Sexes: Back Off, Buddy

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

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Hollywood has begun to cash in on the undercurrent of women's rage at men. In Fatal Attraction, currently the nation's top box-office draw, Actress Glenn Close enacts the ultimate female revenge fantasy. While Close's character eventually reveals herself as a murderous psycho, she has a number of exchanges with her married lover early in the film that hit home with every woman ever scorned ( "I woke up. You weren't here. I hate that"). Says one Washington woman who saw the film with two girlfriends: "Afterward, we talked about all the boyfriends we ever had wanted to murder and schemed about how we should have done it."

Women's disappointment in the inability of men to communicate is perhaps the most universal of Hite's themes. "This is the No. 1 complaint of women," says Atlanta-based Writer Maxine Rock, whose 1986 book, The Marriage Map, chronicled the stages of matrimony. Psychiatrist Brian Doyle at Georgetown University notes that his male patients "often complain that they are not good at expressing their feelings."

Hite's observation that extramarital flings are largely a response to these deficiencies rings true in many female ears. "I know so many women who fool around outside their marriages," says Kathy Murr, 40, a twice-divorced Chicago dress designer. "Basically, it's the emotion and the attention they want."

Still, many of Hite's most shocking statistics seem dubious -- and indeed are at odds with other major studies. A 1987 Harris poll of 3,000 people found that family life is a source of great satisfaction to both men and women, with 89% saying their relationship with their partner is satisfying. A Redbook magazine survey released last month of 26,000 women found that sexual satisfaction has increased: 43% of respondents said they were "very satisfied," compared with 33% in a similar 1974 Redbook poll. Marital satisfaction was also up.

Reinisch of the Kinsey Institute is one of many social scientists who challenge Hite's finding that 70% of women married more than five years are having affairs. Kinsey's figure for infidelity, reported in 1953, was 26%, and more recent studies, including the Redbook poll, have shown little change. Others dispute Hite's allegation that 91% of divorcees initiated the split-up. Women do take the first step in the majority of divorces, according to Berkeley Psychologist Judith Wallerstein, but her own studies indicate that the proportion is closer to two-thirds.

Hardest to swallow is the unrelieved bitterness and rage against men expressed throughout the report's pages. Women and Love so resonates with angry voices that the volume fairly vibrates in one's hand. Charges one of Hite's women: "Every man you meet still tries to hump you every way he can. It's about time we humped them back." Blasts another: "Men think they are so mature, but deep down they are such babies. They expect to be catered to. They whine and complain about everything."

While some of Hite's women are more moderate, even conciliatory, the emphasis on the strident seems off-key to many observers. Grace Pierce, 31, a Houston architect, objects to Hite's portrayal of women as "total victims." Says she: "I don't buy that." Women used to blame themselves for everything, observes Eileen O'Grady, 31, a business writer at the Houston Post. "Now we are saying, 'It's his fault,' and that's just as bad."

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