What a strong, independent man

A strong, independent woman. Via Flickr user vinceconnare.

A strong, independent woman. Via Flickr user vinceconnare.

Define the phrase “strong, independent woman.”

It’s a woman who knows what she wants. She takes charge and doesn’t need to rely on a man. She has a high-powered job such as a CEO or a lawyer or something.

Most people don’t have a problem with this phrase. After all, it sounds complimentary. We’re calling someone strong and independent, and what’s so bad about that?

Now define the phrase “strong, independent man.”

That just sounds weird. Aren’t men already strong and independent? The phrase almost sounds…redundant.

And that’s the problem with “strong, independent woman.” Only does comparison reveal the true nature of this phrase. Men are considered strong and independent by virtue of their sex, while people must specifically point out that a woman is strong and independent, like it’s an oddity.

There’s more. Out of curiosity, I googled “strong, independent woman.” Within the top 10 results, here are some sample headlines:

  • “Why Strong, Independent Women Just Want to Be Taken Care Of (Sometimes)”
  • “Why Do So Many Smart, Strong, Successful and Independent Women Struggle With Their Love Lives?”
  • “How to Be A Confident and Independent Woman and Still Get Men to Want You”

Hmm…I think I sense a trend. According to the internet, women who are strong and independent secretly just want men to like them.

So, let’s recap the typical definition of “strong, independent woman.”

  • She has a high-powered job.
  • She is bossy.
  • She acts like she doesn’t need a man.
  • In reality, she really wants men to like her.

Before people go screaming in the comments section, I don’t think people intentionally have these thoughts when they say “strong, independent woman.” Men and women both say it. I’ve used the phrase myself. It truly is meant as a compliment.

But once you peel back a few layers, “strong, independent woman” becomes a loaded phrase. It implies that it is out of the ordinary for a woman to be strong and independent. When was the last time you said “strong, independent man?”

Reality check: Some people (men and women) are strong and independent, and some aren’t. “Man” is not a synonym for strong nor “woman” one for weak. This phrase likely stems from a time when a powerful woman was considered a rare species, while a powerful man was the norm.

So what can we do about this? I’m not against calling a woman strong and independent — it really is a compliment — but we should give men the same treatment. Let’s make “strong, independent man” an accepted phrase too. Those virtues are based on personality, not sex.

So yes, a female CEO is a strong, independent woman. And a male CEO is a strong, independent man.

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