What Women Mean When They Say “I Don’t Need A Man”

I don’t NEED a man. I also don’t NEED to eat bacon or drink red wine or wear mascara. But I enjoy them, and they make my life better.

By Paula Gallagher4 min read
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Historically, women needed men a whole lot more. In the tribal days, women needed their menfolk to hunt food and to protect them from predators (both the four-legged and the two-legged kind). Up through the 1800s in Western Civilization, the great majority of women of the gentlemanly class and higher were economically pressured to marry to provide a roof over their head and to put food on their table (We’re looking at you, Charlotte Lucas). 

Unless you had an independent fortune (Yes, we all know you’re handsome, clever, and rich, Emma Woodhouse) or were educated enough to work as a governess (Hi there, Jane Fairfax), marriage was your only option. And if you wanted to have a baby, you definitely needed a man. 

Historically, women needed men to provide for them and to protect them.

But nowadays women can get PhDs and fulltime, well-paying jobs. We can buy our own food and pay our own rent. We’re not usually being hunted by a wild animal that weighs more than we do. We can travel the world on our own. If we want to have children, we don’t have to have a relationship with a man — we can just get a sperm donor or have a one-night hookup or adopt a baby. So yes, “I don’t need a man” seems like a completely true statement.

But “I don’t need a man” has been overexpanded to take on more (and different) meanings. It’s become a mantra of mainstream feminist ideology. For other women, it’s a coping mechanism or superficial slogan that doesn’t really mean what it says.

Third-Wave Radical Feminists Really Believe They Don’t Need a Man

You’ve probably heard the popular feminist mantra, “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle” (coined by Irina Dunn in 1970, and made popular by Gloria Steinem). This concept is pervasive in our society, even if it’s unlabeled. In Disney’s Frozen, Anna saves herself by doing an act of true love (rather than receiving one through “true love’s kiss” with a man).

Now, I’m not against Anna sacrificing herself to save her sister — it’s great because it really was an act of true love. But it also indicates that Disney princesses aren’t impervious to feminist ideology. There was no man saving a damsel in distress to resolve the story’s conflict. It feeds into the cultural message that a strong, independent, successful, modern woman doesn’t and shouldn’t need a man to solve her problems or to feel happy.

In fact, one feminist writer criticizes rom-coms for teaching women that they’ll never be a real, whole person without getting “endorsed” by a husband. She goes further to say that the married state itself is bad for women, citing as evidence the fact that two-thirds of divorces are initiated by the woman.

The editor of The New York Times Book Review, Pamela Paul, argues that men aren’t even needed to fulfill their role and responsibilities as fathers. She cites studies that supposedly show lesbians are better parents than heterosexual couples and that single moms are better parents than single dads. She writes, “The bad news for Dad is that despite common perception, there’s nothing objectively essential about his contribution.”

Academia and radical feminism tell women that having a successful career should be their primary goal. 

Increasingly, college-educated women view wanting marriage as weakness. They see dependence of any kind (especially on a man!) as weakness. Academia and radical feminism tell women that having a successful career should be their primary goal in life. Marriage is secondary. If they want kids, they don’t need to be married or have any kind of relationship with a man to “acquire” a child. Women really don’t need men to live fulfilled lives.

Or so we’re told...

Socially Imposed Guilt

Human beings have needs —  we all know this. We need food, water, air, meaning, a sense of safety, sleep, health, etc. Oh, and love. Our society supports us in seeking fulfillment for our needs — except when it comes to marriage.

As psychotherapist Katherine Schafler points out, society’s message is clear: “It’s O.K. to feel a void if you don’t have a job you love, but it’s not okay to feel a void if you don’t have a man you love — because healthy, successful women shouldn’t need men.”

Mainstream feminism has pathologized the basic human need for love, intimacy, and connection. 

Schafler describes the kind of shame that young women express to her in her practice. These women say, “I know I should be happy alone, but I’m just not. I think about getting married and starting a family a lot — all the time actually. I know, I know, it’s psycho...I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” 

Mainstream feminism has pathologized the basic human need for love, intimacy, and connection. Women now feel ashamed for their natural, primal desire for a husband and children. They feel guilty over their need for meaningful love.

When “I Don’t Need a Man” Really Means Something Else

I’m sure there are hardcore feminists out there who sincerely believe that they don’t need a man for anything, live accordingly, and feel sufficiently satisfied with their life. But I’d argue that many women throwing around the statement “I don’t need a man” really mean something else.

I’m Tired of Getting Hurt in My Relationships

Even successful, healthy relationships are messy and feelings get hurt. Add unhealthiness and breakups to the mix and the pain is BAD. Some women use the statement “I don’t need a man” as a coping mechanism. It’s like when you didn’t get the role in the high school play you auditioned for —  you tell yourself, well, I didn’t really want it anyway. 

When we tell ourselves we don’t need it, we cut off our negative emotions and dismiss them.

When we tell ourselves we don’t need it and we don’t want it, we cut off our negative emotions and dismiss them (and the need and the desire). But lying to ourselves and repressing our emotions and our needs are never healthy coping mechanisms.

I’m Focusing on Self-Improvement Right Now

Some women say they don’t need a man and stop dating, but only temporarily. They want to take a break from dating to make time and space for self-reflection and growth. They want to reassess their priorities and figure out what they want from a relationship. They want to learn to be more content with themselves and to become healthier. These women realize that they are primarily responsible for their happiness and that they can’t rely on another human being to keep them happy. They’re not anti-man. They just need to do some growing before they re-engage in a relationship.

I Value My Freedom More

Some women value their freedom and autonomy more than being in a relationship. They want complete control over their schedule, the remote, their choices, and the music in the car. No need to take another person’s schedule, desires, or feelings into consideration if you live alone. Liking singlehood is all well and good, but choosing your freedom above everything else runs the risk of just becoming selfishness.

No need to take another person’s schedule, desires, or feelings into consideration if you live alone.

I Want To Focus on Other Goals and Priorities Right Now

Other women want a some point in the future. They aren’t ready to settle down yet. Their years of freedom and independence are a temporary phase that’s part of their plan. They’re happy with their singlehood at present because they want to focus on their career or spend money on travel or hanging out with friends. A man, marriage, and babies will come, they’re just on the 5-year or 10-year plan, not the “this year” plan.

I Don’t Need a Man, but I Want a Man

I enjoy being married because I get to go through the ups and downs of life with my best friend. My husband isn’t a fair-weather friend; he’s my partner in an intimate and committed relationship. He’s my life companion.

I appreciate my husband for the small things — like killing the bugs that get in the house — and the big things — like taking care of me after surgery and always encouraging me to be my best self. Could I do those things on my own? Yes, I could grit my teeth and will myself to do it. But life is better (and less scary) with a good man by your side, who helps you and protects you (and remembers where the car is parked in the parking lot), because he loves you. Those actions are not simply actions anymore but meaningful proofs of love. 

Life is better with a good man by your side, who helps you and protects you because he loves you. 

Are there compromises involved in my marriage? Sure. Am I pushed to grow and step outside my comfort zone? Definitely. Is it all worth it? Absolutely!

Closing Thoughts

There shouldn’t be any shame in wanting a man. As humans, we have an innate, fundamental desire for connection, belonging, and love. Having a boyfriend or a husband intimately fulfills this desire. Single women are still acting to fulfill this desire — they just focus on friendship, family members, their community, or social issue groups instead.