Saturday, 23 January 2010

Strong and Independent

Somewhere there must be a town, an influential town, where when the men are asked what they look for in a woman, they all say, "Oh, she's gotta be strong and independent."

I'm picturing a diner here, with farmers and tradesmen in baseball caps, somewhere in the midwestern USA.

"Yah," says one guy. "I think independence is the best. It's okay to have a docile or skinny-armed woman around as long as she's independent."

"Get George," says another guy and all laugh. "No, seriously. For me its all about strength. I don't care about looks and all that crap women care about today. For me it's strength."

And as if underscoring this love of female strength, there are muscular, flat-chested, fully dressed women tattooed to their arms and painted on their trucks. There's an old-fashioned calendar behind the counter showing U.S. women senators.

I have a terrible habit of reading comment streams on online newspapers. The stream of bile flowing after one Telegraph (or was it Daily Mail) article by a divorced single mother in her 30s trying to find "Mr. Right" through personal ads was very icky. But one merely bitter male comment stuck in my memory, and it was about women whose personal ads proclaim them to be "strong and independent." To this guy, "strong and independent" was an upfront confession that the writer was a, to paraphrase, battle-axe.

Last night I picked up our latest London Review of Books and looked at the personal ads. As usual, a woman described herself as "independent", and I wondered why, if she's so independent, she's got a personal ad in the LRB.

Now I don't have a problem with strength. I loved being physically strong, back in my athletic days. I loved my muscular legs and my triceps. (How I miss my glorious triceps, such works of art!) And I must be, in some ways, very strong emotionally and morally, since...uh...hmm...since people used to tell me so all the time during my M.Div.: "Oh, Seraphic, you're such a STRONG woman!" I think they meant I presented my arguments forcefully, which I did. But, frankly, I'm not so sure it was me who was so strong, but my ideas, which were mostly identical to those of Thomas Aquinas and my favourite professors.

I likewise have a great admiration for independence, if what someone means by independence is that they rely solely on their own income and their own company to get through life. That's really good. I have tons of respect for people like that. Lots of people, men and women, insist on paying their own way through life, but not as many people feel so comfortable in their own skin that they are happy to go it alone.

Me, I am not independent at all. Are you kidding? Take B.A. away, and I'd be on the next plane to my mummy and daddy. Take mummy and daddy away, and I'd be stuck. I'd flop on a friend's bed and listen with half an ear as assembled friends discussed what should be done for me. I guess eventually I'd get up and get another job teaching writing.

Now, the amazing thing is that I have admitted that I am kind of weak and not independent, and yet I have not been struck by lightning. The police are not banging on the door shouting, "Open up, hen! We know you're weak and dependent in there!" B.A. is not going to come home at lunch and tell me its time for marriage counselling, for he can't take my weakness and dependence anymore. And maybe, just maybe, it is not claims of being "strong and independent" that pulls the men to you in droves.

So be strong (goodness, yes!) and be as independent as your character allows you to be. Being very weak and very dependent is not terrifically attractive or healthy. (We wish that poor Marilyn had been stronger and more independent.) but for goodness' sake, don't think these are the characteristics men are primarily looking for in a woman. Sometimes it's our softer qualities that make us attractive, and it is when we are weak that we are strong (2 Cor 12:7-10).

P.S. This is not permission to be blatantly vulnerable on dates.

1. You must always project happiness on dates--unless your date is nasty or rude, in which you project hauteur and then leave.

2. You must never have a breakdown in front of a romantic interest unless you're actually engaged to him. If you ever burst into tears on a date, excuse yourself. Don't talk about it. Go to the ladies' room, pull out your mobile and call a female or platonic male friend. Never tell a man you're neurotic. He'll believe you.

3. Getting smashed and taking off your clothes in public are not actually sources of female liberation and power. The flip side of this is that it isn't nice to get drunk just so that other people will rescue and take care of you. I've done this second thing myself and, uh, sorry.

4. Go watch Steel Magnolias.


Kate P said...

I think you've put your finger on why I had mixed feelings about the song "Independent Women" by Destiny's Child. (Hope that's not an obscure reference.)

Alisha said...

I don't know...I've actually been surprised to hear a lot of men say they prefer women who are independent...though I've never heard that from a serious Christian...and while he's certainly not a primary role model of mine, Ne-yo's Miss Independent was one of the most popular songs of 2008-09...maybe more men do actually think this way now? the lyrics are here

(admittedly, the video indicates that he likes Ms Independent as long as she is also gorgeous, but hey, what do you expect from an RnB music video)

Alisha said...

oh and Kate - Independent Women is not obscure! I love that song...though its view of independence (ability to buy your own stuff) is limited.

theobromophile said...


This ties in well with your most recent post (even if you don't see it!).

Bad things can happen in a marriage: death, disability, or layoffs. I also know a woman who was married to a man who engaged in a huge amount of fraud: he's currently doing jail time for swindling people out of millions of dollars.

So a certain amount of independence is basic common sense. Furthermore, a lot of us don't want men who don't want independent women: the most miserable parts of my life were spent with men who hated my independence and ambition. It wasn't about principle, really; I was chafing under their demands and criticisms. For some of us, self-sufficiency goes to the core.

We can try to temper that with affection, kindness, being a good listener, and good cooking. (Anyone want my homemade pumpkin ravioli in a gorgonzola sauce recipe? :) )

Seraphic said...

A certain kind of man loves independence when he thinks it means "sex without strings." Men who truly love women want to be able to MAKE A DIFFERENCE to a special woman's life. If she doesn't need to rely on him at all for anything, then, uh, what is he for? This is why it is kind to ask men to do favours, like take the lid off the pickle jar, for you.

Theobrom, without seeing you in action, I can't make any judgements at all. Yes, there are men who see a sparky woman as a challenge and want to ride roughshod all over her. But then there are sparky women who never compromise about anything, who always make demands, who can never meet a man halfway or allow him his own opinions. Of course, there are men like this, too.

Some women will not marry any man who does not promise up front to do 50% of the housework. The man who does is probably a liar, because 80% of women still do more than 50% of the housework.

This, too, is about independence, although at this hour I can't make the links more obvious.