This post is based on a recent conversation LBoogie, myself, and a couple of friends had recently about gender. It is written by contributing writer "Easy E."
The image of women today is very different from that of thirty years ago. Gone is the idea that women MUST stay at home, that her only worth comes from her ability to cook, clean and take care of the children, that she has no capability in the workplace. Today’s woman is INDEPENDENT. Yet what does this actually mean for women? What is it to be an independent woman? In our culture today we have different messages about who is an independent woman, and perhaps more importantly who can be an independent woman.
One of the most prevalent ideas of what makes a woman independent are those found in television shows or magazines. From Cosmo to Sex and the City, these media perpetuate a very clear and narrow vision of women. The women that populate the magazine pages and our television screens are heralded as independent strong women. But what is this vision of women really saying about women? Yes, these women are independent but in what way? This vision tells us the independent woman is a woman who has a job, pushes off marriage and having kids in order to have a career and she is someone who “demands respect in the workplace” from her male peers. However, this vision of women is bankrupt. These women are supposedly strong, independent, career driven (by this is meant upwardly mobile in their job) wearing their Manolo Blahniks but…they are miserable. In every single issue of Cosmo or Marie Claire or whatever magazine, in every episode of Sex and the City, Grey’s Anatomy, or Desperate Housewives (hello? Desperate is in the TITLE of that show), the women have careers but are still moaning, and whining, and complaining about their lives and how they’re “incomplete”. Why? Because they don’t have MEN. Or the men in their life are making them unhappy for a variety of reasons. Take your pick. These women are not badass. They’re just sad. Is this really the vision of woman we want women to idealise? I think not. These women claim to be independent but at the same time see men as necessary to their own happiness. Without a man, they cannot be happy because a man makes them feel fulfilled, makes them complete. AS IF. As if a woman NEEDS a man to feel complete. As if a woman cannot be whole person without a man in her life.
I see a difference between this image of women and the image of women in hip-hop. When we hear about independent women in hip-hop, these women are TRULY I.N.D.E.P.E.N.D.E.N.T. I remember when Webbie came out with this song celebrating independent women a few years back and man, was that my jam. Here is a vision of women I can get down with because when I think of an independent woman I think of a woman who can take care of herself. As Webbie says “I don’t think she’ll never look/In a man face standin’/waiting for him to take care of her/She’ll rather go to work and pay the bills on schedule”.
The women in this song or a song like “Miss Independent”, as Ne-Yo says, are the “kinda women that want you but don’t need you”. They have their own money, pay their own bills but more than this materialistic sense of what it is to be independent, is that women’s self-worth isn’t based on any man. If they want a man in their lives they’ll have one, but for no reason do they need a man. It’s their free choice. Being with a man adds something to their life but not being with a man takes nothing away.
I reject the idea of independent women as thrown down by mainstream media like Sex and the City and Cosmo. It is very clear in this image of the “independent woman” who actually can achieve this. The reality is that this image tells us that only middle class and upper class women can achieve independence. It is an extremely narrow vision that shows us that being independent is equitable to having a closet full of designer clothes, hundreds of Manolos, and having an upwardly mobile career as a lawyer or doctor or magazine writer. Where are the women who work two, three jobs, who, as Webbie says, “leave the club kinda early ‘cuz they gotta go to work”? Where are the women who bust their ass providing for themselves and having to make sacrifices to do so? The women of SATC are as glossy and airbrushed as the models on the cover of Cosmo. Yeah it’s great that women are CEOs and partners in law firms but these women are not the only ones who work hard to provide for their own. I’ve have never seen on these shows or on the magazine covers (or even inside) a story celebrating a working-class woman. This is why working class women get down with hip-hop and not with Sarah Jessica Parker. Because her idea of an independent woman is fake to us. The vision of independent women in hip-hop celebrates women as autonomous agents with a full sense of self-possession, autonomy, integrity as full, complete human beings on their own, who make the free choice to be with someone not because she needs him but because she wants him. This woman is truly independent. Holla.