The Evolution of a Down Ass Chick, Part II (or Why Miss Independent Is Probably Single)

25 Jun

NOTE:  This blog continues the conversation about the implications of hip hop masculinity on heterosexual love relationships between black men and women (see The Evolution of a Down Ass Chick).

Independent Woman: A woman who pays her own bills, buys her own things, and DOES NOT allow a man to affect her stability or self-confidence. She supports herself on her own entirely and is proud to be able to do so (Urban Dictionary)

My father’s absence and general disinterest in me growing up, alongside my mother and grandmother’s insistence that I know how to take care of myself, led to a fierce independence in my twenties that annoyed some and confounded others.  On the outside I held myself together with super glue.  On the inside, I felt my independence was a symptom of larger issues that required me to be self-sufficient.

My independence was not (immediately) linked to (my) feminism both because I didn’t have the language at the time, and because there was no consciousness or intentionality behind it.  I was independent out of necessity and fear.  I needed to be self-reliant because I was afraid of the consequences.  (What would happen if I needed someone and they left?)

My mis-independence was informed by the singleness of many of the women in my life and the way they came together to take care of me and each other, sometimes with harsh words warning me that blackgirls become strongblackwomen, and I better not depend too much on anybody but myself (and, when applicable, them).  What they didn’t say was that there is nothing wrong with wanting to be kept, cared for, and loved on.  I imagine they didn’t want to get my hopes up so they taught me to be prepared because the ability and luxury of being dependent was reserved for rich women or white women or rich white women and we were none of those things.

The lessons I was given insinuated that I should never tolerate the malfeasance of a man, (as in “you can do bad by yourself”) while watching women, with needs that went beyond money-help or affection, put up with all manner of foolishness from men (as in “do as I say, not as I do”).

The confusion of these childhood lessons are equivalent to the confusion forwarded through mainstream media and hip hop.  Last month I wrote about the evolution of a down ass chick, and while an independent woman, like the “good girl” I discussed in the first installment, is in theory the antithesis of the stereotypical down ass chick, I think in a way she can be manipulated into another version of the DAC, riddled with contradictions about being desirable and unwanted at the same time.

I have always questioned the so-called odes to independent women.  When I taught a Women and Communication course at USF and we discussed the independent woman phenomenon black men overwhelmingly said they wanted an independent woman but they didn’t want her throwing it in their face (I would often tease them and ask if what they really wanted was an independent woman on the down low who was self-sufficient in private but needy in public–an adaptation of the lady in the streets, freak in the sheets meme). But their opinions, largely informed by patriarchy and hip hop, were consistent with what hegemony requires and what we were hearing on the radio at the time.  Patriarchy doesn’t allow for women to be truly independent, and hip hop doesn’t allow women to have much gender versatility.  So, the independent woman becomes an anomaly of sorts and can only be acceptable in hip hop, as a romantic option, if she imitates the down ass chick.   I have a theory… stay with me…

Let’s look at the music.

Destiny’s Child first penned a song about independent women in 2000.  Their theme was borrowed by Kelly Clarkson in 2005… and then a rapper and crooner caught on a few years later.  Webbie’s Independent came out in early 2008 and then Neyo’s version, which came out the latter part of that year, was so popular he offered two parts (the follow up She Got Her Own featured Jamie Foxx and Fabolous).

Something happens to the independent woman trope depending on who is behind the mic (or writing the lyrics).

For example, the original version, Independent Women by Destiny’s Child,  upset a lot of men.  The song lyrics paint the picture of an independent woman as cold and aloof, fully financially independent, and disinterested in men or relationships except for occasional sexual encounters.  This “independent woman” taunts men about how she doesn’t “need” them and they aren’t on her level.  This is the independent woman that pissed off my male students.  Essentially, this independent woman is alone because she deserves to be and supposedly wants to be.  She is the modern day Sapphire, emasculating men with every hard-earned dollar and stinging them with every harsh reminder that they are disposable, replaceable, and not needed.  Her vocality about her independence is a turn off.  She doesn’t play her position.  She is not “down” for the cause.

