As a person who is finding herself becoming increasingly obsessed with gender equality by the day, I can assure you, loyal readers, that this post has been brewing for a long time.
The ‘strong, independent woman’. Alas, one of the most overly used catchphrases in popular culture. Images of Beyoncé spring to mind almost instantly and we practically hear the harmonious voices of Destiny’s Child crooning in our ears.
Being strong and independent are excellent characteristics which allow humans to thrive in our world today. Yet I can’t help but feel as though popular culture paints a picture of this woman as one who is career driven, gorgeously sexy, financially thriving, loves and values herself above all else in the world and most of all… doesn’t need a man.
And thus, the basic bitch who lives inside my brain screams at me to fit into this stereotype. ‘I WANT TO BE ONE!’ she yells with such overwhelming vigour that it ends up consuming my thoughts and actions. However the more closely I examine this stereotype, the more I cannot help but feel as though it is rooted knee deep in inequality.
First of all… where is the ‘strong, independent man’? Holler at me, fine fellow, let my very eyes see you in the flesh. Wait, you’re not a ‘thing’? Ah. But of course. Men are expected to be strong and independent so they don’t need a catchphrase to accompany them. The strong independent woman holds equal value to… the man. Not the strong, independent man. Does this, thereby imply that women are weak and dependent on the men in our lives so we need to justify to the rest of society that we are not these things?
See, my concern here is that adherence to this stereotype is almost a message to women that they need to overcompensate in order to be as strong and independent as men.
Men don’t feel the need to justify that they are strong and independent and don’t need a woman to validate them.
So why are women repeatedly telling themselves this message? Sharing memes of it? Overcompensating to the maximum? If we were to truly align ourselves with the belief that men and women are equal then shouldn’t we all just behave as though this is the case rather than making a big deal of it?
Another point of note: when we consider the strong, independent woman, our minds have been trained to conjure up images of those who are highly driven by their careers. It goes without saying that we have really moved past the time where a woman’s job is at home, looking after the kids they’ve painstakingly pushed out of their uterine cavities. But it’s imposing to make out that strong, independent women live and breathe their careers too. Everyone, regardless of gender has the right to choose what kind of balance they want from their lives. I come from a family where all the women I’ve known have worked full time and also had children. Is that the right way? The strong, independent women’s way?
I challenge society to see strong, independent women AND men, simply as people who make informed decisions as to what kind of balance they wish to adopt into their lives. Women don’t need to prove that they’re strong or independent by trying to fit an ideal associated with thriving careers, neither do they need to be ‘better’ than the people who choose to devote their lives to caring for their families (because they’re not)… and neither still is the perfect ideal to ‘get you a woman who can do both’.
True independence, surely, is to do what fills you with happiness and purpose, devoid of other people’s judgement?!
Point number three. The stereotypical strong independent woman appears extremely focused on herself. Whilst valuing oneself with the same love and care that you would value another is extremely important, the stereotype can mean that we suffer from extreme tunnel vision. People love to talk about how our twenties are a time for ourselves. We should be making our marks on the world, chasing our dreams, working long nights in glass offices and having really great instagram profiles. Even more so for the wannabe strong, independent women. So does that mean that the minute you get into a relationship you’re not doing your twenties right? That it’s bad to invest in another person because you should be 100% investing in yourself? And in addition, when in a relationship, the right thing to do is never ever compromise because being independent is about getting what YOU want?
This is where I’ve grown to disagree. I used to think of strong, independent women as sexually liberated people who don’t engage in relationships because they’re ‘too busy loving themselves’ and ‘don’t need a man’. Of course, no one should be sitting around waiting to be validated by a partner, that’s dangerous. (Also, being sexually liberated is something I not only support, but encourage- cue aubergine emoji. Cue several).
However, I have come round to the idea that those who display characteristics of strength and independence, men and women alike, invest in relationships that are right for them, at the right time, based on sound judgement. And whilst willing to compromise, do not make sacrifices that devalue or take away from their priorities.
Ultimately, strength and independence are qualities accessible to both genders.
Girls, women, ladies. Let’s stop overcompensating. Let’s stop comparing. Let’s stop letting our inner basic bitches fuelled by their diets of instagram and buzzfeed convince us that the ‘strong independent woman’ stereotype is the only correct way to live.
Whilst it’s important that we are aware of the little spikes of sexism we’ve accidentally internalised, we should also be intelligent enough not to fall for gimmicks that actually just perpetuate it further.
Create your own definition of what’s strong and independent, whether you identify as a man or a woman.
Now, go live it.