Recently, I’ve heard my fair share of the phrase: “You’re a strong, independent woman”, and as someone who finds herself becoming increasingly obsessed with gender equality (or lack of it), this phrase has finally struck a nerve and I’ll tell you why:
Being both strong and independent are the characteristics which allow us to thrive in our world today. However, media and culture portrays a picture of this woman as one who is career driven, sexy, financially independent, values herself and most of all… doesn’t need a man. And therein lies the deep-rooted sexism of this stereotype, grown from inherited inequality.
Where then, I ask, is the “strong, independent man”? Where art thou, fine fellow? Because let me tell you, I’ve yet to meet one in my twenty-something years in this world. Why, you ask? Because the “strong, independent man” doesn’t exist. Men, as social and cultural norms dictate, are expected to be strong and independent so they don’t need some phrase accompanying them which validates their worth. Therefore, the “strong, independent woman” is equal to just a man. Isn’t that troubling? The phrase in itself implies that women are weak and dependent on men, so we need to justify to the rest of society that we are not those things in order for our worth to be valued the same of that as men.
Another caveat thrown into this phrase is that the strong and independent woman is extremely focused on herself and only herself. Don’t get me wrong, I think self-love and self-value is highly important. But so is valuing another individual the same way in which we value ourselves; therefore, this stereotype means we suffer from tunnel vision to some extent.
If I had a penny for every time someone said to me how our twenties are a time for ourselves, I’d be rolling around in money. There’s this idea that we should be making our marks on the world, chasing our dreams, working long nights in glass offices as corporate slaves and at the same time have cracking social lives. And this seems to be a very accurate idea associated with the “strong, independent woman”. But does this mean that the moment you choose to be in a relationship with someone else you’re not investing in yourself? And when in relationships there is no such thing as compromise because being independent means you always get what YOU want?
This is exactly the kind of thinking that needs to change: I think of strong, independent woman as sexually liberated people, but that does not mean they chose to be alone because “they’re too busy loving themselves” or “don’t need a man”. Of course I do think that seeking self-worth and validation from another person is dangerous, but choosing to be in a relationship shouldn’t mean that somehow you become less strong and less independent.
Instead, why not adopt the idea that people who display characteristics of strength and independence, women and men alike, invest in relationships that are right for them, at the right time, based on rational thought and sound judgement. And while compromise is important for any relationship, these individuals don’t make sacrifices that devalue them or take away from their principles and priorities.
Isn’t it time society saw both women and men as simply PEOPLE who make informed decisions as to what kind of balance they wish to adopt in their lives. Neither men nor women need to prove that they’re strong or independent by trying to conform to societal and cultural ideals. True independence, surely, is to do what fills you with happiness and purpose, devoid of other people’s judgement?!
While it’s important that we are aware of little spikes of sexism society has internalised, we should be smart enough not to fall for little stereotypes and phrases that just serve to perpetuate it further. It is time we create our own definition of what’s strong and independent.