Sexes: Back Off, Buddy

A new Hite report stirs up a furor over sex and love in the '80s

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Indeed, the world according to Hite is just that, a subjective view. In her report, Hite makes no pretense of maintaining the distance from her subject matter customarily expected of a social scientist. Describing the radical feminist outcry against marriage, for example -- "exploitation of women financially, physically, sexually and emotionally" -- she does not hesitate to add her opinion that it is "just and accurate." Hite's analysis is colored by her entrenched view that today's men and women are incapable of getting through to one another, that most men are treacherous troglodytes and women are socially conditioned to serve them. "According to the 'male' ideology," she asserts, "there can be no such thing as equality -- 'someone has to be on top.' " In addition, much of her analysis seems to stray from the questionnaire upon which the book is based. Indeed, as with Hite Reports I and II, the survey often seems merely to provide an occasion for the author's own male-bashing diatribes.

That said, there is little doubt that Hite has tapped into a deep vein of female dissatisfaction with love relationships. "These are not happy days between the genders," observes Sociologist Amitai Etzioni of George Washington University. "All the rules have been thrown out, and everybody has to invent them as they go along. That's tough." Because of their traditional role as arbiters of relationships, many women see themselves as having to bear the brunt of that burden. "This nation is filled with burned-out women," says Joyce Maynard, 33, the New Hampshire author (Domestic Affairs) and mother of three who writes a weekly syndicated column.

"If women are unhappier," says Maynard, "it is partly because they are trying to pull off something that can't be pulled off, except on Thursday nights in The Cosby Show. Women have been told they can have -- even ought to have -- husband, children and career, all perfectly managed. It is a lie." Through her column, Maynard has conducted a survey of her own on extramarital affairs. Of 900 replies, 800 were from women who had been unfaithful. Observes Maynard: "They feel, 'I give all day long; I want to do something for me.' "

Women's disillusionment with marriage and love is affirmed in a number of recent surveys, studies and reports. Among them:

-- A survey of 60,000 women conducted last year by Woman's Day magazine found that 38% would not choose the same spouse if they had to do it all over again. In addition, 39% said they feel like their husband's housekeeper and 27% like his mother. Only 28% said they feel like his lover.

-- A report in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Marriage and the Family comparing 15 years of data compiled by the University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center concludes that marriage in the U.S. is a "weakened and declining institution," primarily because women are getting less out of it. The authors, Sociologist Norval Glenn of the University of Texas at Austin ) and Charles Weaver of St. Mary's University of San Antonio, have found that women are less happy in marriage today than in the past, probably because having a husband now means an increased load of responsibilities rather than the traditional trade-off of homemaking for financial support.

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