Many of us can hum the tune of Kelly Clarkson’s famous, “Miss Independent” without thinking too much of it. When I first heard the song, I thought it was a personal anthem for me and other young girls and women out there.
YES, I am a strong, independent young woman and no man can take that away from me. YES, if I just keep my distance from men, keep my heart protected, and not let a man interfere, I can remain and sustain my independence as a young woman.
But by even thinking or saying that, I have given permission or placed a responsibility on a man that assumes that they could take that away from me. Or, that my independence is simply defined by my lack of involvement with a man or my ability to not get ‘distracted’ or have my life ‘interfered’ by men. I have made the mere idea and definition of being an independent, autonomous person into one that involves a man. Why can’t I just be autonomous? Period? And not have my independence be identified by a male figure or lack there of? Maybe, if we start recognizing how we’ve perpetuated the notion that when a woman is seen as independent or “Miss Independent” she is seen as without a male partner or male-less in her life. Independence is more than just what Kelly Clarkson sings about. And we need to start uncovering that so we don’t miseducate others on what full autonomy, self-reliance, and self-supporting means.
Although valuing our independence, strength, power, and autonomy as women is extremely important, especially because those things weren’t always ours or were in our control historically, we often perpetuate this idea that being ‘independent’ just means not depending on a man or partner. In a way, we’ve almost created this feminist, girl power-esque message that is slightly anti-feminist. We’ve labeled independent women as those who are just dependent from a man, boyfriend or husband-less, or self-sufficient from their partner. But why does this label or idea of “Miss Independent” even need to allude to a man or sexual/romantic relationship? Why can’t we just be independent without the association or reference to a relationship with a man? And if the idea of independence was truly equal and not gender-binary, why don’t we talk about Mr. Independents?
Now, I’m certainly not saying that a woman identifying as independent is harmful, wrong, or hurting the feminist movement in any way (I label myself as such) but I think the way we’ve gendered independence and blanketed the idea of independence as a woman who doesn’t depend on a man is worth examination and a critical eye. In addition, society has also created this very stark contrast between independence and dependence – with independence being see as ‘more’ feminist and dependence being seen as less. But what about a woman who chooses to depend financially on her husband and is a stay at home mom? That doesn’t make her any less feminist but many are quick to assume that her consensual financial reliance hints at such. We so badly want this idea of being “Miss Independent” as being feminist, but there are many factors that cloud this. One that I’ve been thinking about recently is the simple use of Miss paired with Independence and not Mrs. Do women automatically become less independent when they get married?
By definition, “independent” simply means self-ruling, self-determining, autonomous, free. There’s nothing in the definition that says “from someone” or “from a man”. Yes, it can certainly be alluded but this is where the double standard comes in. We are quick to label a woman as “Miss Independent” when she doesn’t “need” a man, but we never make any mention of a man not “needing” or dating a woman as Mr. Independent. If anything, society glorifies and figuratively pats hetero cisgendered men on the back for not being “cuffed” or “tied down”. Aside from how much it pains me to think about these socially celebrated and widely accepted double standards and gender-based stereotypes, it’s important to note and critically examine how often people look down on women who self-identify as independent from a man and how lionized it is when a man is “not cuffed”. Even the use of the word “cuffed” is problematic and perpetuates many negative, harmful, and offensive stereotypes of women and women in hetero relationships.
I think the more we openly discuss this widely rallied around, sung about, and distinguishable idea of being “Miss Independent”, we can move in a more honest and progressive direction in terms of our conversations about women’s rights, gender equality, how women have been viewed and treated historically, and feminism. Hopefully, we can get to a point as a society where we talk about a self-identified woman being independent and don’t automatically assume that means she is single or that her independence is tied to a man’s presence, worth, or association.
An independent woman could be someone who prefers to travel alone, is autonomous in her health decisions, someone who grows her own food in her garden and is self-sufficient, or someone who owns her own private practice and is her own boss. Independence doesn’t just mean a woman doesn’t rely on a man in some form. Independence is deeper than that, richer than that, and more personal than that.
This conversation is certainly not over – not even close. And this blog post doesn’t even really skim the surface. But it’s a start, it’s my personal start and maybe it can be yours too. Yes, I – Dylan Manderlink, am an independent woman. But for more reasons than the “Miss Independent” stereotype may lead people to believe. I support myself, I love myself, I practice self-care, I consult my self and my doctor about my healthcare decisions, I don’t base my worth off of anyone or anything’s standards – just my own. I am me and I am independent.