Hite, Shere 1942–
Hite, Shere 1942–
(Shirley Diana Gregory)
PERSONAL: First name pronounced "share"; born Shirley Diana Gregory, November 2, 1942, in St. Joseph, MO; renounced American citizenship, April, 1996; daughter of Paul Gregory (a flight controller); legally adopted by Raymond Hite (a truck driver); married Friedrich Hoericke (a concert pianist), 1985. Education: University of Florida, B.A. (cum laude), 1964, M.A., 1968; further graduate study at Columbia University, 1968–69. Hobbies and other interests: Playing and listening to music, old movies, reading Proust, interior decoration.
ADDRESSES: Home—New York, NY; and Laffont, 6 Place St., Sulpice, Paris 75006, France.
CAREER: Writer, essayist, cultural historian, educator, and public speaker. Model for Wilhelmina Agency, late 1960s; National Organization for Women (NOW), New York, NY, director of Feminist Sexuality Project, 1972–78; Hite Research International, New York, NY, director, 1978–. New York University, instructor of female sexuality, 1977–; lecturer at Harvard University, McGill University, Columbia University, Cambridge University (England), The Sorbonne (Paris), London School of Economics, and women's groups, 1977–83. Nihon University, Japan, visiting professor. Member of advisory board, American Foundation of Gender and Genital Medicine, Johns Hopkins University.
MEMBER: International Women Writers Association (vice president), National Organization for Women (NOW), American Historical Association, American Sociological Association, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Society for the Scientific Study of Sex, Women's Health Network, Academy of Political Science, Women's History Association.
(Compiler and editor) Sexual Honesty: By Women for Women, Warner Paperback Library (New York, NY), 1974.
The Hite Report: A Nationwide Study of Female Sexuality, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1976.
The Hite Report on Male Sexuality, Knopf (New York, NY), 1981, published as The Hite Report: A Study of Male Sexuality, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1982.
Women and Love: A Cultural Revolution in Progress, Knopf (New York, NY), 1987.
Good Guys, Bad Guys: The Hite Guide to Smart Choices, Carroll & Graf (New York, NY), 1991.
The Divine Comedy of Ariadne and Jupiter: The Amazing and Spectacular Adventures of Ariadne and Her Dog Jupiter in Heaven and on Earth, Peter Owen (Chester Springs, PA), 1994.
Women as Revolutionary Agents of Change: The Hite Reports and Beyond, University of Wisconsin Press (Madison, WI), 1994.
The Hite Report on the Family: Growing Up under Patriarchy, Grove Press (New York, NY), 1995.
The Hite Report on Hite, Acadia (New York, NY), 1996.
The Shere Hite Reader: New and Selected Writings on Sex, Globalization, and Private Life, Seven Stories Press (New York, NY), 2006.
Contributor to periodicals, newspapers, and scholarly journals.
Consulting editor, Journal of Sex Education and Therapy and Journal of Sexuality and Disability.
SIDELIGHTS: Shere Hite, who prefers to be called a cultural historian rather than a sex researcher or sexologist, has written several controversial, best-selling books on the topic of human sexuality, including The Hite Report: A Nationwide Study of Female Sexuality, The Hite Report on Male Sexuality, Women and Love: A Cultural Revolution in Progress, and The Hite Report on the Family: Growing Up under Patriarchy. Each book was generated from lengthy questionnaires completed by either female or male respondents from across the nation, and each presents insightful, and even novel, information about its charged topic. With each of these publications, however, numerous critics have called her research methods into question and some have criticized her for what they deem her strong feminist bias. Nevertheless, a thread of appreciation runs through the commentary, for many feel Hite has listened with compassion to the sexual frustrations of contemporary women and men. For example, Arlie Russell Hochschild maintained in his New York Times Book Review assessment of Women and Love that "[Hite] sets us next to her in a kind of confessional booth to listen through the curtain…. She makes [the women] know they are not alone, she articulates their discontent."
