The American guru of sexual politics, Shere Hite, has criticised the Blair government for its emphasis on marriage, saying that it returns women to a mindset of "marriage at all costs".
Appearing at the London Book Fair at Olympia yesterday to promote her autobiography, The Hite Report on Shere Hite, she also criticised Labour's women MPs, and European female leaders, for not speaking out on women's issues.
Dr Hite, 56, said she had been following the debate on Section 28 of the Local Government Act, which bans the promotion of homosexuality in schools. Earlier this week, the Government agreed a compromise whereby students will "learn the significance of marriage and stable relationships". But the author said that the "trade-off", while sounding good, meant that schools would still be pushing marriage as the ideal for women.
"I think if you look at what women have gone through in the last 20 years, all that anxiety over "are you married by 30?", this is not a productive way to present the options for people," she said. "This will only return [them] to that kind of thinking."
Dr Hite, who is married to a concert pianist, said that British coverage of reproductive issues such as egg-freezing also showed the difficulties for women who wanted to advance at work. "Women who wanted to have careers and felt blocked because of concerns about maternity... at last there was a way forward so that they would have another option, in terms of integrating into business," she said. "Yet there still seems to be this lassoing at work in that they're not being promoted above a certain level, there's still a pay discrepancy. I think work is the next revolutionary area for women."
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Dr Hite's last book, Sex and Business, centred on this exact topic, which she describes as being in crisis. Yesterday, she said that male bosses treated the issue of female parity in a similar way to how whites regarded apartheid in South Africa. "They know it's not fair that women are kept back yet [they think] as an individual man, if I raise my voice, then other men will think I'm not a team player."
She referred to the recent British case of Aisling Sykes, vice-president of JP Morgan, who had complained that the bank had made her life impossible since the birth of her children. For as long as the issues of working women were not addressed seriously, she said, "they will keep growing like dough".
Dr Hite's first Report on Female Sexuality was published in 1976. Since then, with reports on male sexuality, the family, and business, her striking looks and controversial views mean she has rarely been out of the headlines. In 1996 she became a German citizen, after attacks by the United States right-wing, and death threats, over her research.
Yet in Britain as well, she can apparently feel like a lone voice. "It was too bad that Margaret Thatcher didn't speak out for women," Dr Hite said yesterday, expressing disappointment that various high-profile women, such as members of the Royal Family, had not used their own positions to help. She added: "Labour women haven't really been saying very much... I think they should speak up more."
Dr Hite is now looking to the dot.com revolution, believing that dealing with people over the internet is a great sexual equaliser. But, she said, women have a long way to go. "We really have to push, and don't be afraid when people say 'you're pushy and disgusting'," she said. "This is a good moment. But you still have to push."
* The judges for this year's Booker prizewinning novel are journalist Simon Jenkins, a former editor of The Times, Roy Foster, professor of Irish history at Oxford University, writer and broadcaster Mariella Frostrup, Caroline Gascoigne, literary editor of The Sunday Times, and author Rose Tremain, whose Restoration was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1989.
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