Well behaved women making history

I wanted to do a post about this silly bumper sticker, but Lydia beat me to it:

I saw a cute little feminist bumper sticker today. Naturally, the other side of the bumper had one of those illegible “Coexist” stickers. The readily readable one said, “Well-behaved women don’t make history.”

Well, y’know, in one sense that’s true. Because well-behaved people don’t make history. Fielding’s novel Jonathan Wild is based on this very premise. Fielding satirizes the notion of a “great man” that includes tyrants and robbers, so long as they were successful on a grand scale.

Now, I don’t want to be too cynical. There have been plenty of history-making people who have deserved their fame.

But for the most part, it’s not so far off to say that if you get on with your life and don’t do anything spectacularly bad, you probably won’t do anything spectacularly good enough to “make history” in the sense of being famous. Which is, of course, just fine. An ambition to “make history” in the sense intended by the bumper sticker is unhealthy….

It’s not good to teach our children that they should plan to “make history.” Let’s teach them instead to be good, honest, diligent, and godly.

To which I replied

Actually, of all the famous women I can think of off the top of my head (Lucretia, Cleopatra, Dido, Mary, Clotilda, Matilda of Tuscany, Jean of Arc, Catherine of Siena, Heloise, Elizabeth I, Maria Theresa, Jane Austen,…), none of them was particularly known for being gratuitously rude or socially disfunctional. I don’t believe boorishness or inability to master social etiquette has ever helped anyone become famous. I don’t think this plan of belching, swearing, and nose-picking one’s way to fame is going to work for too many little girls.

12 Responses

  1. You can’t possibly be this dumb to think that this is what’s meant by “well-behaved”. You just can’t.

  2. Hello Dan,

    The slogan gets what rhetorical force it has by maintaining the ambiguity in the phrase “well-behaved”, which allows it to excuse bad behavior by associating it with good behavior through semantic confusion.

    They mean “conforming to the expectations of society, parents, or a moral/religious code”, which is bad because it’s what the Nazis did. These foolish women don’t have to ask themselves if there are any legitimate authorities who they should recognize, if the demands society is making on them are in fact reasonable and just, or whether their family’s religion is in fact true and binding. They assume an air of principled opposition to indulge their selfish, disrespectful, slutty, baby-murdering misbehavior. Anybody who objects is just a conformist drone to be despised for his lack of spiritual vitality. Even more egregious is the connection of nonconformity with innovation, as if scientists, inventors, and artists were social pariahs. Thus, a girl can imagine that being an insubordinate boor automatically makes her like Edison and Einstein. It’s all about dressing up misbehavior with the luster of other activities–morally principled abstention or scientific/technological/artistic innovation–that people wouldn’t usually describe as “misbehaving” at all. Just because you offend people doesn’t make you Socrates or Jesus.

    But really, that’s more detail than I wanted to go into for something so silly. I preferred to just bring things down to the level where the average girl is going to have the opportunity to “misbehave”.

  3. Obviously what is meant by “well-behaved” is something along the lines of “doing what the society or those around you expect you to do”. The alternative can be “doing what *I* feel is right, both for me and for society at large, regardless of the opinions of others”. The reality is that “well-behaved woman” for centuries has meant “woman who sat and home, sewed and fed the children”. If a woman does not want that, or wants something in addition to that, this would make her a not-so-well-behaved woman. That is all.

    But you knew that. Of course you did. You just needed to bitch about something, and you came across this.

  4. “woman who sat and home, sewed and fed the children” Indeed that is true. That is as it shoud be for the great majority.

    “But you knew that. Of course you did.”
    Indeed. So did you, and you know well that your are a damnable radical. You feminist beleifs are taking us to hell, yet you continue to preach disobedience.

  5. Lol, anymouse. I’m not a radical. I mean, it’s not that I would mind being a radical, I just am not. A “radical” is someone well outside the mainstream, in whichever direction. Someone like… you.

  6. You do follow in the footsteps of radicals, however. I am trying to follow a true tradition.

  7. Dan a radical is simply not someone outside of mainstream beliefs but also somebody whom possesses a destructive, incorrect or alien point of view (and clearly liberalism fits this mold). Philosophies such as liberalism and worldviews steaming from the French Revolution and the Enlightment are suicidal and false. I’m sadden that you seem to delight in them because at the end all they bring is death (whether physically, culturally or spiritually) yet is that not what you want? Do you not believe that there is no such thing as good or evil yet see evil as good and good as evil? Creatures like you remind me of gamers and MRA’s which I view as dangerous as the feminists (practically their male version per say).

  8. Sticks and stones, Nastya, sticks and stones. Devastating though it is to be attacked by someone who can barely speak coherently.

  9. I was in Paris on 8th May, which is a national holiday (this year it fell on a Sunday, so the 9th was a holiday, too) and it is a double celebration; on the one hand, it commemorates victory in Europe in 1945 and, on the other, it commemorates the raising of the siege of Orléans by Jeanne d’Arc.

    I attended some of the ceremonies at Emmanuel Frémiet’s statue of her in the Place des Pyramides, just off the Rue de Rivoli

    There were veterans of the Resistance and of the Free French Army of North Africa, with Tricolores bearing the Cross of Lorraine; veterans, too, of Indo-China and Algeria and crowds of people of all ages.

    Have you noticed, how no one ever refers to her by name? It is always “La Pucelle.”

    Badly behaved? Well, if breaking in pieces the sword that Charles Martel had carried at the Battle of Poitiers against the Saracen across the back of a whore she was chasing from her soldiers’ bivouac is bad behaviour, then, there is no defence. If giving saucy answers to high ecclesiastics is bad behaviour, then she cannot be acquitted of that, for she did it at Poitiers, when they asked her for a miracle in proof of her mission: “Good God! I have not come to Poitiers to work signs; take me to Orléans and you will see signs enough!” She did it, too, at Rouen, for five weary months together. If it is bad behaviour to be, in the words of the Vesper hymn they sang in Notre Dame that evening, “virílis pectoris Virgo” [Virgin with a manly heart] then, certainly.

    So, perhaps, a woman really does have to be badly behaved to win a place in history.

  10. The women who “sat at home, sewed, and fed the kids” did “make history.” Everyone reading this is descended from just this sort of women. Those who abandoned, aborted, or failed to feed and clothe, their children–well, they’ve pretty much disappeared without leaving a trace.

    I think your wrong about the meaning of “well-behaved.” This is not 1960, and if you will check the census you will find that stay-at-home moms are today’s non-conformists. What it really means is feminine, and the bumper sticker is alleging that history makers are not feminine. They are pushy, brash, vulgar, opinionated, boorish, immodest, etc. They are the same women who boast, on bumper stickers, tee shirts, with their own sweet voices, that they are “bitches.”

    I take them at their word.

  11. Michael, I know you’re just having fun with me, but this is exactly the sort of talk one should never engage in in front of impressionable young girls. (Fortunately or unfortunately, I don’t think I have too many of those among my readers.) Joan owed her fame to neither of the events you mention, which were, respectively, a perhaps excessive act of discipline and expressing exasperation (but not disrespect) to a cleric, and neither of these have anything to do with what one normally means by “misbehavior”. Our foes look for any equivocation to make good seem evil and evil seem good; if you’re not careful, they’ll say you’ve proved that anticlericalism is a virtue (as the French seem to believe).

  12. Hi Dan. I’m happy to concede that you’re in the mainstream, and we’re out of it. I actually find it refreshing that you don’t pose as a daring rebel when defending established opinions. Thanks for stopping by my radical site, by the way.

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