Sexes: Back Off, Buddy

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

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Ah, love in the '80s. Men who cry. Women who compete. Fathers who nurture. Mothers who assert themselves. Shared feelings between equal partners. Equal shares of housework and orgasms. Two rewarding careers; two fulfilling love lives. At last, a peaceful resolution to the war between the sexes. Right?

Well, not quite. Sure, there have been some improvements. Men do dishes after women cook, and some have even mastered the vacuum cleaner. Women, meanwhile, troop off to the office to discover the pleasures of the 16-hour workday and the rush-hour commute. Certainly, both sexes have come to appreciate better the tough role their opposite has traditionally played. There is more mutual understanding. More teamwork. Right?

Not even close, according to Shere (pronounced like share) Hite, the doyenne of sex polls, liberator of the female libido and self-described "cultural historian." With an uncanny zest for the provocative and an infallible instinct never to underestimate the popular appetite for intimate confessions, Hite is about to hit the bookstands and blitz the talk-show circuits with an elaborate (922 pages) report on American women and their relationships, her third major study in eleven years.

It is a lucrative business. The Hite Report: A Nationwide Study on Female Sexuality (1976) and The Hite Report on Male Sexuality (1981) together earned the coolly glamorous author $2.5 million. The new tome, Women and Love, a Cultural Revolution in Progress (Knopf; $24.95), is characteristically grandiose in scope, murky in methodology -- and right on target for commercial appeal. Having spent seven years analyzing a survey of the views of some 4,500 American women, Hite has concluded that they are fed up with the male of the species. "What is going on right now in the minds of women is a large-scale cultural revolution," writes Hite. "Over and over, women of all ages express their increasing emotional frustration and gradual disillusionment with their personal relationships with men."

Hite insists that despite women's liberation and the sexual revolution, women remain oppressed and even abused by men. Nearly four out of five women in her study said they still had to fight for their rights within relationships, though an even greater proportion (87%) maintained that men actually tended to become more emotionally dependent than women. They complained that they were expected to play the traditional nurturing, love- giving roles while helping out as breadwinners.

In Hite's view, one of her most disturbing and important discoveries was the pervasiveness of "private emotional violence" inflicted by men upon women. Such violence, she says, is conveyed through insults, hostility, teasing and aggressive behavior. Virtually all her respondents (92%) complained that men communicate with women in language that indicates "condescending, judgmental attitudes." Women are "caught between an anger that makes them want to leave and a longing to create love," charges the 44-year-old author. Who is to blame? No question there. "It's not us. It's men's attitudes toward women that are causing the problem," Hite told TIME last week.

Among Hite's more startling findings:

-- 95% of the women in the study reported forms of "emotional and psychological harassment" from the men they love, and 98% said that they want to make "basic changes" in their love relationships.

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