In The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd presents a picture of the black woman that completely turns the stereotype upside down, displaying strong, independent, and united women in a time scarred with racial and gender inferiority on virtually all levels.
Contrary to the widely accepted belief that a woman needs a man to protect and provide for her in order to survive, Monk Kidd writes of sisters who are all unmarried for various reasons. August perhaps illustrates this the most because she doesn’t marry out of "necessity" and instead makes a conscious decision that only affects herself. She tells Lily,
I decided against marrying all together. There were enough restrictions in my life without someone expecting me to wait on him hand and foot. Not that I’m against marrying, Lily. I’m just against how it’s set up . . . I just love freedom more.
August recognizes the flaws within the marriage system, so instead of accepting her fate and falling into the cycle, she protests the institution by not participating at all and, in turn, keeping power over her own self, money, property, and thoughts.
June also resists the idea of marriage to Neil because she knows what it’s like to get her heart broken. However, Neil is described as chasing her diligently even though June refuses his proposal every time he asks. May tells Lily, “He has tried every which way to get June to marry him, but she won’t do it. Me and August can’t convince her either.” June's refusal is shocking and hard to understand for her peers because women aren't taught to marry for love; they are advised to marry for survival. June doesn't need Neil for survival, though. She is able to provide for herself outside the authority of a husband, so she feels no need to wed somebody she doesn't love.
August and the Boatwright sisters consistently demonstrate that perceptions of black women's worth and intelligence are shifting as time, people, and writers evolve. May and August are both college-educated and work as teachers, a respectable position for anybody to hold. They are independent of men and the government, something almost completely unheard of.
Not only are they autonomous black women running a business and household, but they are also women who employ men. August and her honey business even gain the respect of white men who sell her honey in their stores.