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Tuesday, February 20, 2024
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Uncomfortably necessary: a review of ‘The Disappearance of Shere Hite’

Nicole Newnham’s nonfiction film revives the vibrant researcher and model, Shere Hite

<p>Sex educator, author and feminist icon Shere Hite. | Bernard Gotfryd, Wikimedia Commons.</p>

Sex educator, author and feminist icon Shere Hite. | Bernard Gotfryd, Wikimedia Commons.

Repetition of the words “clitoris” and “vagina” are — surprisingly — not the most eyebrow-raising aspects of the 2023 feminist documentary, “The Disappearance of Shere Hite.” Instead, it’s that the 30th-best-selling book of all time, “The Hite Report,” seems to have been forgotten.

Written by 1970s feminist icon Shere Hite, “The Hite Report” shared 3,500 results of a self-reported questionnaire given to 100,000 women on sexuality. The conclusion that orgasms come most easily for women during masturbation and clitoral stimulation proved to be too revolutionary when it was published in 1976 and, evidently, today as well. 

“There’s a disappearance of feminist knowledge,” Phyllis Chesler, National Women’s Network co-founder and professor, said in the film. 

While teaching, Chesler was surprised to find many students did not know who Hite was, which begs the question: what pushed out Shere Hite? 

From the book’s initial release, it was criticized for its methodology. But this “flaw” eclipsed the book’s content in many discussions. 

“A lot of people who criticize the book haven’t even read it,” Oprah Winfrey said during an episode of her television show where Hite responded to an audience of men.

Someone who read the book would realize the so-called “man basher” wasn’t bashing or praising anyone at all. Hite merely brought up a topic for discussion. Her book’s methodology is a miniscule issue in comparison to the importance of sharing real stories by real women, and later, real men.

“The Hite Report on Male Sexuality” opened the floor for men to discuss feelings of sexuality and loneliness in the same fashion as Hite’s first novel. 

A panel of male actors, including the former television star Gil Rogers, expressed their feelings about the book to Hite. Rogers said he had no relation to the book. 

An older gentleman shared a childhood anecdote from his own life:Boys beat him up on the schoolyard, causing him to cry. He went back to his friends, tears in his eyes, and they laughed at him. He didn’t cry again for 25 years.

Many powerful sentiments like these are found in the film, but there is no happy ending. Years of ridicule and death threats caused Hite to move overseas where she could pursue her work more freely. The film aims to reopen the discussion Hite started in 1976. 

While the film touches on political issues, the main takeaway is to not be afraid of change in culture.

In the film, when Hite is asked by a female journalist, “This is gonna lead to real changes in sex between men and women. Is there any danger in that?”

“Equality doesn’t seem dangerous to me,” Hite replied.

The film can be viewed at the IFC Center in Greenwich Village, New York City. More about the film including online streaming can be found online.

The arts desk can be reached at arts@ubspectrum.com 


SOPHIA STINES

Sophia Stines is a staff writer. 

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