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.