ll join us again next time. And if you care to share your thoughts about today’s program, today’s guest, today’s theme, and it’s a controversial one, please write to THE OPEN MIND, P.O. Box 7977, FDR Station, New York, NY 10150. For transcripts send $3.00 in check or money order. Meanwhile, as another old friend used to say, “Good night and good luck.”

Continuing production of this series has generously been made possible by grants from: The Rosalind P Walter Foundation; the M. Weiner Foundation of New Jersey; the Mediators and Richard and Gloria Manney; and the New York Times Company Foundation.