When you think about an “independent woman,” what comes to mind? A tough CEO of a major corporation? A single mom making it on her own? A Destiny’s Child song? No matter what came to mind, no doubt the image was a positive one. The independent woman, as we have come to know her, is the epitome of strength, confidence, courage. She is something we should try to be and is perhaps even billed to us as a feminist success story: a leader, someone who climbed the ladder, beating the odds in a patriarchal world. To be a completely independent woman is a liberating thing, or at least we’re told. 

Lately, however, I’ve become quite disillusioned with the idealized “independent woman”. In constantly striving for this ideal, so many parts of ourselves must be left behind. This archetype prevents messiness, growth, rest, relationship building, and interdependence. It asks us to sacrifice our multiplicity and emotional range for a constant veneer of strength and togetherness. The “independent woman” may be less liberating than she is advertised. 

In exploring this topic, I feel the need to explain what I don’t mean when I say I want to “reimagine the independent woman”. I, of course, have no intentions of bolstering or justifying the unequal power dynamics of patriarchy. I also have no interest in suggesting that people should be completely emotionally or financially dependent on one person or institution. These dynamics are predicated on inequality and dominance, and they are ultimately oppressive. What I am interested in is examining the ways that the idealized trope of independent womanhood unintentionally promotes capitalism by parading itself as feminist. 

The specific brand of feminism that the ‘independent woman’ emerges from is known as white feminism. White feminism advocates for the achievement of gender equality through the accumulation of personal wealth. It does not critique any of the logics or systems which maintain capitalism, instead critiquing a lack of women’s involvement in these spaces. Wealthy female CEOs are success stories under this model, despite their exploitation of labour and their advancement of materialism, individualism, and environmental destruction. This “independent woman” is the farthest thing from the ideal in my mind, and it is also far from feminist. A feminist ideology that refuses to examine the impact of colonialism and capitalism on gender inequality for those of diverse backgrounds will never truly address inequality in a meaningful way. In fact, it furthers capitalism in a way that becomes even harder to combat, as it is masked as progressive and liberatory. 

The “independent woman” in question does not have to be a wealthy CEO to be harmful. She could be a working woman who has learned to mask her emotions to survive in a world which demands she go through everything alone. She is “strong” in the face of oppression and injustice. But instead of rethinking the systems which put her in this position, the idealized “independent woman” positions this strength and emotional disconnection as powerful necessities and something worth striving for. 

Looking for New Possibilities

The trope of the independent woman limits us in so many ways. Not only does it promote a form of feminism that is ultimately harmful, it idealizes a form of womanhood which is incredibly isolating, which disallows growth, and messiness, and asking for help. 

Dr. Ayesha Khan regularly writes about the revolutionary ways that we can be rethinking our colonial, individualist understandings of terms such as “independence” and “self care”. By drawing on her own life experiences and the cultural values of many diverse land-based communities, Dr. Khan writes about the ecology of human relationality and the ways in which our lives are inevitably and beautifully intertwined with the lives of all other living things. Independence, when understood in this way, is not something to strive for, and beyond that, it is impossible, since we are inherently interdependent beings. 

These sorts of new perspectives (new, at least, to those steeped completely in our colonial, capitalist existence) are comforting. How exciting is it to reimagine an ideal society for women which accepts and embraces our messiness, our humanness? Which does not ask us to sacrifice our emotions for individual success? Which values community and reciprocal relationship building over domination and ‘climbing the ladder’? Which allows us to ask for help and understand our vulnerability as our greatest strength? Personally, I find that image of feminism to be far more liberating. 

I hope you give yourself the opportunity to be a little less independent this month (and always!).

About the Author

Hi! I’m Brynn, and I’m super excited to be writing on the blogs committee this year. I am a third-year Women’s and Gender Studies student with interests in film, feminism, theatre and social justice. Blog writing provides me with the perfect opportunity to combine all of these passions. I hope you will join me on my blog journey!