I recently started Hard To Get by Leslie Bell. I have not yet finished it, and I will be sure to post an updated review once I have.
I was skeptical at first of her premise; I have heard arguments before about the mixed messages women get about independence versus interdependence within in a relationship, and how that is detrimental to young women’s success in relationships. I have been turned off by those messages, because they have seemed so black-and-white. However, I was wrong about her premise, and I am really enjoying reading it so far.
She argues that since the early 70s, women have received very mixed messages about how to explore and demonstrate their gender and sexuality due to the various waves of feminism and increasing equality of women in American culture (workplace, education, media, etc.): you can do and be anything you want to, don’t let a relationship get in the way of your education or career, stay in control of your life, you should know what you like sexually and be comfortable getting it, if you’re not married by the time you are 30 you are at risk of never getting married, have kids by 35 if you want them, etc. She contends that this has resulted in young women (and by “young women” she is referring to her study subjects, which are college educated, more liberal, less Protestant, more queer, more of color, and higher class than the national averages) being very confused about how to square their desires around sex and love. She refers to this process, which results for many women in choosing between sex and love, as splitting. It is basically a psychological process of either/or decision-making; women decide that they are able to either have heir sexual desires fulfilled or their relational desires fulfilled.
She mapped out three archetypes that stood out most among her participants: The Sexual Women, the Relational Women, and the Desiring Women. Women who were very comfortable expressing and investigating their sexual desires, but not with intimate relationships, acted as Sexual Women. Women in the reverse, who were comfortable engaging in intimate relationships but not in expressing their sexuality, acted as Relational Women. There were a small number that Bell interviewed that were able to effectively have both without splitting, and she refers to these women as Desiring Women.
I am excited to continue reading (I am really at the very beginning) and learn what she did from her participants.