“A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle:"
What did Gloria Steinem mean when she uttered this controversial quote?
Was she putting men down? NO! Was she saying that men are useless or worthless? NO! Was she saying we don’t emotionally need or want a man in our life? NO! Was she saying we should stay as far away from men as possible? NO! Was she saying we are weak if we succumb, or even choose, to have a man in our life? Of course not! Who doesn’t love to have a wonderful partner?
When I was growing up in the 60s and early 70s, my dad used to tell me to be sure to learn how to type so that I would have something to fall back on should my husband die. He told me I didn’t need to think about setting myself up with life or health insurance because my husband would provide that.
My dad truly thought he was insuring that I could survive independently by telling me to learn to type. Even though he had a patriarchal and chauvinistic perception, my dad was always teaching me how to be strong, including how to be a critical thinker. He was a good and extremely loving father. He’d teach me, for instance, how to change a tire or my own oil. The problem here again though, was that his reason for the training was “just in case” my husband died. Fortunately for me, even as a young woman, I thought his thinking was somewhat scary. I did not trust that I’d be taken care of like a princess and besides, I have a very creative mind and wanted to participate in life, not be an observer. I felt I was being groomed to live a long life of being at the mercy of another.
As a child I felt free to be my own person and the boys who were my friends treated me like one. When I grew up, I wanted the responsibilities and benefits of an adult, but the freedom of a child. I thought it was perfectly reasonable to marry the guy of my dreams and have him treat me like his best friend and only woman on the planet. My plan was to get married at 19, have a bunch of kids (6 is the number I had in my head), have a farm, and be a team mate with my husband with whatever business we decided to have. I’d stay home and nurse the babies, but probably do the books or manage the business from home and he’d be out in the world doing the leg work and creative marketing. All the while I’d have an incredible soup on the stove and a massive garden in the back (which we both tended on the weekends). He’d come home, we’d put the kids to bed, stay up to enjoy a super connected conversation about the business, world politics, the family – brainstorming and debating solutions, and then go to bed and have incredible sex.
Well, it didn’t turn out that way. My life took a much different journey. It was colorful and it had it’s ups and downs, but my path, ultimately required that I find my own true strengths and wholeness.
What I believe Gloria Steinem meant with her famous quote was that a fish can swim on its own and you can stand on your own two feet.
Having the right partner can be the greatest thing on earth. It’s wonderful to have the security of another being to walk beside us and nurture us, to create a life with.
But it’s not a requirement for survival or happiness. Women, as a group, have a history of being told otherwise.
Even as a very independent woman, I have had to work on this. I easily confused wanting a partner with needing a partner.
I’m a pack animal. I am happiest when surrounded by beautifully-hearted people – men and women both. I love companionship. I prefer having a romantic partner over being single. I also found that being with the wrong partner can actually get in the way of my survival – my quality of life – my ability to live the life I desire. I’m always great at supporting my guy’s dreams and enjoying it, thinking I’m being promised the same in return, only to wake up one morning to not recognize who I am anymore, feeling lost, completely off track, unsupported, and too dependent for comfort. I seemed to give my personal power away for the sake of the relationship.
Now though, I understand the difference. Being in a relationship is a choice and I have the ability to survive on my own. Not being in a relationship is not always the option of choice or preference, yet one still has the ability to survive on her own. And must.
I am appreciative now of my father advising me to learn to type, but for different reasons. Rather than being something to fall back on "just in case", it is the very thing that keeps my feet firmly planted in solid ground.