Hite was born Shirley Diana Gregory in 1942 in St. Joseph, Missouri. Her mother and father divorced shortly after the end of World War II. When her mother remarried, Hite was legally adopted by Raymond Hite. This second marriage ended in divorce, as well, and for many years thereafter Hite lived on and off with her grandparents. Hite's earliest desire was to be a classical composer, "but how many women have you heard of becoming composers, right?," she asked Chicago Tribune interviewer Cheryl Lavin. Accordingly, Hite said her second choice was "trying to figure out how society got where it is and why is it so irrational." Thus, after moving to Florida to stay with some relatives, Hite pursued her B.A. and M.A. degrees in history at the University of Florida. In 1968, she moved to New York City to further her study of history at Columbia University, but she withdrew early on and began modeling at the Wilhelmina Agency.
Modeling was not a serious career move for Hite; rather, it was a way to earn extra money while pursuing other interests. Her first link with the feminist movement developed shortly thereafter when she modeled as a secretary in a typewriter advertisement that proclaimed: "The typewriter is so smart she doesn't have to be," noted Martha Smilgis in Time. Because the ad incensed her, Hite joined the National Organization for Women (NOW) which was protesting the ad at the time. Then in 1971, according to Smilgis, "Hite read a pamphlet in the NOW office, The Myth of Female Orgasm, and decided to create a questionnaire on the issue for a NOW-sponsored 'speak up.' As she read the women's responses about their sexuality, 'a whole picture of the universe began to fall into place,' says Hite. 'Without feminism I don't know what I would be doing today. It gave me the belief in myself.'" It was this belief in herself and other women that motivated Hite to tap into the subject of contemporary sexual problems.
The Hite Report: A Nationwide Study of Female Sexuality was an immediate bestseller and was placed in the company of such classic works on sexuality as the Kinsey report and the Masters and Johnson reports. For a period of four years, Hite distributed approximately 100,000 lengthy questionnaires to women through such sources as NOW, church newsletters, and Mademoiselle, Oui, and Ms. magazines. She based the resultant book on the responses of approximately 3,000 women ranging in age from fourteen to seventy-three, with representation from forty-nine states. According to Newsweek reviewer Jean Seligmann, whereas the Kinsey and the Masters and Johnson reports were the product of interviews and laboratory research conducted by these experts, "the women themselves are presented as the authorities on their own sexuality" in The Hite Report. Thus, "reading The Hite Report," noted Karen Durbin for Mademoiselle, "is rather like sitting in on a mass-consciousness raising session about female sexuality. Women talk in unusual detail about their sexual experiences and feelings—graphically, factually, rapturously, glumly, and sometimes brutally."
Hite's general conclusion in this first book is that current notions on sexuality must be revised if women are to achieve sexual fulfillment. Hite faults a male-oriented pattern of sexual expression for many of women's sexual difficulties: "There has rarely been any acknowledgement that female sexuality might have a complex nature of its own which would be more than just the logical counterpart of (what we think of as) male sexuality," she wrote in the text. Hite also insists that the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s created pressure for women to say "yes" to sex, but that it did not liberate women in any substantial way; that is, women did not find it any easier to say what they really wanted sexually from their partners.
Critical reaction to The Hite Report, as well as to succeeding works, found Hite's work to be controversial. Washington Post Book World reviewer Barbara G. Harrison's analysis of the work was generally pessimistic. One of her chief complaints is Hite's overemphasis on the physiological: "I have no prudish objection to reading … about the sexual activities and preferences of the 3000 women Hite surveyed. I do, however, think it's daft to act, as Hite does, on the assumption that sex and love are unrelated phenomena…. With few exceptions, the questions call for bald physiological fact rather than for psychological nuance … which, as good sense ought to tell anybody, is boring." Harrison additionally felt that the many "fancy, flimsy, and unreadable statistical charts and appendices" included in the work as a means of assuring the book's scientific credibility instead "serve only to cast doubt on her methodology." However, Harrison went on to maintain that doubtful methodology is not the book's main flaw: "What is more detrimental to the integrity of The Hite Report is the absence of any synthesizing, reflective intelligence to help us interpret the data … which is another way of saying that Hite did not know how to organize her material, or—which is worse—organized it according to her own transparent biases." In the end, though, Harrison recommended the book because she felt the authentic voices of the confused and pained women ought to be heard. "Read it," Harrison wrote, "because the answers of many women transcend the limitations imposed on them by the nuts-and-bolts questions Hite asked. Read it because it is frequently provocative and affecting…. Read it because, while no one can swear to the honesty of all the answers, even the lies we tell one another are instructive."
