I hate articles that start off with a definition, but for the sake of this argument, I feel it is necessary to define one term before I begin, independent (adj):
1. Free from the influence or control of others
2. Not dependent on anything else for function or validity
3. Not relying on the support, esp. financial support, of others
4. Capable of acting for oneself or on one’s own
5. Of or having a private income large enough to enable one to live without working
In my mind, these are all truly admirable traits. So why then am I so frustrated by the casualty with which this word flows from women’s mouths today—because it isn’t real.
Just because you happened into the role of single-motherhood does more make you an independent woman, particularly if you are dependent on the welfare system to take care of you and your child(ren). Just because you broke up with your man and are now wearing your singlehood like a badge of honor, does not make you an independent woman. And just because you have a nice home and a flashy car, does not mean that you are an independent woman.
The stereotype of the independent woman is nothing more than Generation Y’s version of the myth of the strong black woman, glamorized by today’s standards of success, i.e. cars, clothes, and jewels.
The stereotype of the strong black woman sprung its roots during slavery when masters would separate men from their families, leaving women to hold the family together so to speak. This trend continued throughout America’s early wars and the civil rights movement when, again, women were forced to be not only an emotional provider, but a financial provider as well because their husbands were either fighting on the battlefield or marching for equality in this country.
Fast forward through women entering the work force, divorce rates rising, fathers disappearing, and jail claiming black men, and women naturally assumed the post as the rock of the black family.
Now I don’t mean to belittle the job that these women have done, but the strong black (independent) woman ideal is a reactionary role that we’ve been conditioned to take on, and young women today should be a little more conscious before they decide to walk around with an S on their chest, especially if they don’t mean it.
Tell a man you don’t need him—you’ve got your own house, your own car, and two jobs–and you’ve taken from him the innate quality that makes him feel like a man—being able to provide. With so many women crying about being single, the objective isn’t really to push a man away by emasculating him, but that’s precisely what tends to happen when, rather than tell a man what they bring to the table, women proclaim that they have it all and don’t need anybody for anything.
In no way am I suggesting women should downplay who they are for a man, but in the same token, don’t enforce a notion of what it is to be a black woman just because the phrase is catchy.
The same idea translates to the workplace. Being the overbearing black woman who has to let everyone know that she won’t take anyone’s bull isn’t the best corporate strategy. There is an art to being assertive without reinforcing the stereotype. And furthermore, don’t assume a role for which you fit none of the criteria and a role which you may not even have any aspirations of fitting into.
Being independent is about more than being single, paying bills on time, or having expensive possessions, it is a proactive state of living. It’s about not letting anyone’s ideals of what you should be define who you truly are, and realizing there is more than one type of black women.
It’s okay to admit you want a good man by your side to help you raise a family. It’s okay to admit you’re intimidated by corporate culture. It’s okay to be behind on your rent (well, not really). But an independent woman doesn’t put up a front and morph into a stereotypical role to find self-worth. A truly independent, i.e. liberated woman, recognizes her strengths, admits her fears, conquers her obstacles, and most importantly, lives a life that defies the ideal of what society tells her she should be and recognizes that she can’t do that alone.