Hard to Get: 20-Something Women and the Paradox of Sexual Freedom

Leslie C. Bell. Univ. of California, $29.95 (273p) ISBN 978-0-520-26149-5
In this academic study straining for a popular audience, sociologist and psychotherapist Bell explores the conundrum of 20-something women burdened by the mixed blessing of sexual freedom. She proceeds from the flawed historical assumption “that in recent years... it has become unclear what it means to be a woman, especially a liberated woman,” when 20th-century American women’s history is rife with periods in which this has been muddled and/or contentious. Bell’s narrow pool of 20 highly educated Northern Californian subjects (she admits they’re a socioeconomically unordinary bunch), today well out of their 20s, functioned well in the public aspects of their lives but felt continuing doubts and anxieties about sex and love. Bell relies on the psychoanalytic theory of splitting to explore how the women compartmentalized options in their lives and to illustrate her argument that they formulated “strategies of desire” as coping mechanisms. These she divides into archetypes, with the “Sexual Woman” and the “Relational Woman” representing defensive strategies, and the “Desiring Woman” finding an acceptable balance of sexual feelings with other relationship intimacies. Bell’s conclusion, that both people and the culture at large need to change so women no longer feel compelled to split, is a rehash of feminist territory mapped out decades ago. 1 table. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 12/24/2012
Release date: 03/01/2013
Paperback - 276 pages - 978-0-520-28374-9
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