A strong independent woman – that is what we should all be aspiring to be, right?
The sort of woman that doesn’t take no for answer. The sort of woman who wouldn’t have to think twice about how to change a flat tyre. The sort of woman who is smashing every area of her life (bar the relationships, as she doesn’t need one to complete her). She can handle whatever life throws at her. She is strong. She is independent.
Ever since I left my husband to forge a new, happier life for myself 18 months ago, I’ve had the term ‘strong independent woman’ applied to me more times than I care to remember. When I started to wobble on the phone to my friends, I was told I was this fabled type of woman. It even became a bit of a catchphrase for my sister to recite at me when I was having a down-day, accompanied by a Wonder Woman-esque fist pump. The message was repeated to me en masse by the media and society – I didn’t need a man, in fact I didn’t need anyone, I could handle everything by myself. It’s the 21st Century after all.
The problem was inside I felt the opposite of what a strong independent woman should be. I was falling apart. I was scared and anxious about an uncertain future. I was panicking I had lost my chance to start a family. But I supressed all these feelings and didn’t express them as I should have done, because I felt that everyone was expecting me to live up this new label and be a shining paragon of singlehood. And for someone with a history of mental health issues, I now recognise this was extremely unhealthy to do.
This is the problem I have with the term ‘strong, independent woman’. Its a term that’s been used so much its become a stereotype. Social media is full of images of people living their best single lives, smashing everything they turn their hand to, no vulnerability in sight. Society and the media have presented us with yet another unattainable female ideal – a dangerous one that places pressure on us to hide our vulnerabilities and not show any sign of weakness. Society scorns the emotional female, so we’ve replaced it with the polar opposite, and the pressure is solely on the shoulders of us ladies to make sure we don’t let the side down.
Being labelled a strong, independent woman also left me feeling different. I had acquired this new title as I had left my husband and was newly single. It certainly hadn’t been applied to me when I was married. That’s because even though I’m a self-sufficient person, I wasn’t independent in a way that mattered to a patriarchal society (i.e. I had a man in my life).
This new label differentiated me and set me apart from my happily coupled, family-starting friends. I am sure they have never given this difference a moment’s thought, but to me I felt it keenly. I was now the strong, independent woman of the group, the party-loving singleton. I had this new label and status, because I had no-one. More importantly, I was different to the rest of them.
I have also personally found that, for a long time, the emphasis on female independence made me reluctant to voice the fact that I didn’t want to be on my own. Yes, I was perfectly content on my own – and I’ve built myself a wonderful new life – but societal pressure had pushed me to the point I was now ashamed to voice the fact I wanted a partner. There’s a part of me that feels guilty that I’m letting Team Woman down by voicing my feelings and saying I want a man.
I am an independent person and I always have been. I am very self-sufficent, almost by default. I have been for a long time due to experiencing a not-so-regular childhood. But it would be nice to have someone to share the load with sometimes. Life can get overwhelming for everyone, but I feel like I’ve finally had enough of this strong, female stereotype and am ready to express my vulnerabilities.
So next time you have a friend experiencing a breakup, or a pal struggling to make their way through life in general, please resist the temptation for the stereotypical ‘strong independent woman’ pep talk. A bit of encouragement is always appreciated, but we would much rather the chance to talk about our actual fears and worries than be slapped with pressure of a label. At the end of the day we’re all human, and we can’t be strong all the time.