By VICTORIA SARNE
Quite often “independent woman” is used as a pejorative phrase to perpetuate the myth that women are allowed to be intelligent, even well-educated and professionally successful, but that somehow should still be “kept in their place” – independent thinking or outspoken women being perceived as a threat to the existing hierarchy.
This is done overtly in many Eastern countries with restrictive laws applying to women. Although it is more subtle in the Western world, in business and politics and outdated laws still on the books, the bias is nevertheless there. It’s disappointing to me that having experienced the ‘Women’s Lib” movement of the 60s, the misconceptions, the deliberate attempts to sabotage the women’s movement, that we are still fighting the same fight almost 50 years later. Certainly there have been advances, but there is still a way to go.
The moral and political aspects are too big a subject for this column, so let’s discuss the personal ways to make a difference. This is not a man-bashing exercise. It doesn’t mean you can’t have loving relationships with husbands or lovers. It does mean you shouldn’t lose your unique identity, your sense of self-worth or place yourself in a “less than” position with a partner. In other words, retain your independent thinking within that relationship by taking responsibility for yourself and your actions. In a healthy relationship there is an implicit acknowledgement, reflected both in attitude and behaviour, that each of you is deserving of respect; that each of you is free to pursue your own goals and initiatives; that each of you has intrinsic value and brings unique characteristics to the relationship.
Before you can change the world, you have to change yourself. I want us as women to be autonomous, to be bold and unafraid to speak our truth or to take our place at the table. I want more of us to believe that it is our right as adult human beings to do this despite the pressures around us to be otherwise. This includes actions and language we ignore or which slip by us because we are used to it. It has a subliminal but insidious effect quietly eroding women’s confidence in change.
What can we do to continue to change the status quo?
We start by constructing our internal language to change our system of belief then turn it into action in our personal and professional relationships. Each small personal step is an advance. We must speak up when we see how we or others are being disadvantaged or unable to speak for themselves. If we take ownership of and believe in our authenticity we will be able to influence the laws and attitudes required to change the prevailing systems for the benefit and well-being of everyone and most importantly for our children.
Independence means not succumbing to the many pressures: being able to think, speak, behave and conduct my life according to a set of values I have constructed to function authentically and with integrity. It means keeping a receptive mind to other opinions and to evaluate prejudices or biases, including my own, objectively. I don’t base my opinions or beliefs on those of others and am able to hold onto my principles no matter the climate of opinion in the larger arena. It means I know who I am, so the question is, do you?
Let me ask you to reflect on this quote from Karen Blixen (who wrote “Out of Africa” in 1937): “It’s an odd feeling farewell. There is an envy in it. Men go off to be tested for courage. If we are tested at all, it’s for patience, for doing without, for how well we can endure loneliness.”
Aspire to be an independent woman. Try it; you’ll like it.
• Victoria Sarne is an entrepreneur and writer. She headed a team to establish a shelter for abused women and children in Canada and was its first chairwoman. E-mail her at email@example.com.