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?