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.