The Kelly Clarkson (I know, not hip hop, but go with me) version of Miss Independent is a woman who has been hurt so much and so bad that she doesn’t believe in love anymore so convinces herself that she doesn’t need a man…or love… but (in the white-washed version) is able to “get over” her temporary independence and find true love.  Note that this version isn’t about the limitations of men, but rather about the erratic nature of love.  This “independent (white) woman” is redeemable, innocent,  and only alone long enough to get over her heartache and defensiveness.

Webbie’s i-n-d-e-p-e-n-d-e-n-t woman “has her own house, car, and works two jobs.”  His version is a down ass chick in disguise because she is a “bad bitch” who he can brag to his friends about.  She is not classy, and is therefore not bourgeois, and doesn’t use her independence or success to intimate men, but rather to entice them.  She “never trip” because she is only interested in the relationship for sex.  She is preferable to a golddigger and instead provides money to her dude, but unlike the Destiny’s Child version she is not braggadocios (instead allowing her man to brag about her and what she does for him).  According to the song, she has a good job, doesn’t need his help with her bills, has good credit, has straight sex game, and “spoils him” (buying him gifts).  He, therefore, can’t be bothered with a woman with material or emotional needs (a fact that he brags about towards the end of the song).

Then there is Neyo’s Miss Independent, which he reportedly wrote as a tribute to his mother and grandmother.  In an interview he described the song saying, “This song is an ode to my mom, my grandmother, my aunts, and all the women all over the world like them – women that can do it themselves and make no apologies for who they are. They’re strong because they’re strong, love it or leave it.”

Neyo’s initial intention of Miss Independent was not a woman he was necessarily checking for, but rather one he appreciates and admires (which he says in the intro to the song).  So, even if Neyo & Jamie Foxx sing “there is nothing that’s more sexy than a girl who wants but don’t need me”—they are checking for models-turned-housewives, not Ph.D.s and supervisors.  And while I imagine that there are many men who deep down desire to be with a woman who puts them in the mind of their mama when they settle down, this is eerily similar to the good girl—DAC binary.  This version of the independent woman is the good girl that gets put on the backburner while the needy woman gets all of his attention and affection.

There are at least five things that the independent woman has in common with the original down ass chick:

1)      She loves and WANTS a black man (but doesn’t need him…except for sex)

2)      She makes her own money (&/or goes to school)

3)      She is fly

4)      She is put on a pedestal (albeit different pedestals and for different reasons)

5)      She is in competition with the other (DAC vs. IW)

So essentially I think there are versions of the independent woman, some of which challenge the DAC, some of which mimic the DAC.  I also think that when a woman defines herself as independent it is seen negatively, but when a man recognizes her as independent it is an asset.

Independent women get a bad rap.  Seems they are largely damned if they do, damned if they don’t.  They have needs but to articulate them out loud is emotionally dangerous.

Like Destiny’s Child says, “it ain’t easy being independent” especially since according to one of my homegirls, “men need to feel needed…”  Ultimately the men in my class agreed, saying they wanted to feel needed (like their girl can’t do without them) even if its bullish. (Fair enough, I think everyone, to a particular degree, needs/wants to feel needed/wanted).

Here are the questions of the day:  Do you think independent women are another version of a down ass chick?  If independent women don’t “need” a man for material things, how can they express emotional and physical needs without feeling vulnerable (a fear that oftentimes fuels their independence)?  And how can men in/and hip hop create a space that makes it safe for them to do so?

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11 Responses to “The Evolution of a Down Ass Chick, Part II (or Why Miss Independent Is Probably Single)”

  1. kalpal June 25, 2012 at 7:45 AM #

    When one looks at polygamous marriages in America, in Islam or anywhere that insists that women are chattel property, one can easily be disheartened that bright competent women will not rise up and rebel. Of course rebellion takes resources which are studiously kept away from those who should rightly arise in anger and slay the ones who daily humiliate and degrade women so as to subjugate and exploit them.

    Just because a woman is smart and well educated in no way implies that her hormones are on hiatus and she neither needs nor desires to be kissed, hugged, caressed and brought to orgams. Someone wanting to kiss your face every time they see you is an amazingly gratifying experience. Children revel in it till they become ashamed to be seen fussed over but return to it as soon as lust rears its head and desire comes to the fore.

