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Posted by 0 pt Sunday, October 28, 2012

[Op-Ed] Questioning miss A's "I Don't Need a Man": Are They Truly Independent?


When JYP announced that the song "I Don't Need a Man" from miss A's recent mini-album release, 'Independent Woman Pt. III', would be an homage to the song "Independent Women" by Destiny's Child, I was curious as to how the two would relate. Judging solely from the titles, there appears to be a shared connotation: both reject reliance on men. At first glance, the lyrics of both songs support that connotation as well, both supporting a woman's sense of independence by portraying that they have been financially able to sustain their material needs without help from a male counterpart.

However, looking at the lyrics on a more analytical level, miss A reveals several anomalies that may contradict this message of independence; at least compared to the sense of independence that is present in the Destiny's Child song. I will discuss several distinctions below that were readily evident. First, feel free to acquaint yourself with the music videos below if you have been living under a rock.

miss A - "I Don't Need a Man"

Destiny's Child - "Independent Woman Part I"

The first distinction between the two songs are the material objects that are being desired between the two groups. In Destiny's Child's song, the women boast that they are able to afford the most sought-after luxuries in life: diamonds, houses, and cars. In miss A's version, the women speak about affording rent, buying food, and clothes. A section where a car and a piece of jewelry being bought is discussed in this song, but it's only a brief, passing reference that is not as direct as Destiny's Child. Judging by these superficial symbols, there is clearly a dichotomy between the social status of the women in the two groups. The girls of miss A are far lower on this social scale, concentrating their efforts on basic survival; these needs seemingly constitute the most basic on the oft-contested Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Destiny's Child, on the other hand, give off the image that they sit comfortably in an elitist cloud - affording extraneous objects would not be possible without the solid foundation that miss A is struggling to come by. While both could argue being independent, miss A appears to be on the brink of being classified as such.

However, it is likely that when one thinks of living independently, a basic lifestyle of struggling to live by without the help of others doesn't come to mind. From this perspective, another distinction is clear. Destiny's Child conjures up an attitude of being able to afford any material object that they have their sights set on, no questions asked about how it would affect their day-to-day living. On the other hand, miss A evidently appears to be at the constant need of others in able to live a lifestyle on a more comfortable level than their basic, paltry level. This is most evident in miss A's questionable resistance from spending their parent's allowance. While the fact that they refuse to do so is noble—and would technically classify them as being independent—should this side source of income be considered such a difference maker that it would considerably ease their paltry lifestyle, then one could easily question whether they are truly so or not.  Compared directly to Destiny's Child, I would argue that they are nowhere near being independent on a material level.

Even though the phrase "I Don't Need a Man" is constantly repeated throughout the song, the girls never outright dismiss the necessity of one or their desire for one. The standard is set to for their potential male counterpoint is that of an almost unachievable degree: while they don't want someone who is "cocky" or who will offer false promises on love, they clearly desire one that will help them in their aspiration to become materialistically well-off. They "don't sell [themselves] easily", but this leaves them with the option for "selling" themselves should that idyllic individual cross their paths by fate. They may not need a man now, but indefinitely appears to not be an option: thus they are not truly independent. This is starkly opposed from the Destiny Child's song, where no mention of a man is found throughout the lyrics, suggesting a truly complete transcendence from any connection to maledom.

The title of the song thus becomes misleading: miss A isn't shunning off the patriarchal domination that is weaved in the social structure of South Korea. Rather, miss A is showing a universalistic capitalistic yearn for progressing to a elite social through acquisition of material social signifiers. Their music video is laced with images of women in beauty salons, a Chanel-esque perfume bottle, diamond studded purses, and Christian Louboutin shoes, among others sought-after items. Should these items be the items of desire, then their current social position they put themselves in the lyrics would put them far out of reach for these items. While I know of many instances of Korean women (well, any woman or man actually) going broke to attain these types of items, this imagery in the music videos seems to put these girls in a complete lifestyle far out of reach from the one they find themselves described in the lyrics.

This is where they seemingly need that idyllic man: one who can help them afford such luxuries. Should you not have the confidence that is associated with such a man, or offer traits associated with non-materiality, then these wide-eyed women will have nothing to do with you. They don't need a man, they just need the right one.

So is this considered being independent? Some would argue yes, as the women is put in a rare position of power. I too could easily make an argument for this school of thought.  Though the undertones that paint a true desire for a man wipe away the notion of a true sense of being independent—or at least in the sense that Destiny's Child was speaking of in their flagship song.  Ultimately, miss A may lead us to believe they don't need a man for they can live fine by their own pseudo-independence on a paltry level, but that just seems to be a coverup for not having the right one to pair with in order fulfill the material desires that they apparently oh-so long for.


Should you have any desire to follow (or vent frustration towards) eumag, he is currently testing out the waters of Twitter. Follow him @eumag1.

What do you think? Does miss A's "I Don't Need a Man" really not need a man?  Do you think they truly represent independence?

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