This past summer, I somehow found myself co-teaching a singles’ Sunday School class with my husband. As many Black churches are, this class was filled with mostly women of varying ages–all of them were, of course, single. At least once or twice during the 6-week class, a woman declared, “I don’t need a man!” in the middle of an impassioned comment. I felt…mildly uncomfortable each time. And I’ve been thinking about that feeling ever since, or, more specifically, what is so transgressive about a woman who states she does not need a man?
First of all, let me acknowledge the obvious. I’m a married woman questioning what’s so wrong about the phrase “I don’t need a man.” You would think, by my marital status, that I have proven my side in this debate. But you also have to understand that I have sat under pastors decrying women who say this. I have seen meme upon meme mocking (especially Black) “independent women who don’t need no man.” (You have to say it all together or it doesn’t work).
I also know women who don’t need a man. And I don’t exactly see what’s so terrible about it.
Usually, the rebuttal I hear is that everyone needs other people. It’s true that no man (or woman) is an island. I do believe men are valuable to our society. “I don’t need a man” is not only a declaration of refusal, it’s a gender-specific one. No one likes rejection, and an outright blanket statement like that takes men out of the running before they hit the starting block. I get it.
But what does it mean for a woman not to “need” a man? I immediately refer to the provider role. It’s commonly said women seek security from men, but statistics also show that America is now a predominantly a country of dual-income households. Most adult women are not sitting at their daddy’s house waiting for a husband to come sweep them away. They’re working. And after they get married, they keep working. So while men may still bring home a large share of the income (wage gap, anyone?) instances of sole providership are not as common as they previously were.
I also think of what my mother told me when I was a kid: pursue education above all else, so I would not have to depend on a man to take care of me. This advice rings true with what Black women have been telling their daughters for decades. First Lady Michelle Obama even said to a group of girls last week, “‘There is no boy at this age that is cute enough or interesting enough to stop you from getting your education.”
Now we could boil manhood and masculinity down to stereotypical male household roles like taking out the trash, fixing flats on the roadside, lifting the heavy things in the house. But having a man around means more than just a hungry hired hand. Single women can and do run their households without a man.
And what of sex? Don’t women need men for sex? Some do. Some prefer Rabbits to peters. But other women can last awhile without sex, especially if sex means eventually saying “I can do bad all by myself.” Others are content to keep sex casual and not tie physical intimacy to a relationship. And still others…wait for it…are cool with celibacy.
There is only one reason I can think of for a woman to “need a man.”
Women can provide their own food, clothing, and shelter, sexual fulfillment in various ways, and even run a house efficiently. And usually, when I hear women declare they don’t need a man, it’s in reference to their ability to support themselves without a crippling dependence on a man. The point is to not need a man to their own detriment. Society will often tell women they are less than without a boyfriend or husband. It’s a point of pride for many to be self-sufficient.
The only element I can think of that a woman cannot provide herself is this: companionship. Someone to laugh and cry with. I honestly see this as the most important part. When men complain about women who don’t need a man for all of the previous things, I ask them what else they can provide besides a steady job (which isn’t a given), sex, and handyman fix it capabilities. The answer is a list of intangibles–love, support, friendship, perspective, joy, emotional security.
I don’t believe women need to exhibit the interdependence crucial to relationships until they find someone they can let themselves need. For some women, need is a state of vulnerability we cannot often afford. I don’t believe we have to walk around in a state of incompleteness before we find love. If a woman says she doesn’t need a man, that is her current state of being. She’s probably not suffering for it. Is it more important that women need a man or want a man?
Oh, it’s something about /
The kinda woman that want you but don’t need you
-Philosopher Schaffer Chimere Smith
It’s true I am married and I have no dog in this fight. Maybe I don’t feel threatened by the phrase because I’m a woman. When I think about my own husband, a man I’ve known for nearly 10 years, I’m still not mad at these women. I wasn’t looking for “a man” when I met him. I wasn’t looking for any relationship at all. He didn’t complete me, nor did I complete him; we were whole individuals separately. He stepped into my life and fit himself into it because I wanted him there. I decided he was the one I would let myself need.
I didn’t “need” my husband before I met him. But I need him now, and I am perfectly okay with that. Just as I am perfectly okay with other women saying they do not need a man until they decide they do.
What do you think about the phrase “I don’t need a man?” Does it bother you? Or do you agree with the sentiment?