Want To Know Why Labeling Yourself An “Independent Woman” Is So Cringey? Here’s The Truth

“The house I live in (I bought it), the car I’m driving (I bought it), I depend on me,” sang Destiny’s Child over 20 years ago. “Independent Women” and “Charlie’s Angels” were peak Y2K feminism, but they never really left our social consciousness. Within recent years we’ve seen self-help guru and influencer Rachel Hollis’ cringey “What makes you think I want to be relatable?” rant, and though we may recognize the girlboss mindset to be problematic, young women continue to employ it.

By Gwen Farrell4 min read
Pexels/Tima Miroshnichenko

Call it liberal feminism, the girlboss label, or being “independent,” but many women today are only too happy to gloat about not being tied down. 99% of the time, this kind of braggadocio comes off as if they’re really assuring themselves that they’re fine with their lifestyle choices, not everyone else.

We’ve seen a pronounced role reversal which third wave feminism has partly to answer for. The other share of the blame could be split between popular culture, the media, and Tumblr posts from the mid 2010s. A culture that wants female employees in the workforce contributing taxable labor is quick to encourage women to advertise themselves as “independent.” But why is it so cringey in reality? Here’s the truth. 

The Death of the Girlboss

Once the aspirational ideal every young girl looked up to, the boss babe or girlboss archetype has more or less vanished – and not for the right reasons. Though it’s now used to mock the ignorant or label women who “own their own business” but are in fact part of multi-level marketing schemes, the girlboss isn’t canceled for being too deluded or too idiotic, but too white and too gendered.

This brand of feminism, which prioritizes the hustle above all (think bragging about waking up at 4 a.m. every day – looking at you, Rachel Hollis), scorns the women who are perceived as too lazy or too irresponsible to take their “financial future” into their own hands. The girlboss mentality goes hand-in-hand with praising the apparent benefits of working overtime for a thankless employer and eschewing marriage and motherhood to instead rise up the ranks of the corporate ladder. If you need help picturing it, think of every birth control commercial ever.

The girlboss probably isn’t what the suffragettes had in mind when they marched ages ago, but it’s the inevitable development of an ego-obsessed culture. The girlboss or boss babe as an individual isn’t about having a passion for her career or taking pride in what she does. It’s about being more successful than everyone else, especially men. But in light of the fact that we’re more unhappy than ever, this contemporary iteration of what feminism looks like has made the modern woman a caricature of herself – an individual who relishes having no personal life but glamorizes their own exhaustion, mental health issues, and inner pain for validation on social media.

Glamorizing Basic Adulthood

We may have forgotten about the tragic #adulting trend which had Millennials by the throat a few years ago, and maybe that’s our collective memory protecting us from the discomfort of truly cringe-inducing rhetoric. The adulting trend took what most of us didn’t learn in school – a valid concern, to be sure – and turned it into an entire personality. Didn’t pay your rent? Late on your water bill? Another day of shopping and Starbucks as self-care? #Adulting!

The truth is, the adulting movement, for lack of a better word, and the girlboss, independent woman trope are one and the same. The girlboss may be adulting’s sexier, more empowered sibling, but the two both operate on the incessant need to glamorize the basic fundamentals of what it means to be an adult. In reality, both are the adolescent’s idea of what it means to be “grown up,” and for the girl boss specifically, what it means to be a mature, adult woman.

Independent women everywhere are lamenting the fact that men seem to steer clear of them. “Are men attracted to independent women?” one Instagram user queries her audience. For men, what could possibly be the appeal of being with someone who’s so vocal about their own singularity? What could possibly attract a man about a woman who wants nothing more than to be alone, separate, unconnected, and unassociated with everyone and everything?

The independent woman, or 2023’s girlboss, is alive and well but she doesn’t seem to be thriving. She might pay her own bills, own her own house, have her own car…but so do a lot of people her age. What’s unique about buying into adulthood? There’s the hard work aspect of it, but that isn’t what she’s about. She’s about the appearances and the perks of her specific lifestyle, like having casual sex, traveling continuously, and buying the latest designer accessories.

But at heart, she does what every other single adult does and expects special treatment for it because she’s a woman. Centuries of so-called oppression demand that we reverence independent women apart from men who do the same things that they do, because of feminism. The “independent woman” has her own checking account, her own job, a full and active social life, and hobbies and vices that she spends hard-earned money on. But, so does everyone else. Men don’t feel the need to label themselves as "independent". Could you imagine society if they did? So why do women feel the need to?

It’s Not Wrong To Want Connection

There are two reasons for this phenomenon. First, we tend to demonize men and masculinity because we resent our need to rely on them. Being in a committed relationship or being married means we’d be subject to the needs and wants of another person, and that kind of daily humility that lifelong commitment requires is antithetical to everything we're told about the modern romantic relationship.

Secondly, women and only women are able to bring life into the world, and with that responsibility comes a sense of powerlessness. Again, having children means we’d be responsible for the health and well-being of another person. In an attempt to reject that rudimentary instinct, we do everything in our power to ensure it doesn’t happen, from avoiding institutions like marriage to characterizing a natural inclination like pregnancy as something that happens to us, not something we play a significant part in.

It might not be the goal of every independent woman to be alone, but it’s the goal of postmodern ideologies like feminism as a whole. Individuals who are alone and remain alone will work for the foreseeable future and never need paid time off for a honeymoon or a family insurance plan. They’ll watch porn passively to feel like they’re experiencing the intimacy that’s actually absent in their own lives, and go to spin class religiously instead of a church service or a therapist who tells them what they don’t want to hear. 

On the outside it looks like a nice life, being tied to only your own whims and no one else’s. This kind of lifestyle isn’t without connection – it’s easy to be tied to your phone or to your computer or to your gym. But the want of true human connection is the real tragedy.

We’ve told women that it’s embarrassing to want relationships. Have some self-respect, we say. Who wants to be chasing after a guy or wanting marriage, a home, and children when we could be expanding the boss’s bottom line? You can have all the self-respect in the world, but is it as meaningful and fulfilling as a loving relationship?

Connection between two people is the life force that keeps civilization going. If every woman decided to become independent and every man gave up trying to pursue them, we’d die off pretty quickly. Craving human connection and wanting romance and eternal love is the most natural instinct to ever experience. What’s unnatural is believing that somehow we don’t need it in our lives because we’re somehow built differently than every other woman who ever existed.

Closing Thoughts

Countless single women go about their lives every day without the need to broadcast how empowering their individualism is. It’s important to be self-sufficient and determined in knowing what you want. But the idea that we should praise and validate women for acting like stable adults is more infantile and misguided than we realize.

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