What do we mean when we call ourselves independent women? The term has been around for a while now, but does it have the same meaning for us all? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word independent means: “not dependent; not subject to control by others; not requiring or relying on something else …” However, in regards to women it can be a term used to celebrate single mothers who are holding down their households. Describe a woman who is head-strong and/or free-spirited. Or, usually, it refers to a woman who is driven, career-oriented and self-sufficient financially; you know, “ She got her own house. She got her own car. Good job, work hard …”—a go-getter if you will.

As great as it sounds and while I hope to achieve these things, for some reason, I never found myself fully embracing the idea of being an independent woman. And after listening to a woman by the name of “SPARKWISDOM” in her YouTube video titled “The Deception of the Independent Woman,” I pondered further on why I’ve sometimes found this term problematic. In a three-minute response to the highly publicized statistic that 42% of Black women are not married, she broke down what she believes to some misconceptions regarding this term:

I really feel like we are deceived sometimes as women …there is a deception in independence. I am an independent woman … Do I get this big pat on the back because I’m independent? I am an adult. Adults are supposed to be independent. You’re suppose to have your own place to stay; your own vehicle … as a woman I’m supposed to be able to keep my own hair done, nails done–I’m supposed to be a able to do for myself … I don’t think you get extra kudos for being an adult or being responsible. That’s what adults are supposed to do.

While I’m well aware that at one time in this society a woman was expected to depend on her husband financially and/or opt to stay at home. And as time progressed many women broke out of this role in a desire to have their own careers and provide for themselves financially. Thus, in part, giving rise to the idea of the independent woman. And granted there is absolutely nothing wrong with being a career-oriented, professional or self-sufficient woman. Yet, as SPARKWISDOM stated, what exactly is the difference between being an independent woman and simply being a responsible adult? Not much, it seems. So what exactly are we saying we’re independent of?

I know many of us do not like to define ourselves in regards to men, but often times the discourse surrounding the term “independent woman,” is relating to how well said woman can do without the help of a man (i.e. Ms. Independent: “The kind of woman that want you but don’t need you”). Could we be doing our self a disservice by believing our economic or professional status means we don’t need the opposite sex for anything? Bringing her point home, “SPARKWISDOM” goes on to say:

I think there is this deception of “I’m independent. I’m a strong woman.” I think there’s a syndrome behind that, where women are like I’m so strong, I don’t need a man. And I think that frankly women in most regards do need a man and they want a man. Yet society has taught us to [say] we don’t.

Yes, she went there. And although some may not agree or admit to it, I believe she’s right. In many ways society and popular culture have created an attitude amongst many of our women that to be of a certain tax bracket makes being with a man somewhat trivial. Before you shake your head no, just think about it. For example, what did Destiny’s Child mean when they sang the following lyrics in “Independent Women”:

“Tell me what you think about me
I buy my own diamonds and I buy my own rings
Only ring your celly when I’m feeling lonely
When it’s all over please get up and leave”

Ouch. While we may pride ourselves on not being the stereotypical unhappy housewife, waiting everyday for our man to bring home the bacon and hopefully cut us an allowance on the side, is being independent based mainly on the ability to provide oneself with material possessions? And how would it feel to be in a relationship with a man who claims to simply want you, but not need you?

Of course, I’m not insinuating those who call themselves independent women are man haters, manhood killers, asexual or anything close to that. It’s no secret that the number of Black women on college campuses across the country out number Black men, causing an economic gap between the sexes. Or that many of us have had to take on extra responsibilities as women, due to the absence of a male figures or fathers in our households. Or that many Black women may never want to seem vulnerable or dependent upon a man for fear we may be hurt or taken advantage of, amongst other reasons. And so, due to these realities, some of us feel we constantly have to assert our independence of men. But is the reasoning behind that actually a good thing?

“On that independent sh-t? Trade it all for a husband and some kids?” – Kanye West

For those of us who insist the term is not all about wanting or needing a man, again, let’s ask ourselves exactly what we’re saying we’re independent of? In my opinion, there isn’t anyone who is without need; whether it’s spiritually, emotionally, financially, the need for companionship, etc. What you do or look for to fulfill these needs may vary, but we all have needs in one way or another; and it can hurt you more than help you to think you don’t.

And so, everyone has the right to define themselves on their own terms, but let’s not do so blindly. The next time we are blasting the latest independent women’s anthem, let’s think about what we mean when we call ourselves this. I think it’s great for a woman to be driven and have her own career. I have a great deal of respect for women who have taken on the challenge of raising and providing for children on their own. And overall I love seeing Black women succeed period; whether it’s academically, professionally or personally. It’s wonderful. And if these are the ways we define being independent women, there’s nothing wrong with that. These are all great accomplishments. If it means we have our own mind, ideas and identity, to me, that’s even better. But hopefully it’s not based on shallow terms or coming from a negative place. And as we pride ourselves on being independent women, hopefully we “got our own” understanding of what it means.

