Women As Revolutionary Agents of Change

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Women as a class have seldom been regarded as agents of change, revolutionary or otherwise. Nevertheless, during the past quarter century, the dual impact of the women’s movement and women’s expanding role in the paid labor force has brought major change to American economy and public life. In this volume, Hite argues that even greater change will come to the private sphere, as women define and assert their own sexual and emotional needs.

The book’s subject almost guarantees immediate attention, and unwary readers who dislike explicit sexual discussion will suffer instant shock. The author often overstates her case. Yet almost every page contains a profound and provocative idea or question. Anyone, male or female, who thinks he or she already knows “all about sex” is in for a surprise here.

What does Hite say that so recasts readers’ usual thinking? While a few points restate standard misunderstandings—that women hate for men to dismiss their feelings; that men often needlessly blame themselves rather than female physiology when their lovers fail to achieve orgasm—most sections go beyond either mainstream or feminist ideas. For example, it is commonly recognized that religious values or fear have often been used to discourage teenagers, the unmarried, and others from having sex. How about the reverse? Hite presents evidence of times when people had to be browbeaten into having sex in order for the race to survive.

On the sensitive question of why so many husbands are unfaithful, she tosses out a truly radical alternative to the standard premise that males are just biologically wired to spread their genes as widely as possible. Could it be, she asks, that many men find marital sex boring because (by their own admission), they did not marry the woman they loved most?

Hite’s sampling and statistical methods have been scathingly questioned. Rumor says she sought overseas publishers for her recent books because American publishers initially did not want to touch them. She seems to be bearing a message that many in American society do not want to hear. If so, it is their loss, because this book is both insightful and at heart deeply moral.