Presenting the book from a more positive overall stance were Durbin for Mademoiselle and New York Times Book Review contributor Erica Jong. Durbin explained that "whatever the limitations of The Hite Report, its intentions are more than mechanistic hedonism. If it lobbies for anything, it's for illumination and understanding of a dimension of women's experience that may always remain somewhat mysterious but has so far only been needlessly mystified." In turn, Jong optimistically commented that The Hite Report represents the culmination in terms of books that allow women to speak for themselves. According to Jong, women who read The Hite Report "will feel enormously reassured about their own sexuality and if enough young men read it, the quality of sex in America is bound to improve."
Hite followed her report on female sexuality with her equally controversial book The Hite Report on Male Sexuality. Like the previous work, this book chiefly presents verbatim questionnaire responses, but this time from men—more than 7,000 of them from ages thirteen to ninety-seven. Lynn Langway wrote in her Newsweek commentary that this is a "larger [1,129 pages], more ambitious and provocative work than its predecessor" and she quotes Hite as saying: "'I think it will definitely enrage and enlighten. The book was trying to ask how men feel about sexuality. The answer was they like it and they treasure it—but at the same time they dislike it and feel very put upon by it….' Like the women depicted in her first book, many of the 7,239 men who participated in the second study said they felt trapped by sexual stereotypes, craved emotional intimacy—and found themselves unable to talk openly about their sexual angers, anxieties, and desires."
Time reviewer John Leo thought that Hite presents some bizarre theories on male sexuality in the book. For one, he said she "persistently applies a hard-line feminist interpretation. Most sexual problems and sexual differences, she argues, are the result of the 'patriarchal culture,' the age-old male suppression of women. Men like to have intercourse not because of biology, but because they are 'brought up to feel that [this is] a vital part of being a man.'" For another, according to Leo, Hite claims that many men have extramarital affairs because "they come to think of their wives as their mothers, and the incest taboo obviously inhibits sex with mothers." Leo concluded that occasionally "Hite descends from the soapbox long enough to notice what her men are saying. 'The basic feeling that comes through,' she writes, 'is that men feel they are not getting enough love, affection or appreciation.'"
Regarding critical reception to her second book, Hite commented in her interview with Lavin: "On my first book I had mostly women reviewers, and 95 percent of them liked it. On the second I had mostly men reviewers, and 95 percent of them didn't like it. I thought I was saying all these things about masculinity and the patterns of men's lives, and in the press all I'd see is, 'Is she scientific?' and 'Is she just trying to make money?'" According to Robert L. Gould in the New York Times Book Review: "For all her efforts, The Hite Report on Male Sexuality is based on a nonrepresentative sample of the American male population…. Hite's book … informs us only about a specific fraction of our adult male population, and the professional therapist or counselor will find nothing new in it." Nevertheless, Gould went on to say that "for the nonprofessional, [the book] may be an eye opener in the tradition of the original reports of Alfred Kinsey…. [It] pulverizes any remaining myths about 'normal' male sexuality that have not already been reduced to dust by earlier reports." Langway concluded her review by quoting John Money, a Johns Hopkins University psychologist: "Hite has 'uncovered the extraordinary, romantic sentimentality of men who have been brainwashed to feel that they don't have these feelings.'" As Langway commented: "Such insights are profoundly important."
