Jan 7, 2010

I always knew Beth was trouble

I drove behind this bumper sticker today. “Well behaved women seldom make history”. My problem with this statement is it presumes an antiquated truth as the current condition for women, at least here in the US. The very notion that the women of today should "behave" is offensive to me. It implies that women are under somebody’s watchful eye, presumably a man’s. Do you know what subjects come up most often when you google the phrase “well behaved”? Children and pets. (I'm not counting the blog called wellbehavedmormonwoman.blogspot.com, that's a whole different matter.)

I wasn’t surprised to hear this quote came from a historian. It’s from an article about Puritan funeral services by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, a graduate student at the time. She is currently a Harvard professor of early American and women’s history. It became such a popular phrase that she later wrote a book with the title “Well Behaved Women”. It’s a history book not a treatise for modern feminism.

Replace the word “make” with “made” and I have no trouble getting behind the sentiment. Women who made history before the women’s movement were breaking traditional gender stereotypes of behavior. We owe them a lot. But believing misbehavior increases our effectiveness gives credence to the nonsensical idea that we are subject to some womanly standard of behavior.

Hasn't the goal of the women’s movement been to have our ideas, opinions and achievements counted the same as any other person’s. That’s the ground we start on and we don’t let people drag us to a lower level by buying into this behavior crap. 

In my opinion a more appropriate bumper sticker for today is “Pay Me What I’m Worth”


  1. I see your point,and it's a valid one.
    I wouldn't have a problem with,'Well behaved people seldom make history.
    I think misbehavers in general tend to move things forward.

  2. Great post. I am thankful for all those women who worked so hard to make sexism less of an problem than it once was. I like that a women came very close to being elected president. I am thankful for opportunities my daughters and granddaughters have that my mother never would have dreamed about. We women in the USA are far luckier than many of our sisters around the world. Sexism is still alive and well. Yes we should receive equal pay for equal work.

  3. Sometimes we women are our own worst enemies. We don't stand up for ourselves when we should, possibly don't even recognize that we should.
    We have come a long way, many thanks to the women before us who paved the way.

  4. Sling - I like that modification too. But I think bravery is the key component to history making, don't you?

    Mom - We've come a long way in just 40 years haven't we?

    Mizz Scarlett - We do need to be more vocal and never accept somebody putting us in our place. Our place is where we choose it to be.

  5. Agreed, agreed...and agreed. :)

    I do like Sling's modification, too. :)

  6. Agree totally - but Lizzie number one was reported by Irish historians to be a crazy, mad and very bad ruler responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths in Ireland...my ancestral land as you might tell...she was hated there not because she misbehaved, but because she was an evil megalomaniac and being a woman had nothing to do with it.
    whew there goes all the crappie Elizabeth history films...romanticised versions of one of the most feared rulers who ever lived.