Stop shaming independent women with fear mongering and wrongful stereotypes about isolation. Independence does not, and I repeat, does not equate to a life of isolation. Society has encouraged a dated and discriminatory picture of what a woman's life should look like in each decade of her life. These harmful stereotypes are not just unrealistic but also can cause confusion and distress when our lives do not perfectly align with these outdated ideals.
The fear of being alone may lead to lasting psychological effects for women both personally and professionally. I struggle with the notion that my life, regardless of how fulfilling it is to me, doesn't fulfill the picture most people want to see. However, 2020, a year where all the rules have been thrown out the window, seems like a great time to address this enigmatic but everpresent pattern.
The common theme connecting my shortfallings is that I have been deemed "too independent."
You cannot claim to champion women in one breath and then vilify their life in the next to suit your comfort level. Independence is not the root cause of why women are actively changing the narrative of how to seek fulfillment. Independence should not be spoken of in a whisper. Independence of any kind is the first step to finding a life lived authentically without predetermined standards of fulfillment.
At age 33, I've built several successful businesses, crafted strategies for multimillion-dollar organizations, written a book, earned a collection of college degrees, and traveled the world. Yet even I still have a fixation on the fact that I am not yet married, that I have no children, and that I've seemingly missed these major milestones. This fixation is a black cloud that follows behind me like a second shadow.
Be strong but not too strong. Be independent, but only in a way that allows others to be comfortable. Be the you that we think works best.
This black cloud creates a storm of whispers—something must be wrong here. The common theme connecting my shortfallings is that I have been deemed "too independent." In the minds of those who have wrongfully stereotyped me, my independence has led me to a life of isolation. The sexist rhetoric behind the time limits assigned to women's personal lives intertwined with the additional unrealistic success metrics of their personal and professional lives is reflective of a warped mindset brought on by antiquated societal norms. To these people I say, you and your stereotypes don't define my fulfillment, and my story should not align with your fulfillment—only my own.
There are three areas we can all examine to curb the direct and indirect sexism and judgment that surrounds those of us who don't fit the traditional mold made for "women of a certain age."
Independent Women Do Not Need Your Sympathy
No one has died. Nothing is missing. We do not need sympathy. I have lost count of all the well-meaning conversations that start with "I wish you could…" Let me stop you right there. That sympathizing should be directed to the social narrative that is still happening in 2020. Projecting a lack of fulfillment because my life doesn't mirror the story you've been told is toxic and destructive for the future of all women. We're teaching young women that they can and should want to do everything that fuels their fire, but showing sympathy—as though they've made a mistake—when they do just that. There is no sadness tied to independence. There is strength.
Never Shame Women for Their Life Choices
On so many levels, we have been taught as a society to play small. Shaming a woman's independence as a negative attribute for not fitting into the box that society has designated for her age group is another example of just that. My favorite example to this shaming is, "Someone will learn to appreciate your independence," or in other words, a Mike Tyson sucker punch served with a smile.
In this case, you've taken something that I pride myself in and not only formed an ill-advised opinion but also indirectly suggested that by not being my authentic self I could more easilly be accepted. Shaming others to feel less worthy because they don't align with your sense of fulfillment fuels others to seek acceptance over independence. It's a vicious cycle that just keeps spinning.
We Are Not Your Sexist Stereotype
Independence does not equate to isolation. This is the biggest myth tied to female independence. Our society teaches women that in order to attain fulfillment they have one path and that path is finding someone else to accept them. These stereotypes force feed mixed messages to women. Be strong but not too strong. Be independent, but only in a way that allows others to be comfortable. Be the you that we think works best.
To these people I say, you and your stereotypes don't define my fulfillment, and my story should not align with your fulfillment—only my own.
The idea that independence creates a false sense of isolation—worthy of shame and supportive of stereotypes—holds women back from living out their authentic lives. We're creating a narrative that may allow for independence but also ties it with isolation, thus indirectly teaching young women they should silence themselves and avoid true independence at all costs. These direct and indirect conversations must be spoken out against as an act of service, allowing independent women the level of comfort they have not been afforded for generations.
WRITTEN BYJennifer Fitta