In her Time contribution, Claudia Wallis estimated that the first two books in Hite's trilogy garnered 2.5 million dollars for the author and that the third, the 900-page "tome" Women and Love, is "characteristically grandiose in scope, murky in methodology—and right on target for commercial appeal." The book stirred up a controversy as surely as the previous two had, with some critics blasting Hite for being anti-male and others lauding her for relaying an important message about the disillusionment women experience in their relationships with men. Again, focus was on Hite's research methodology—with complaints centering on the small return rate of 4.5 percent, which many claim cannot provide a fair representation of the U.S. population as a whole, particularly when it is believed that only the most discontented would take the time to answer some 120 essay questions. In general, critics were split on this issue of methodology. For example, in the Los Angeles Times, Carol Tavris was especially judgmental of Hite's statistics: "The numbers are, to put it simply, a joke…. [Hite] devotes a chapter to defending subjective routes to truth, and then tries to convince the reader that her work is objective and scientifically accurate as well…. Well, what is wrong with subjective routes to truth?… The answer, I think, lies in the growing popularity of what Robert Asahina, a writer and editor, calls 'social-science fiction'—books that are not really social science but 'naive personal journalism….' The impression that they are based on 'research' adds a veneer of respectability and seriousness, and supposedly elevates them above the authors' personal experiences." Also questioning Hite's statistical validity was Los Angeles Times staff writer Elizabeth Mehren, who reported that the results of a Washington Post-ABC News public opinion survey was very much at odds with Hite's findings. Whereas Hite's statistics indicate that ninety-eight percent of the women in her study are unhappy with some aspect of their relationship with men, this telephone survey of 1,505 men and women from across the nation found that ninety-three percent of the women called their relationships with men good or excellent.
Supportive viewpoints do abound, however, as evidenced by Mehren's commentary. She quoted University of Toronto psychiatrist Dr. Frank Sommers as saying that the debate surrounding Hite's book is "part of a defensive reaction where you shoot the messenger." Mehren further quoted Max Siegal, a former president of the American Psychiatric Association: "The big flaw I don't think is methodological. I think it's in society, in a society that is not willing to look at itself and the problems we have in relating to each other."
The "real" issues of Women and Love were summed up by Ms. contributor Lisa Duggan when she wrote: "[Hite] argues that we are in a difficult phase of a cultural revolution, that women are extending the fight for meaningful equality into the innermost recesses of personal relationships, demanding that life be transformed to incorporate their deeply held values of equality, cooperation, communication, and caring." The chief complaint of the women in Hite's survey seems to be the failure of men to respond to their emotional needs. Hite reports that eighty-seven percent of her respondents are emotionally closer to their women friends than to their husbands or lovers, and also that seventy percent of women married more than five years reported having extramarital affairs.
Those who were positive about Women and Love are generally so because Hite let the women themselves tell their stories of pain and disillusionment. "If Women and Love isn't good social science," remarked Hochschild, "it is a valuable, provocative, loosely argued, searching meditation on how culture influences love, illustrated by many hypnotizing, sad, sweet, chilling and lurid stories." Although Hochschild believed that Hite is dealing with "fishy statistics," what is "wonderfully worthwhile about Women and Love are the moving stories of women and the continuous stream of deep, probing questions Ms. Hite raises about them…. She also helps women make sense of their feelings…. She articulates their discontent." Landsberg also supported this work. She expressed her viewpoint that many critics "can't have read the book very seriously. Few researchers have ever listened so deeply to the innermost thoughts of their subjects. In fact, the … book … strikes me as a good deal more thorough and 'scientific' than the idiotic multiple-choice quizzes, the market surveys and opinion polls that reporters usually accept so reverentially. Scientific or not, the book is significant."
