NEW YORK — A massive new study of American women and their attitudes toward love shows great dissatisfaction, alienation and emotional isolation.
Presenting a synopsis of her seven-year study of 4,500 women at a press conference Monday, cultural historian Shere Hite said that 98% of the women she surveyed reported they were not satisfied with some aspect of their relationships with men.
Many of the complaints, the author of two earlier volumes on male and female sexuality said, concerned "emotional withholding" and distancing by men. Emotional and psychological harassment from men with whom they have love relationships was reported by 95% of Hite's respondents. She said 70% of the women married at least five years were having extramarital affairs, nearly equal to the 75% of men married at least five years who said they are having affairs.
Not Passionate Love
Hite found further that only 13% of women married more than two years said they were "in love" with their husbands, while 82% said they "love" their husbands in a friendly, but not necessarily passionate, way.
But while study results, published as Volume 3 of "The Hite Report," "Women and Love: A Cultural Revolution in Progress" (Alfred A. Knopf), paint a less-than-rosy picture of women's views about love in this country, Hite said Monday that the news about men, women and love was not all gloomy.
"In a way I think it is less dismal than it was in the 1950s, or even five or 10 years ago," Hite said.
"The minute you do name the problem, even if it is in a raised tone of voice, you have a good chance of solving it," she said.
A 'Redefinition' Occurring
Hite said that she saw women's "redefinition" of love as a positive phenomenon.
"What it amounts to is a rethinking, a redefinition of female psychology by women," Hite said. Rather than accepting cultural norms of what love is supposed to be, Hite said, American women today are "demonstrating an ability to see and analyze what is going on inside their relationships."
Calling "the amount of condescension that women live with in marriage" one of her most surprising findings, Hite said that the fact that women "still can continue loving" could be seen as encouraging.
"In a way, it's amazing that women can love so much."
But as Hite pointed out, that love is often negatively construed.
"For the very effort of loving and being loyal," she said, "women are called masochists."
Hite said poor communication was the most common lament, expressed by 77% of her respondents about their mates. Specifically, she said women repeatedly told her, "He doesn't listen."
Traditional gender stereotypes--portraying women as nurturers and givers of love and men as "doers" outside the home who expect to be loved within it--remain widespread, she found.
"It's shocking that men, still, after all the changes in society, in private life have not changed their definition of what is going on," Hite said. "It's funny that the family has not been democratized after 200 years of praising the institution of democracy in this country."
More and more, Hite said, women are questioning the amount of energy they expend on love relationships, with 79% of the women surveyed indicating that love relationships were not the highest priority in their lives.
"Many women are coming to the conclusion that they can no longer emotionally afford to put love relationships first," Hite said.
By contrast, many women said they rely increasingly on friendships with women for emotional support. Hite said 87% of her respondents described their friendships with other women as emotionally closer than their love relationships with men.
Hite said one reason she had undertaken the study was that "love has been trivialized for so long." The subject was a casualty of the women's movement, she said, since "it was not politically correct to fall in love with a man, and it didn't make any sense to."
She had been troubled also, she said, by the explosion of literature and messages from the media "constantly telling you there's something wrong with you, that you pick the wrong men, that you love too much."
But her study convinced her, she said, that "the difference is now that we no longer see ourselves as defective for being different, but we see society and social expectations as something to be re-evaluated."