“Well-behaved women seldom make history.” It’s a common feminist slogan. The suggestion, however tongue-in-cheek, seems to be that for a woman to make headlines, turn heads, or alter the course of human events, it’s necessary for her to misbehave somehow, presumably as defined against the social norms of traditional patriarchal society.
Like most propaganda, this slogan is hard to argue with. It wins a neat ideological victory for the feminists, in one fell swoop annexing practically every famous woman who has ever lived—candidates from the reasonable (Jezebel, Mary Stuart, Susan B Anthony) to the wildly implausible (Saint Margaret of Scotland, Jane Austen, Corrie ten Boom). It’s also a cautionary tale for young women reminiscent of Gail Carson Levine’s young adult novel Ella Enchanted—Don’t be too obedient. Or, presumably, you’ll never make history.
The origin of the slogan is actually quite illuminating. According to Quote Investigator (quoteinvestigator.com/2012/11/03/well-behaved-women/), the line was first coined by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich in a 1976 scholarly paper appearing in the journal “American Quarterly.” Now a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and professor of early American History at Harvard, Ulrich was then a student at the University of New Hampshire. The first sentences of her paper, “Vertuous Women Found: New England Ministerial Literature, 1668-1735”, read:
Cotton Mather called them “The Hidden Ones.” They never preached or sat in a deacon’s bench. Nor did they vote or attend Harvard. Neither, because they were virtuous women, did they question God or the magistrates. They prayed secretly, read the Bible through at least once a year, and went to hear the minister preach even when it snowed. Hoping for an eternal crown, they never asked to be remembered on earth. And they haven’t been. Well-behaved women seldom make history; against Antinomians and witches, these pious matrons have had little chance at all.
Laura Wood over at The Thinking Housewife has an excellent two-part series up right now to answer some fundamental questions about feminism: Reading your blog makes me wonder. If older generations were happy with the traditional role of women in society, why was feminism embraced by the later generation? Maybe you think it was propaganda, but why did the propaganda take hold? Were women discontent … Continue reading The Roots of Feminism
I recently have been reading through an online ebook that shared some interesting information regarding mothers during the Great Depression. These courageous women, during these trying economic times, who had families to feed and a humble home to take care of did not falter but did what they had to do to survive and keep their family together. There are two things I had read that just stood out in my mind and made me think about how ungrateful we are sometimes as a society today and I wanted to share them with you.
1. Some of the women faced such economic hardship during that time that they actually had to live with their families not in houses, but in chicken coops. Many families even used newspaper to line their walls to keep the cold out and their children learned to read from the newspaper that covered the cracks in the walls. What a contrast from homes we see in magazines today where we the homes are portrayed as picture perfect.
The recent naming of Nancy Pelosi as the “most powerful woman in American history” has sparked national discussion on both the history of women in America and the nature of woman’s power. As Speaker of the House, Mrs. Pelosi holds the highest civic position any American woman has held to date, and her hand in putting through the recent Health Care Bill will have huge historic implications. Though we don’t see it as a great advance for women to finally be oppressed by one of our own, this is undeniably a kind of power.
But behind this recent tribute to Mrs. Pelosi is this presupposition: “Women find their power in holding the positions of men – the traditional women’s role has no power. The power traditional women exercised in the past doesn’t count.”
To celebrate LAF’s re-launch, the Brookshire sisters of Noble Rose Press have donated two bundles of their beautiful “Daughters of History” paper dolls. Each bundle includes three sets of paper dolls, containing a total of six great women from history–women we love to hold up to our daughters as examples of godly, industrious femininity. They make a wonderful gift and will provide hours of enjoyment … Continue reading Paper Doll Giveaway!
“Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths,
where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.” ~ Jeremiah 6:16a
There are a plethora of neo-Victorian ladies’ societies, tea groups, discussion forums, and more both on the internet and off. Many of them are doing wonderful work to expose the glaringly ugly results of a century of egalitarianism. Many of them espouse excellent virtues of the past, including the lost arts of homemaking, sewing, cooking, feminine dress and more. But while all these things are praiseworthy, we must seek to go further if we hope to pass on a vision of womanhood that does more than decorate the snorting pig of equality with ribbons, rings and bows. We must not lack discretion; rather we must seek to understand Who defines womanhood and how that definition can be applied to our lives on a daily basis–not just at occasional tea parties or costume balls.
As a woman, I do not understand how you can form a website based on such a disgraceful idea. Everyone is obviously entitled to their own opinion, but your opinion lacks intelligence and is solely based on ignorance. Feminism is not about shunning the idea of being a housewife, etc. In fact it has nothing to do with that. It is simply a choice. For whoever wrote the article I was reading, how can you say that feminists basically look down on women who are housewives? I have never in my research, schooling, etc. heard such a ridiculous comment and criticism of feminism. I suggest that your website educate itself more on what feminism is all about before you contain ignorant articles on your website.
The quote above comes from one of many “Scorching Rhetoric” notes we’ve received here at LAF. One complaint we often hear is that we know nothing about feminism and that what we claim feminism stands for (or has stood for in the past) is not true. As will be obvious to anyone who takes the time to carefully read this site (particularly our Theme Articles), we do not seek to lump all those who call themselves feminists into the same category. Even feminists disagree about what feminism means (see “What Is Feminism?”). You can no more stereotype feminists than you can stereotype all women. Just as there is no consensus within the Church about what constitutes a homemaker (sadly enough), there is no consensus within the feminist movement about what constitutes a true feminist. This can make it extremely difficult to nail down just what feminism is about and where the movement desires to take women and society in the future. But we can learn about the various objectives it has promoted and claimed as its own down through the decades.