Hite's fourth major work of statistical analysis, The Hite Report on the Family: Growing Up under Patriarchy, was published in the United States in 1995, but only after Hite's original publisher declined to release what it considered to be a "sloppy" book, in the words of Nation contributor E. Kay Trimberger. Several prominent feminist scholars rushed to Hite's defense, and the book was finally brought out by Grove Press. The controversy over the book's initial publication was mirrored by the critical reception of the book once it appeared: some critics hailed the author for creating another groundbreaking report, while others dismissed the work for reasons of faulty methodology and sweeping generalizations. In the book, Hite presents the findings from her study of 3,000 subjects who filled out a questionnaire regarding sex, family, children, and divorce. Hite concludes that the traditional patriarchal family unit is growing less common, as more families consist of single mothers, families with two lesbian parents, and so on. The author welcomes this change, noting that "new kinds of families can be the basis for a renaissance of spiritual dignity and creativity in political life." On the issue of sexuality in a family setting—for example, parents' sexual relationships and the sexual behavior of children—Hite wisely stops short of defining a model for such behavior, noted Trimberger. Instead, "she advocates more discussion about sexuality between parents and children, without invasiveness, probing, or control," Trimberger stated.
Trimberger remarked that, "on this level, Hite's work, current and past, makes a cultural contribution and should be published and read." However, Trimberger heavily criticized Hite for other aspects of the book, including what she viewed as the author's tendency toward "broad generalizations" and "sweeping and inaccurate conclusions." Trimberger concluded that "Hite's faulty statistics and simplistic theorizing add virtually nothing to current social debates about the family. Her book is sloppy." Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Susan Jacoby likewise argued that the book cannot properly be labeled "social science" because of its author's questionable "assumption that general insights can be derived from highly subjective, idiosyncratic accounts of private lives." However, Jacoby noted that the book is valuable on another level, commenting that "many of Ms. Hite's subjects provide revealing and moving reflections on family life."
In 1994 Hite published an overview to her various writings titled Women as Revolutionary Agents of Change: The Hite Reports and Beyond. The volume includes excerpts from her reports, notes on her methodology, and essays by other scholars supporting Hite's work.
The Shere Hite Reader: New and Selected Writings on Sex, Globalization, and Private Life contains a wide selection of more than forty years' of Hite's writings on sex as part of individual identity and as an integral component of modern culture. In the book, Hite "offers a wide-ranging look at the complexities and the subtleties of female and male sexuality," commented Booklist reviewer Vanessa Bush. Hite relies in this volume largely on the same interviews and question-naires that provided the foundation for her earlier, and more controversial, books. She addresses a variety of subjects, including how boys and girls grow up and experience their own bodies; how globalization and sex intersect; how sexuality coincides with the quest for human rights; the types of pressures and demands placed on women by religious fundamentalists; and how women must learn to identify and balance their sexual needs. She also looks at the changes in sexual behavior and attitudes in the wake of postfeminism, with particular attention to the tensions created by sexual equality and the rewriting of many sexual lives through the use of Viagra and other impotency drugs. The book "leaves readers with a general sense of the scope and breadth of Hite's ideas" and theories, noted a Publishers Weekly reviewer, though it does not fit Hite's thought into the "big picture of research on human sexuality." Bush, however, found The Shere Hite Reader to be a "fascinating exploration" of the evolution of contemporary attitudes about sex. Despite the controversy surrounding her work, Hite remains an influential scholar and thinker.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Hite, Shere, The Hite Report: A Nationwide Study of Female Sexuality, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1976.
Hite, Shere, The Hite Report on Male Sexuality, Knopf (New York, NY), 1981, published as The Hite Report: A Study of Male Sexuality, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1982.
Hite, Shere, Women and Love: A Cultural Revolution in Progress, Knopf (New York, NY), 1987.
Hite, Shere, The Hite Report on the Family: Growing Up under Patriarchy, Grove Press (New York, NY), 1995.
Booklist, August, 2005, Vanessa Bush, review of The Shere Hite Reader: New and Selected Writings on Sex, Globalization, and Private Life, p. 1972.
