Sexes: Back Off, Buddy

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

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How to explain the anger in Hite's survey? And, for that matter, why the more general pattern of anti-male literature at a time when, by many measures, women's lot has radically improved? "What has happened," offers Gloria Steinem, feminist author and a founder of Ms. magazine, "is that expectations have increased as reality has gotten better." The balance of power in relationships used to be about 60-40, she contends. "Now we're trying for 50-50. You have to point out the problems, and that's what some of these books are doing."

"Women are asking more of men," maintains Jennifer Knopf, co-director of the adult-sexuality program at Northwestern Medical School in Chicago. "As women assume more of the men's roles in society, it's expected and natural, like yin and yang, that men should balance that out." Unfortunately, today's "new woman" is too often contending with the same old man. Women continue to do the lion's share of the housekeeping, child care and cooking, even in households where both partners work. Glamour magazine surveys have found, for example, that the proportion of women who claim that they share child-care duties equally with their partners has actually dropped in the past three years, from 40% to 31%. "The big disappointment is that younger men aren't that different from their fathers," says University of Texas Sociologist Glenn.

Some observers believe the sexual revolution has directly contributed to women's restlessness and discontent. The liberated woman's adoption of freer sexual attitudes can get in the way of emotional intimacy, suggests Connaught Marshner, executive editor of the Family Protection Report newsletter in Washington. "Unless the woman basically coaches the man in how to achieve intimacy, he won't," says Marshner. "He has to be motivated and he has to be taught. If a man knows he can get you to go to bed with him, he's not going to bother to be interested in your personality. And that's what Hite is finding." Hite writes that most women, after the attempts of the past ten to 20 years to "have sex like men" -- by which she means they do "not connect sex to emotions or a relationship" -- have found this approach to be unsatisfying.

Hite did not ask men to comment on the changes of the past 15 years in this study. If she had, she likely would have heard complaints from them too. Many seem to feel that women's elevated expectations are a little unfair. After all, men are still in the throes of adjusting to how women have changed, and to expect men to metamorphose overnight may be too much. "The past ten years have been damn difficult for middle-class men who have tried to reinforce their roles instead of adapting to the new era," observes Fred Rhodes, 34, publicity director for Texas Children's Hospital, who has been married for ten ^ years. "A lot of men are still making adjustments to the fact that their wife is not just like dear old mom." Says Randy Treichler, 31, a married graduate student at the University of California at Davis: "Both men and women in our generation have learned to open up and talk. I don't see a return to the old male-female roles. Our thinking is very influenced by the changes that came about in the 1960s."

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