    Women will need to keep struggling to eradicate the powers that society confesr upon men to abuse women as if it is an innate right of a Y chromosome and an obligation of the X chromosomes.

  2. Kjen June 25, 2012 at 9:35 AM #

    Hmm, I have wondered why although I did enjoy the DC song about independence, (it helped that it was a fast beat, hype song) the other crooned by Ne-yo, left me feeling cold. In spite of the shifting job front, it’s still not really considered sexxxy for a woman to have power i.e. money.
    And I also hate, this extreme dichotomy of how women only want money from men or they should just totally accept any man. Can we add a touch of reality and nuance into this equation?

  3. gobulls June 25, 2012 at 9:47 AM #

    “Do you think independent women are another version of a down ass chick?”

    No. The only similarities I see is that they are both beneficial to HIM if he WANTS to see it that way. It has little to do with the woman herself.

    “If independent women don’t “need” a man for material things, how can they express emotional and physical needs without feeling vulnerable”

    Is not seeking relationships with men expressing an emotional and/ or physical need? Women can get themselves off and can connect with their girlfriends. Seeking relationships outside of self and bffs, to me, is an automatic revelation of one’s needs/desires with the opposite sex. Either way, vulnerability is being expressed when you deal with people other than yourself. There is no way to avoid it.

    I don’t think the independent woman meme should be confused with an introverted woman who prefers isolation and to live within the confines of her own imagination. That’s why it kills me when women tell other women to just masturbated–as if that replaces the need for human sexual interaction [for all].

  4. drdap (@drdap) June 25, 2012 at 1:04 PM #

    Interesting discussion, but I’m at a loss. I feel that the DAC vs. IW continuum- is too limiting. How does this theory explore tensions in the relationships of various black families- the friends I have, two black doctors, raising their two daughters with all the trappings of privilege; the cousin I have who is very poor, but so far successfully raising their five children in such a way that they won’t repeat the mistakes of the parents- dropping out of high school, too-young parenthood. The DAC vs. IW contiuum doesn’t capture the tensions existing in their lives and relationships. I think the conversation itself is limited by the folks from whom it originated- college students are still teenagers, still very immature, and they still take the images of fantasy sold to them by popular culture quite literally. 10 years later, they will make their important life decisions about whom to choose as a partner, and how to be as an individual, very differently.

    • Danielle June 27, 2012 at 12:37 PM #

      I agree with drdap. This continuum is too limited and ivory tower. I am almost forty and have been married for ten years. We have young children. Throughout my relationship and ultimately my marriage to my husband, we have constantly had to reevaluate the best way to provide for our family, not just financially but emotionally and from a quality of life perspective. Neither of us cling to fixed notions of what we will and will not do as it pertains to our notions of independence. Clearly,we are not independent. We took a marriage vow specifically stating the opposite. Young people tend to believe in the independence myth. Sure, I support the notion that both men and women in a relationship need to have their needs and wants taken into consideration equally, but that is best done in an atmosphere of intense love, respect AND flexibility for all of those involved.

      • rboylorn June 27, 2012 at 12:55 PM #

        drdap & Danielle… thanks for sharing your experiences.

        I want to reiterate that I agree with you regarding the limitations of two options and did not intend, in any way, to endorse or reiterate this notion of binary versions of (black) womanhood. I am not proposing that we see it as either/or or only these options. The blog is intended as a (continued) critique of the problematic ways that black women’s subjectivity is limited and/or defined by men in hip hop (music/culture). I wanted to show here that because of the limitations of gender politics in the music/culture…it is sometimes (particularly for young folk who live (by) the music) difficult for blackgirls to be romantically desired as (a version of) themselves if it does not follow the male dominated script of what is deemed desirable. Unfortunately, often that script links black women’s desirability to a particular type of behavior that is glorified in the music (i.e., down ass chick/bitch; Webbie or Neyo’s IW, but not DC’s)… and when women attempt to self-define or move out of that domain, or co-opt the language of men to re-define themselves… (i.e., self defining as bad bitches, etc.) men take it back, using the music to woo them into being (or at least considering being) a disguised version of a “DAC.”

