This hookup book is not like the others. Want to see either casual sex or committed relationships portrayed as inherently good or bad? You will be sorely disappointed. The same goes for if you expect young men or young women to be chastised for abandoning traditional values. Instead, Leslie C. Bell’s Hard to Get: Twenty-Something Women and the Paradox of Sexual Freedom argues that despite being the most liberated generation of women to date, today’s 20-somethings face wildly contradictory cultural messages about love and sex that can make it extremely difficult to freely and fully realize their desires.
I have two questions: Who allowed this nuanced and reasonable treatise about my generation to be published? And more important: Why has it taken so goddamned long?
Bell, a sociologist and psychotherapist who specializes in women’s sexuality, spoke to countless twentysomething women about hooking up, relationships, and what they feel they should want versus what they actually want. What she ended up with is probably eerily close to the contradictory feelings you’ve personally had on the subject, but haven’t been able to express.
Bell hopes to dislodge embedded stereotypes of men as subject and women as object and defuse the fear that our sexuality is dangerous. Her book just might help that happen.
Insightful case studies explore how young women are negotiating the pressures of sexual and professional liberation … Bell’s clear prose and accessible subject matter will appeal to both scholars of women’s studies and young women looking for an explanation of some of the predicaments their generation faces. Though it’s far from being a self-help book, the author does offer some sage advice for young women navigating this brave new world.
It is impossible to disagree with Bell’s solutions … She emphasises that the problem is not conflict and hurt, which are inevitable parts of living, but rather that the way these young women interpret and learn from their experiences is crucial. This is ultimately an optimistic account, in which Bell’s Desiring Women have managed to express their sexual and emotional desires and are shaping new lives that encompass a range of opportunities.
[Bell] hoped to find that young women would have dynamic, confident sex lives—i.e. the opposite of what goes down every week on HBO’s Girls—but found a much more complex, difficult, dare we say Lena Dunham-esque situation instead. Here she sheds light on the joy (and confusion) of sex in the post-collegiate years.
Hard to Get makes a compelling case that young women are both more ambitious — and also more conflicted about relationships — than ever before.
Hard to Get is important reading for all college students and any psychotherapist who deals with young women.
Women should be assertive but not aggressive, feminine but not passive, honest but not overwhelming. But how? Especially for women between ages 17 (the average age for first sex) and 27 (the average age of marriage) the rules for how to be a woman are highly unclear. In this deeply wise, very lucid, and highly illuminating book Bell, a sociologist and psychotherapist, describes how women sometimes “split” their desires for connection, sex and professional success. And she points to ways of moving beyond the split. An important book for women – and men.
Arlie Hochschild, author of The Outsourced Self: Intimate Life in Market Times, Emeritus Professor of Sociology, U.C. Berkeley
In this moving book, Leslie Bell gives us insight into the hearts and minds of 20-something women confronted with the emotional challenges of a culture that says they can have it all. Through poignant, rich individual narratives, Bell shows how professionally successful and sexually experienced young women wrestle with feelings of vulnerability and confusion about relationships and desire. 20-somethings will find relief and self-understanding through reading this book, and it will be of great help to those who treat and those who wish to understand them.
Nancy J. Chodorow, author of Individualizing Gender and Sexuality: Theory and Practice, Emeritus Professor of Sociology, U.C. Berkeley, Clinical Professor, Harvard Medical School
Hard to Get shows us why, in the 21st Century, sex is easy but relationships are not. Every 20-something woman who is having sex, but feels that something is amiss, should read this book.
Meg Jay, Ph.D., author of The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter and How to Make the Most of Them Now
Bell offers a profoundly original and important argument about why – despite gains in education and employment — young women in America continue to be short-changed in sex and intimacy. And she gives us a new, compelling vision of what it would mean for them to attain true sexual liberation.
Amy Schalet, author of Not Under My Roof: Parents, Teens, and the Culture of Sex, Associate Professor at University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Hard to Get is a brilliant intervention into recent debates about women’s sexuality. While theoretically sophisticated, the book is so beautifully written that it is hard to put down. Therapists, sexuality scholars, and young women will find this book to be a powerful tool in making sense of the pleasures and dissatisfactions of young adulthood today.
Elizabeth A. Armstrong, Author of Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality, Associate Professor at University of Michigan
Female sexuality provides endless fascination; but how do actual young women find happiness in sex and love? Leslie Bell gives us an up-close look at twenty-something women at a cultural moment when they have more freedom than ever before, but their desires – sexual and relational – continue to confound. Bell navigates this complex terrain with compassion, keen insight, and an eye to social change.
Daphne de Marneffe, PhD, author of Maternal Desire: On Children, Love, and the Inner Life
While popular portrayals of women and sex are glossy, voyeuristic, simplified, unemotional, or trite, Hard to Get offers rarely heard detailed stories that are told with emotional resonance and connection to women’s full lives and selves. Bell has made a superb contribution to our understanding about how women navigate sexuality in young adulthood in an era when they no longer must be married, and thus she has enlightened our understanding of women’s social, sexual, and psychological lives.
Karin A. Martin, author of Puberty, Sexuality, and the Self: Boys and Girls at Adolescence, Associate Professor at University of Michigan
Leslie Bell introduces us to a new developmental period for 20 something women in which they are focused on sexual and relationship satisfaction. By sharing these women’s stories Bell helps us to explore complex issues of ambivalence, subjectivity, and identity that are at the core of personal, relational and sexual fulfillment.
C.J. Pascoe, author of Dude, You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School, Assistant Professor at University of Oregon
Can today’s young women be independent and sexually agentic while also satisfying their relational needs for intimacy? Bell believes that they can, and insightfully uses women’s stories to reveal the inner and outer barriers to having it all.
Paula England, Professor at New York University