Do well behaved women seldom make history?

There is a famous quote (and title of a book) that does the rounds online every now and then:

“Well behaved women seldom make history” – Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Let me first say that I get the point, and I agree with the original context. To make an impact on society at large, you can’t be ‘well behaved’. You have to be exceptional, in either a specific field, or behaviourally. This is not specific to women by the way. To be remembered you have to stand out, and that often means going against the tide, or not being ‘well behaved’.

Womens-RightsThe rebels of society are the ones who are remembered, and I don’t mean rebel in a negative sense, I mean someone who bucks society’s norms.. Albert Einstein was a rebel, Marie Curie was a rebel, Mother Teresa was a rebel, Martin Luther was a rebel, Jesus was a rebel. Being a rebel can be a wonderful, powerful and transformational thing.

Under these conditions, I completely agree. Well behaved women [people] seldom make history.

What I’m more concerned with, is how people are using nowadays use this quote to justify their behaviour. It seems to have become a license to behave badly, or more accurately, selfishly. Apparently doing whatever you want makes you a great and free person.

What utter codswallop.

(Ok, so I really wanted to say codswallop)

The great irony of life brought to light over and over and over again, is that it is in giving that you receive, it is in serving that you are fulfilled. This doesn’t mean you have to be a doormat, but it does mean that putting yourself at the centre necessarily leads to misery. Looking out for number 1 never leads to happiness.

Again, this does not mean that we shouldn’t look after ourselves, definitely not. Too many people have been trodden down by feeling guilty for doing anything for themselves. We need to care for ourselves and make sure that our needs are met too. A good sentiment about caring for yourself has been twisted and taken to an extreme. It has been changed to mean that you are the most important person in the world, and that looking out for yourself is more important than everything else.

I know most of us already know all this, but I get increasingly frustrated at what is peddled to us about how great it is to misbehave and not care what others think. We were made to live in community. No man is an island. None of these great truths are about any person as an individual, these truths are about what bind us together and make us human; it is each other.

Of course we ought to care what others think. This doesn’t mean that we should compromise our values or change who we are to win the approval of others, that’s not what I mean at all.

This sentiment came about in a good way, it’s just that again, it’s been twisted. It was a way to free people from the expectations and control of others. We ought to be free to follow our own paths and create the kind of lives for ourselves that are good and right for us, and this doesn’t always line up with the opinions of others. We ought not to be shouted down by anyone for living in the way that we have chosen in good conscience. However, this pendulum seems to be swinging too far in the opposite direction now. It seems to be a positive thing to not care what anyone thinks. Do whatever you feel like and to hell anyone who disagrees with you! Really? That sounds pretty lonely and selfish to me. I certainly don’t want to live that way.

So really, it’s true. Well behaved people rarely make history, but don’t mistake not being well behaved for being selfish and stupid. That’s not the kind of history I want to make.


(Hmmm…. reading over this has made me realise that it’s not a very cohesive piece of writing, but I hope you get my point)


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