        I really appreciate the ways that both of you are challenging and pushing the conversation beyond the experiences of 20-somethings. Thanks!

  5. sheridf June 26, 2012 at 11:18 AM #

    The problem is the lifestyle of having her own does not line up with the economic reality for black women. So while many more black women have degrees, they do not have access to the extremely lucrative professions in sports and entertainment nor the agency black men have to determine appropriate “having her own” behavior. Really if I’m spending all my time trying to earn so that I can flash so that I can get a man with cash but not a partner how smart of an independent woman am I in the first place? The return on that investment seems poor and unattractive. That sounds like a woman working for two bosses and not getting ahead.

    • rboylorn June 27, 2012 at 12:56 PM #

      CF…preach! <3

    • Dr. T. Hasan Johnson June 28, 2012 at 1:04 PM #

      “So while many more black women have degrees, they do not have access to the extremely lucrative professions in sports and entertainment nor the agency black men have to determine appropriate “having her own” behavior.”

      I appreciate your thoughts on this Sheridf, but I might add one slight caveat… The percentage of Black men with the type of agency you describe and those that have extremely lucrative careers in entertainment/sports is far more limited than what is represented in media. They are far outweighed by impoverished Black folks (in this context male) and those in the prison industrial complex. If anything, I look at sports/entertainment as a lottery, with many of my full-scholarship Black male athletes (roughly 65% of the Black males that constitute the 1 Black male for every 4 Black females on campus–to a total of 3.5-4% of the campus population) dropping out when ventures to the NBA or NFL don’t materialize. In fact, only 1 percent of these athletes make it to the big leagues nationally… So I think the “Hip-Hop baller/sports icon” masculinity is an illusion that too many Black male youth sacrifice their futures trying to enact, often to the detriment of Black males that genuinely want cooperative relationships with women who are not caught up in stereotyped illusions.

  6. Sunny June 27, 2012 at 11:33 AM #

    I do not think the independent woman is the same as the DAC. Sure any two things on the planet might share something in common but the IW isn’t a version of the DAC for two very important reasons: dependence and loyalty being one, reality vs ideal.

    In my opinion the DAC is the ideal woman to these rap/r&b artist. She doesn’t really exist in reality. She is what a woman should aspire to be in the opinion of some men. On the other hand there are PLENTY of real life independent women. Independent out of necessity or choice there are a bunch of us out there. Now, finally it seems that they (we) are being apprieciated throughh these songs.

    Now, concerning the dependence versus loyalty of the DAC and IW I feel that the DAC is dependent on the man. I think that is part of her allure that she is ALWAYS there. No matter what trouble he gets into, no matter what he has done to her, she stands beside him. WHY?? The independent woman, knowing her self-worth does not (have to) put up with that ish. She is free to stay with him because she is loyal, NOT dependent. She is free to go because she does not need him. I think for the IW (Destiny Child’s) this puts her in the position of control and makes the man seem disposable (or not “Irreplaceable”), which is exactly the opposite position of a male who desires the DAC. It’s a position in which the woman is disposable but he is supposed to be her everything.
    In my opinion, being independent does not mean you do not want love or sex or even help with the bills. It means that you do what you have to do to get by without those things if need be. You can be independent and in love or want help. Independence is not synonymous with stoicism.

  7. The One June 27, 2012 at 3:00 PM #

    The answer to all of this is simple: No matter what you call her, “down-ass chick”, “independant woman”, etc it is all the same, ie somthing that these Black men want to turn Black women into, which is some twisted creation created from not being loved, nurtured, cherished, valued, or taken care of the way men in other races do their female counterparts. The part about them being angry over Destin’s CChilds song makes me laugh. I LIKED the way she dismissed men in that song. Black men have been dismissing and treating as uselss Black females forever. A prime example of dishing it out, but not being able to take it. That song makes me LAUGH OUT LOUD whenever I hear it. The bottom liine is that Black women should not have to conform to some wisted ideal of what a woman is supposed to be from a group that hates them for commiting thesin of being born a female with Black skin.

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