Growing Up Under Patriarchy
Email this review


 Hite raises some audacious and crucial questions about sexual socialization in the family while conspicuously shying away from others. The noted documenter of sexual mores (Women and Love, 1987, etc.) turns to the experience of family to find out what we learn in our early years about love, intimacy, gender roles, and sexuality. This most recent Hite report is based on the written responses of more than 3,000 women, children, and men in 16 countries to an 80-item questionnaire. Some of her conclusions are fascinating challenges to popular assumptions: Many girls masturbate to orgasm by the age of five; in woman-headed households girls have better relationships with their mothers than girls in two-parent households. Other findings are more expected: Children feel isolated by being forced to sleep alone and by a lack of physical affection from the age of about seven until their mid- teens. As in past Hite reports, the respondents' own words make fine, voyeuristically pleasurable reading. However, Hite is often annoyingly vague and selective about which data she chooses to reveal, often calling particular feelings or responses ``rare'' without giving any percentages. How rare is ``rare''? How much is ``most'' (e.g., ``Most men and boys say they were taunted...with phrases like, `Don't be a sissy' '')? Equally frustrating is Hite's refusal to identify her respondents by race, class, age, and nationality. She justifies this by explaining that she ``dislikes the idea of categorizing people.'' But in devoting separate chapters to boys, girls, mothers, and fathers, she assumes that gender--a ``category'' if ever there was one--will affect the responses. Yet the experience of patriarchy is mediated by numerous other cultural factors, and the social changes that Hite heralds cannot possibly be taking place for everyone in the same way. A provocative contribution to public debate over ``family values,'' though ultimately too evasive too satisfy. (First printing of 50,000; first serial to Ms.; author tour)

Pub Date: May 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-8021-1570-5
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Grove
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1995