15.08.1993

A pornucopia of feminist banality

A pornucopia of feminist banality
 
SECOND SIGHT - SHERE HITE
 
Behind the smut lies silliness, says LYNETTE BURROWS
 
THE American sexol­ogist Shere Hite has written a novel that the Times describes as a "bodice-fastener" — because it has no sex in it. This should not surprise those who know this egre­gious lady. She has never written a line of porn in her life; she always gets others to do it for her (though her bank balance takes the credit).
 
Since 1976 she has pro­duced three "Reports" on male and female sexuality, all based on the sound com­mercial idea of getting people to describe in graphic detail their sexual behaviour and, in case that is not titillating enough, their fantasies too. These accounts have been gath­ered into books of stupen­dous crudity and length that became instant best-sellers.
 
The questionnaires she issued as part of her research for the books were designed by their grossness to select the kind of people she wanted and to elicit from them the pornographic descriptions she needed to sell her product. Some 4,000 people replied out of a total of 100,000 questionnaires sent out, and they provided both the raw material and the cloak of seriousness that was necessary for mass- marketing.
 
It was "the people talk­ing", though in an uncannily uniform tone and style. What they said was that 98 per cent of women were unhappy in marriage, that they had virulent feelings about men, and, above all, that they longed for orgasm by any means.
 
As an exercise in tendentiousness, it reminds one of the drawings of entire Stone Age settlements that used to adorn children's history books, where the primitive
communities of Europe were authoritatively illus­trated, complete with clubs and ape-like expressions, although such information was deduced only from two slivers of bone and a tooth that had been found in a swamp somewhere in Africa.
 
As a formula, it has worked very well because, despite the sheer nastiness of the sentiments expressed, the books have attracted enormous media attention. The simple device of persuading intelligent people to comment on them has made her books seem profound when they are about as worthy of serious attention as Nazi propa­ganda. It is true that they are disturbing in rather the same way — but then Ms Hite and her devotees regard that as a sign that her incredibly silly ideas are an intellectual threat rather than simply degrading.
 
In a physical fight between a man and a woman, most men are inhib­ited because their superior strength means they must pull their punches or risk drawing blood or causing tears. Unfortunately, Ms Hite's work, like that of many feminist "thinkers", produces the same gallant response from men, who refrain from pointing out obvious inanities in a way that would cause a male writer to sink without trace.
 
What else, apart from guf­faws, would greet any man who delivered himself in these terms: "Here is another choice women are facing, then; should we con­tinue to base our 'power' on our capacity to re-create life? [re-create?] ... or should we turn to the larger society and insist on our claim to equal ownership of the system, an equal right to design and name the means of production, the philoso­phy, the art and culture, all of it?"
 
With the ineffable air of a simpleton delivering a lec­ture no one likes to inter­rupt, she muses about whether women should take arms against men to secure the political and sexual sat­isfaction they crave. "If women did assume milita­ristic tactics towards attain­ing their rights, would this change women's basic ideol­ogy of non-aggression? Or is this only the argument used by those who would encour­age women to stay in their place, trying to scare us off by saying 'power corrupts'?"
 
To say that her analysis of world events, let alone her solutions, is simplistic is to demean the word. After con­sidering the way "male pride" leads men to make war on one another for no reason, she offers a parallel with personal relations and gives her authoritative res­ponse. "A new system should be devised in which small countries and/or women are not driven to such desperate states of mind, to a feeling there is no other alternative than to fight or remain powerless, because those in power, or the man in the relationship, won't listen."
 
Noting the unpleasant fact that women have not been dominant in any society since recorded time, she hazards a guess that the "ideology" that makes this possible only arose with written history and that "if we begin to consider pre-history (history before written language), which is at least 10 times as long as what we call 'history', we may find a quite different picture of social attitudes and family structure". She refers to a golden age in pre-history when women were the prin­cipal gatherers of food as if such societies did not still exist — and were not desper­ately poor.
 
She even turns her atten­tion to the Bible and the story of Abraham being pre­pared to sacrifice his son at the command of the Lord whom she equates with being "the system" and notes that: "This system rewards men, especially 'upper-class' men, with ele­vated status."
 
If one takes the pornogra­phy out of her books, what is left gives a true impression of her intellectual ability, her common sense and her heart. All three cause one to wonder how on earth so many column inches have been devoted to singing her praises. Just how she imagi­nes the spiteful, selfish crea­tures she features are "revo­lutionary agents of change" passes all understanding. Far from being the cure for some men's contempt for a certain type of woman, they are the very point and focus of it.
 
She quotes somebody totally obscure and, indeed, unnamed, intoning thus: "I am a radical feminist at the cutting edge of the woman's movement which is just beginning and which will create the most fabulous global revolution you've ever seen, 53 per cent of the population, rising against patriarchal-hierarchical thought. My advice to women? Rise up! Take power! Listen to women!"
 
No thanks.