A SEX GURU OR SIMPLY A CHARLATAN; She's the Ex-Playboy Model Who Rewrote the Feminist Rule Book with Shocking Claims about Women's Sex Lives. Now, in Her New Autobiography, Shere Hite Answers Critics Who Say She Rigged Research to Promote Her Antifamily Agenda

Article excerpt

Byline: LESLEY GARNER

AT THE height of the women's movement in the early Seventies, there was one advertisement which enraged women so much that they decided to picket the company responsible.

The ad, for Olivetti typewriters, showed a sexy blonde at her typewriter, legs seductively crossed, red-lipsticked mouth pouting provocatively at the camera.

'The typewriter that's so smart,' crowed the caption, 'that she doesn't have to be.' One of the girls who joined the picket was a pretty, pale-skinned blonde, shy, with no makeup. Two hours into the meeting, she timidly admitted that she was the dumb broad in the ad. The women around her were thrilled.

'You see,' they crowed. 'Even the women in the ads don't like them!' It was a significant moment for the women's movement. The not-so-dumb blonde model was Shere Hite, who was to become one of the most controversial figures in feminism, as well as one of the richest.

And it was a significant moment for her. On her way from country girl to history student to New York model, Shere Hite had been hatching her own ideas about women's lives and the way men ruled them. In an instant at that meeting she had found friends, support, self-confidence and the beginnings of her life's purpose.

Within five years, she had become an internationally bestselling author, first with her blockbusting investigation into women's sex lives, The Hite Report On Female Sexuality (1976) and later with Hite reports on men and the family.

The Hite secret of success was to hammer home simple, startling and subversive messages with the weight of enormous amounts of anecdotal research.

Her first, wildly controversial message for women was that they didn't need men and penetrative sex to find sexual satisfaction.

If you were one of many women who had trouble reaching orgasm with a man, her findings were a comfort and a potential liberation. If you were a man they were shocking and outrageous.

HITE went on to investigate male attitudes to sex and put even more backs up. What she proclaimed is now the familiar topic of 1,000 wine bar conversations, but she claimed to prove that men were emotionally dysfunctional because of the way they were brought up, and that cultural conditioning put them under pressure to have unemotional sex.

By the time her third book came along, The Hite Report On Women And Love, which chronicled the emotional misery behind the bedroom door, Hite's detractors had had enough.

Even Betty Friedan, godmother of feminism, called the book 'one long whine'.

The American media tore Hite to pieces and left her bleeding.

They attacked her glamorous persona; they attacked her research methodology.

She had sold 20 million copies of her books worldwide but suddenly no U.S.

publisher would touch her.

Hite with her German husband, Friedrich, some 20 years younger, left the States for Germany where she even became a German citizen, such was her disenchantment. Now 56 she has composed her thoughts on her roller-coaster life so far in her just published autobiography, The Hite Report On Shere Hite.

She attempts to answer critics who say she's been evasive about her life by chronicling it all: her abandonment by her mother to a strict Missouri upbringing with her grandparents, an all-American, cheerleading adolescence with her aunt in Florida, success as a model in New York and then her headlong commitment to the women's movement.

SHE defends her books and her research and writes emotionally of her crucifixion at the hands of the media.

She sees herself as a highly significant 20th-century figure, a martyr of women's liberation.

But for someone with such a high-minded purpose, something about Hite persists in annoying us.

It seems the whole world is suspicious of an overtly sexy and feminine woman, especially when she attacks male authority and demands to be taken seriously. …