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"Family values' preserve patriarchy, Hite says

In 1976 Shere Hite told the world how women really felt about sex, and was vilified for it.

Almost 20 years later, the U.S. feminist and cultural historian has turned her spotlight on the family and written her first novel in a double assault on what she sees as the deaf ears of a hierarchical, male-dominated society.

The simultaneous publication this month of The Hite Report on the Family; growing up under patriarchy and the strikingly autobiographical first novel Ariadne and Jupiter sees Hite bouncing back bloodied but unbowed after years under fire.

"Sheer Hype" is what some academics call her. A British woman writer once dubbed her work "The Hate Reports."

"All the years I have been publishing I have faced a trial by the media, and I have had no way to respond. It was like being a prisoner in the dark with no voice," 51-year-old Hite said.

"Writing the novel was a real pleasure as it gave me the chance to put everything in perspective from my point of view. It was a real relief, in fact I think it probably saved my life to be able to express myself in such a free way," she said.

Driven out of the United States five years ago by attacks on her questionnaire-based research methods and what some have seen as her "suspiciously sexy for a feminist" personal appearance, Hite now divides her time between Britain, France and Germany.

"It became impossible to live in the United States in terms of the media. The quality of life became very unpleasantThe quality of debate in Europe is much higher," she said.

Both her new works, which strike at the heart of the current debate on "family values" and the future direction of the feminist movement, are being published in Europe before their appearance in the United States.

Her conclusions are no more likely to please critics than some of her more controversial previous findings _ that women don't need men to reach orgasm and that most divorces are initiated by dissatisfied wives.

The Hite Report on the Family, based on 3,000 answers to intimate questionnaires, scorns the traditional two-parent-and-children family as repressive and the cradle of many of society's injustices.

The woman who in the 1987 report Women and Love painted a gloomy picture of married life that made neither men nor women happy, now concludes the nuclear family is not worth saving and that boys are better brought up by single mothers.

"The current slogan "preservation of family values' really means not preservation of love in the family but preservation of the hierarchical family," she says in the report.

Her novel is the fantastical tale of an idealist from Heaven whose observations about love, society and politics on Earth are ridiculed and distorted by the media but debated by a panoply of figures including Lenin, Cleopatra and Simone de Beauvoir.

The novel is Hite's way of getting back at the kind of media criticism that labeled her best-selling reports "masturbation manuals" and prompted the formation in the United States in 1988 of a committee for her defense.

"I hope the novel puts the Hite reports in a broader, more philosophical and political perspective. Often in the past women's issues have been trivialized especially when dealing with sexuality which people haven't seen as a political topic until quite recently," she said.

It also seeks to quash repeated accusations that Hite is merely in the business of conducting "male-bashing diatribes."

The central character Ariadne tells aggressive reporter Elvis Trouble that her life's work "is about love and how it can be better. Not how to put men down. Women don't want battles, they want communication."

Ariadne later falls in love with a pianist called Friedrich and enjoys a great sex life in a relationship presumably bearing a close resemblance to Hite's own marriage to a German musician of the same name who is more than 20 years her junior.

A London Sunday Times review headlined "A peepshow not a snapshot" again attacked her research methods and described Hite herself as past her sell-by date.

Up next:DEATHS

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