Chicago Tribune, November 28, 1982, Cheryl Lavin, "A Hite Report—On Shere Herself," interview with Shere Hite, p. 11.
Library Journal, January 1, 2005, Michael Rogers, review of The Hite Report, p. 172.
Los Angeles Times, October 29, 1987, Elizabeth Mehren, "The War Over Love Heats Up Again Author Shere Hite's Third Report on Sexuality Fuels an Old Debate Over Her Methodology," profile of Shere Hite, p. 1; November 1, 1987, Carol Tavris, "Method is All but Lost in the Imagery of Social-Science Fiction," p. 5; November 16, 1987, Elizabeth Mehren, "Hite Report Plagued by Controversy; Pollsters Challenge Author's Techniques," p. 1.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, August 4, 1991, Karen Stabiner, review of Good Guys, Bad Guys: The Hite Guide to Smart Choices, p. 6.
Maclean's, October 19, 1987, Mary McIver, "Tapping a Mine of Female Discontent," review of The Hite Report, p. 44.
Mademoiselle, January, 1977, Karen Durbin, review of The Hite Report.
Ms., October, 1981, Lindsy Van Gelder, review of The Hite Report on Male Sexuality, p. 32; December, 1987, Lisa Duggan, review of Women and Love, p. 90; September-October, 1994, Jennifer Gonnerman, "Show's Afraid of Shere Hite," p. 75.
Nation, June 19, 1995, E. Kay Trimberger, review of The Hite Report on the Family: Growing Up under Patriarchy, p. 896.
Newsweek, October 18, 1976, Jean Seligmann, review of The Hite Report; June 15, 1981, Lynn Langway, "Now, the Trouble with Men," p. 104; October 19, 1987, Laura Shapiro, review of Women and Love, p. 86; November 23, 1987, Bill Barol and Karen Brailsford, "Men Aren't Her Only Problem: A Bizarre Month for Sex Researcher Shere Hite," p. 76.
New York Times, November 13, 1987, Fox Butterfield, "Hite's New Book is under Rising Attack," review of Women and Love, p. B4.
New York Times Book Review, October 3, 1976, Erica Jong, review of The Hite Report; July 12, 1981, Robert L. Gould, review of The Hite Report on Male Sexuality, p. 8; November 15, 1987, Arlie Russell Hochschild, review of Women and Love, p. 3; June 4, 1995, Susan Jacoby, review of The Hite Report on the Family, p. 9.
Observer, February 27, 1994, "A Porn-Again Publicist," p. 21.
People, July 4, 1994, Michael Fitzgerald and Cathy Nolan, "French Leave," profile of Shere Hite, p. 57.
Publishers Weekly, May 10, 1991, review of Good Guys, Bad Guys, p. 264; March 21, 1994, review of Women as Revolutionary Agents of Change, p. 52; March 20, 1995, review of The Hite Report on the Family, p. 48; June 13, 2005, review of The Shere Hite Reader, p. 40.
Time, October 25, 1976, Martha Smilgis, interview with Hite; June 15, 1981, John Leo, review of The Hite Report on Male Sexuality; October 12, 1987, Claudia Wallis, "Back off, Buddy," review of Women and Love, p. 68.
Times Literary Supplement, June 3, 1994, Richard Davenport-Hines, review of The Hite Report on the Family, p. 11.
Washington Post, November 10, 1987, David Streitfeld, "Shere Hite and the Trouble with Numbers," review of Women and Love, p. B08; November 14, 1987, David Streitfeld, "The Hite Report, Cont'd," p. D03.
Washington Post Book World, March 13, 1977, Barbara G. Harrison, review of The Hite Report.
Hite Research Web site, http://www.hite-research.com/ (March 25, 2006), biography of Shere Hite.
Seven Stories Press Web site, http://www.sevenstories.com/ (March 25, 2006), biography of Shere Hite.