I'm out pretty often: parties, concerts, limes, general lolly-gagging in the wee hours. I've only recently embraced the notion that I do work hard (I grew up thinking that hard work had to involve hot sun, perspiration and calloused hands; anything else - even 20-hour days at a computer or in meetings with seats and coffee breaks - was a luxury and a fiasco), and so I should be able to engage in the types of entertainment that I enjoy.
When one is out as often as I am, one tends to notice certain trends in the ways people seek to entertain the masses. And though not as ire-inducing as some other trends, there is one in particular that makes me itch. Shall I present it as a question? I think I shall. Because I wouldn't mind having an answer, if any of you are amenable.
I ask you: what is up with this "independent ladies" bullshit? Were I a betting individual, I would very readily bet all my jewels and livestock that at any given party or stage show, some DJ or MC - in most cases a man - will take the mic and yell something along the lines of "Ladies if you know you independent, you got on your own clothes, you got on your own hair, your own underwear, you got your own house key, bullshit bullshit bullshit, put your hands in the air." Or worse: "Ladies if you know you independent: SCREEEEAM!"
I beg. Your pardon.
First, that last exhortation is a contradiction in terms. The fact that I (and by "I" I mean "Mar". The rest of you may scream in response if you like, although I have never understood it) may self-identify as an independent "lady" (more on that later) means that I do not scream at the say-so of some random stranger on a mic. That's not to say I will never scream in public. I scream all the time. I screamed just Saturday night when Lil Rick performed some of his old dub hits and made a delightful ass of himself on stage - as only he can do - in another one of his lessons on how not to take oneself too seriously as a performer. But I screamed or bellowed or made whatever noise I pleased in the spirit of general noise-making to show appreciation. There is something about a man telling a roomful of women to scream that makes me feel like he's trying to live out some kind of harem fantasy. Worse is when he tells the women to scream and the men to say "Blat blat blat!" So men's voices are to express aggression and gun violence and women's voices are to express either sexual climax or distress. That is lovely.
But even setting aside the general screaming commands, why the preoccupation with "independent ladies"? And what is an independent lady anyway? And who the hell is this subset of women up in the club wearing other people's underwear?
I have some theories. When I was growing up, I dare say that consumerism wasn't the beast that it is today. Yes we all wanted L.A Gear and bodysuits and whatnot, but foreign markets were not as accessible; we as non-adults had limited resources, and all that resulted in the trend of sharing clothes. I can't say whether women over the age of 25 did it, although I'm inclined to think so as they had similar market access issues, but among my friends, it was certainly done. In a time before snapping cell phone pics and immediately uploading them to Facebook so everyone could see what you wore to every event, people were less self-conscious about what their outfits said about their paycheque and status. If your friend had a hot new trend piece and wasn't wearing it that week, it was an option. But, with our matey culture, in which men's dominance is perpetuated by pitting women against each other along the lines of attractiveness, domestic skills, sexual adventurousness, clothes-sharing soon became a further point of comparison that men used. The jig was up. Now, and as consumerism began to take hold more, wearing your 'matey's' clothes was to be a source of extreme embarrassment and proof you weren't an adequate female person. After all, if you were worthwhile, if you cooked well and could make sufficient babies and fvcked like a porn star, surely you could keep a man who would buy your clothes and therefore you wouldn't have to beg and borrow.
From there, as women began to participate more in economic life and it came to be seen as perhaps not the worst thing that could happen, there came a shift from "be proud your man can buy you shit" to "be proud you can buy yourself shit" (although the former maintains its legitimacy in certain ways and contexts). This would not necessarily be a bad thing, except for the following:
1) In this scenario, women's independence or lack thereof is still being used to pit women against each other. The old divide and conquer. So those of us in the fête who are in fact not financially independent, who depend on the income of a partner because such is the division of labour ('productive' vs. reproductive), or because we may be out of a job, or for whatever reason, we should feel like shit. Because not only are women supposed to be fvckmasters and top chefs and supernannies, we are also supposed to be Bill Gates. What? You aren't all those? Leave the fête immediately!; and
2) It reinforces men's resentment of having to continue to contribute economically when they, in their perception, no longer enjoy the other markers of privilege. So some men were happy to maintain 'their' women and children when it was a guarantee that they also simultaneously got to command higher wages for similar work done by women; or be promoted more easily; or have greater access to political participation; or free reign to commodify women's bodies. But for some, we women just have to damn well choose. You want to be independent? Fine. You get to pay your own way. That's the price. And all the attention to "independent ladies" is a bit of a passive-aggressive fvck-you.
An extension of that idea is that financially independent women who remain commodities or commodified in men's eyes are a huge turn-on. It is the Holy Grail of the whole ordeal. It is the reason a man will boast of his sexual conquest of a woman and qualify it with "and I didn't spend a cent." So all those independent ladies in the fête who are still willing to scream on command? Oh man. That in itself is an orgasm. Because it means that as financially independent as you are, you still require my penis to be ultimately satisfied. You still take orders and I'm still in control.
Disclaimer time: first, there are men for whom interesting, confident women who have charted and followed their own career paths are very attractive. That is clear, and not under debate. But I don't think that sentiment is behind the whole "independent ladies, scream" shout-out in the fête. Second, yes, the whole "independent ladies" meme is not unique to men. In fact, it was made quite popular by Beyonce et al, and their treatment of it is not necessarily problem-free, but I would say it is less problematic than this particular treatment of it by men. It works infinitely better as a celebration among women than as a judgment by men.
Here is my bottom line: stop singling out women as "independent ladies" based on some bullshit basket of goods that you determine of value to women: weave and clothes and underwear. All the women in that particular show or fête are independent by virtue of the fact that they are adults with rights. And they don't need to scream at your command to make that so.