The “myth of independence”

Mia Mingus, a friend and well-respected activist in a number of movements (including reproductive justice and disability justice, among others) recently posted some excerpts from talks she has given around the country.
I’ve heard her talk about this concept of interdependence and it has always struck a chord with me. While I am not disabled, and therefore have a very different relationship to these concepts of dependence and interdependence, I do know that as a feminist and a young person I struggle with these ideas as well. Independence is very much a force-fed American value, one that I find myself questioning all the time. I am appreciative of new ways of thinking and rethinking these concepts and how we deal with them. I too want to envision a different world for us, one that centers on community.
From Mia’s blog:

It is from being disabled that I heave learned about the dangerous and privileged “myth of independence” and embraced the power of interdependence. The myth of independence being of course, that somehow we can and should be able to do everything on our own with out any help from anyone. This requires such a high level of privilege and even then, it is still a myth. Who’s oppression and exploitation must exist for your “independence?”
We believe and swallow ableist notions that people should be “independent,” that we would never want to have to have a nurse, or not be able to drive, or not be able to see, or hear. We believe that we should be able to do things on our own and push our selves (and the law) hard to ensure that we can. We believe ableist heteronormative ideas that families should function as independent little spheres. That I should just focus on MY family and make sure MY family is fed, clothed and provided for; that MY family inherits MY wealth; that families should not be dependent on the state or anyone else; that they should be “able-bodied,” essentially. We believe the ableist heteronormative racist classist myth that marriage, “independence” as sanctified through the state, is what we want because it allows us to be more “independent,” more “equal” to those who operate as if they are independent–That somehow, this makes us more “able.”
And to be clear, I do not desire independence, as much of the disability rights movement rallies behind. I am not fighting for independence. I desire community and movements that are collectively interdependent.

Check out more of Mia’s work at her blog. You can also bring her to speak to your campus or organization.

and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.

9 Comments

  1. Comrade Kevin
    Posted January 25, 2010 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    I think part of this rugged individualist mentality is due to the separatist groups that originally populated this country, after they moved the Native peoples out of the way, of course. Also, the fact that America was until fairly recently a huge land mass where people had the ability to spread out and carve out plots of land for themselves factors into this concept.
    But as far as coming together for a common purpose, this isn’t the best model in all sorts of ways, as the column above notes.

  2. Kat
    Posted January 25, 2010 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    Interesting. Even more interesting because this came up on my google reader right before this post from CNN: http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2010/01/25/south-carolina-lt-gov-poor-people-are-like-stray-animals/

  3. earthling
    Posted January 25, 2010 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    This really resonates with me. I have disabilities and as such, need to rely on my partner for many things. Before we met, I relied on my parents and occasionally on friends.
    My parents and many of my friends have the attitude that everyone should be as independent as possible, and that everyone’s goal should be to look after themselves. My partner has the view that needing others is nothing to be ashamed of, and helps me do the things I need to do without complaint. Guess which relationship is the most healthy?
    Many times in my life, I have suffered the attitudes of certain people who have attempted to shame me for needing others, or for needing financial assistance from the state. These people were in the privileged position of being able-bodied and relatively wealthy, so go figure. Also, I feel sometimes that there is an extra layer of shame laid on *by feminists* to women who need help from a male partner or friend; somehow, we’re letting the side down.
    Mia’s analysis is spot-on.

  4. TD
    Posted January 25, 2010 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    We believe and swallow ableist notions that people should be “independent,” that we would never want to have to have a nurse, or not be able to drive, or not be able to see, or hear. We believe that we should be able to do things on our own and push our selves (and the law) hard to ensure that we can.
    What, precisely, is wrong with a person not wanting to be blind (or any of the other examples)?
    There is a huge difference between a person wanting to be independent and believing someone else has failed in some way if they are not independent.

  5. lizzgeorge
    Posted January 25, 2010 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    This concept also resonates with me as a female. As a young American woman I’ve grown up benefitting but also being pressured by the idea that I can – and should – have it all. By myself, with no help, based on my own talents and intelligence and work ethic alone.
    I also find it interesting to see this type of dialogue among feminists who are usually stereotyped as being passionate defenders of independece at all costs. A feminist woman can do and be anything, even a mother, without a man.
    But how does accepting the notion of interdependence extend to male-female relationships? Is it OK for me to rely on, even to need, and – God forbid – to WANT a man to help me build a life and a family?
    What do you guys think? How does this notion of interdependece apply to modern relationships? It seems to more aptly describe “traditional” marriage than the types of relationships espoused by many Feministing readers.

  6. Phenicks
    Posted January 26, 2010 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    This deserves a post all its own, you posed a really really good question.

  7. KBZ
    Posted January 26, 2010 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    I will admit to being a believer in independence as a virtue — especially for women. Independence is about freedom. Perhaps it is a virtue that we strive for, but can never fully meet (much like honesty or “morality” [by any definition thereof]). But, the fact that we all inevitably fall short of achieving certain virtues does not alone devalue it as a goal. In fact, much of the cause of feminism has been about achieving moral, financial, sexual, reproductive, and social independence for women.
    I also believe there is a huge distinction between valuing independence for able-bodied, able-minded individuals, and scorning the disabled (physically or mentally) for a justifiable lack of independence. It is possible to believe independence is a good thing, and to not blame people who, because of circumstances beyond control, cannot be independent.
    Virtues are not about perfection, they are about goalsetting. It is something that drives us forward — but, we all work from where we are. The quest for independence from parents is among the defining characteristics of childhood and adolescence. If one is able-bodied and minded, financial independence is a worthy, albeit illusive, goal. If one is physically disabled in some way, achieving even small measures of independence from caretakers can be extremely uplifting.
    Like I said — independence is about freedom. It is not a bad thing to need help — but it is also not a bad thing to strive to not need help.
    kbz

  8. Terrils
    Posted January 26, 2010 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    Interesting post; I’m not sure I’d conflate believing that it’s good to be as self-sufficient as possible and to “stand on your own two feet” (figuratively) as much as possible with a complete lack of concern for others, as she is doing:
    We believe that we should be able to do things on our own and push our selves … We believe ableist heteronormative ideas that families should function as independent little spheres. That I should just focus on MY family and make sure MY family is fed
    Still, there’s much food for thought here – I don’t know anyone who doesn’t need someone else’s help at some point.

  9. Hypatia
    Posted January 27, 2010 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

    This is a great article. As a child of immigrants to the U.S., I’ve always had that universal struggle of trying to reconcile american values vs cultural values, and more specifically individuality vs community. Interdependence means not having to choose between the benefits of independence from my american upbringing and the benefits of dependence and links family and cultural ties. It shows that feminism and culture are not incompatible, which is something I often struggle with personally.

Feministing In Your Inbox

Sign up for our Newsletter to stay in touch with Feministing
and receive regular updates and exclusive content.

176 queries. 0.724 seconds