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Socialist Review, June 1994

Kate Lord


Happy families?


From Socialist Review, No. 176, June 1994.
Copyright © Socialist Review.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Review Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The Hite Report on the Family: Growing Up Under Patriarchy
by Shere Hite
Bloomsbury £16.99

‘What we are witnessing now – and participating in – is a revolution in the family. The way we live our lives, with whom and how, is being questioned and debated in a ground breaking and important revolution.’

So says Shere Hite in her new report on the family.

The Hite report is based on over 3,000 completed essay questionnaires received from men and women, boys and girls from different countries, over a period of 15 years. The result is often fascinating reading – we learn what mothers tell girls about menstruation and sex, how boys’ roles are defined within the family, and the role of violence – including incest and rape.

However, underlying all this is a running commentary which tries to place these revelations into a context of ‘patriarchy’. Hite believes the family started with ‘patriarchy’ several thousand years ago and has changed little since.

But the family plays a crucial role within capitalism – a radical change from the role the family played under feudalism, for instance.

The beneficiaries of the family aren’t ‘all men’ but the bosses. The reality behind the family is hidden, like most exploitation, by the fact that the family is seen by most people as a ‘haven in a heartless world’. The role model family is what we are supposed to aspire to. In fact the pressures of life make sure these aspirations cannot be fulfilled.

But the Hite report does point out the complexity of family life which is changing. There are more single parents – nearly half of all kids are now born ‘out of wedlock’.

How do we respond to these changes? Hite has no problem – she ‘salutes the gentler and more diverse family system that seems to be arising’. But violence within the family is still there. The availability of divorce doesn’t make it any easier to get out of a bad relationship when you haven’t got the money to escape.

And this is the problem. Unless we fight – working class men and women together – to end the system which benefits from the family and women’s oppression, there will be no respite to the horrors Hite describes.

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