54 Comments

  1. C'mon Son

    I’m an educated woman with my Master’s and I NEED my husband. It’s a risk being vulnerable but I feel loved, protected, nurtured and balanced. The term “independence” has since been thrown down an elevator shaft a long time ago…

    I go to a huge black church in NYC. Many women in their late thirties…early 40’s…some educated, some independent, some live with roommates…. but bitter, resentful, unbalanced, lonely and often cannot muster up the strength to see other women who are in relationships happy.

    It burns, stings and bites…especially here in NYC where black couples are virtually nonexistent….

    I think independence is an overused word that hides the reality of what our communities are dealing with…

    Ladies…sometimes we have to admit how much men and women really need each other…Independence is HIGHLY overrated.

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  2. Serene

    Working three jobs and going to school full time is HARD. Being a single parent is HARD. A lot of people would crack under the pressure.

    I used to live with my parents, but I like my independence even better. You do learn a lot more finding your own path in life and respect.

    I’m so glad that I can provide for myself and I thank God that I have the means to do it. Yes, it is very hard, but worth it. I don’t ever want to have to depend on someone for my well-being.

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  3. Julie

    I don’t see anything wrong with being independent. Remember when that was a good thing? As far as blasting your independence to the world via social networks, I never quite understood that. Like many have said here, it seems like a bunch of adults wanting recognition for doing what they’re supposed to be doing, while simultaneously trying to make themselves feel superior to anyone who may not be in the position to do the same. I have a friend who does this, constantly reminds us how she pays her own bills, and buys her own things, which is great , but expected. You’re 20- something, provided you have a steady job and decent income, that’s what you’re supposed to do no? I don’t get why everyone needs to hear about it. But hey whatever. To each their own.

    Not gonna lie, my mom raised us to be independent. I was about 10 when she divorced my dad, and he started a new family in another country. We wouldn’t see him again until we were in our 20’s. The bills had to be paid so my mother worked a lot, both my sister and I quickly learned to do a lot of things on our own. It’s not some attitude that we chose, we were adapting to circumstances and it stuck. When you’re not used to depending on people, it’s not an easy thing to do. I imagine some of women who develop this attitude do it because they’ve had to, their experience led them to think that they shouldn’t rely on anyone to help them, they gotta go out and do it on their own.

    In college my sister was in an emotionally abusive relationship with a guy who despite his awfulness made her realize that she didn’t let people help her. Granted this guy was hella insecure and looking for a woman he could control, she did learn something about herself after the relationship (thankfully) ended. Ironically if she had allowed herself to be dependent on him, who knows what kind of awful crap he would have put her through. This was someone who openly expressed resent towards her for things that were outside of her control, he resented the fact that she went to a good university, the fact that academically she was getting it done, while due to financial restraints he had to attended a community college and he struggled academically , but he refused to take any help that she or anyone else offered him. Which was ironic because he accused her of doing the same (which was true), but he didn’t see anything wrong with him doing it. Basically he made it clear that he wanted all the power in the relationship, but instead he had none, so that made him a nightmare to deal with. She’s a better judge of character now. Since then I think both my sister and I learned to be a lot more open to the idea of letting others help us. While I still like my independence, I’m definitely okay with the idea of sharing responsibility with someone I can depend on.

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  4. “I don’t need anyone, I can do it myself,” sound good for movies, books and lyrics; but I believe most women have their own definition of what Miss independent means and it is far from male bashing and having the most material possessions. Recently, I began a feature on my blog called “Miss Independent of the week!” The feature gives women an opportunity to defined what miss independent means to them in 50 words or less. I quickly learned that women see independence as developed character and drive for life. So far none of them have said anything about not needing or wanting a man. I am sure, most of us song along with songs by Ne-Yo and Destiny’s Child, but at the end of the day, an independent woman (all grown-up) knows that the definition goes deeper than what society sells us.

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    • The author make a good point by definition a independent person have not reach the highest level of maturity, their are four levels of maturity independence is the third level which hardly lead to any success in career, family or relationship there is no balance in independence, the highest level of maturity is “interdependent” which describe the world we live in, we operate in and we work in could it be that us trying so hard to prove our independence is a reason our families, life and community is so dysfunctional thing about it! How can a independent person successfully communicate, and operate properly in a interdependent world?

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  5. A Independent person male or female is a person who have not reached the highest level of maturity cause the highest level of maturity is interdependence!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! So a independent women is a immature female not quite ready for a serious relationship with a man.

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