“Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History”  – Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

I’m loving the introspection that the  A Year With Myself Adventure Kit is inspiring.

Well, maybe ‘loving’ isn’t exactly the right word – these essays and exercises are stirring up some deep stuff. Sometimes, I read them and kind of shove it all into the back of my mind – after all there are so many other things to attend to.

But they hang out there percolating, brewing, a bubbling cauldron ready to bring forth new self knowledge and creativity in its own time.

Chapter 3 was about Rewriting Your Beautiful Story. I finally listened to the short meditation from Sara Blackthorne. I wandered deep into a forest of trees representing the stories of women. And I planted my own tree and story. As I sat, listening to her beautiful words, a ‘story’ I wrote long ago popped into my mind. It’s about my grandmother. Well, not really about her, it’s only partly her story.

Really, it’s about the stories passed down through the women in my family. This compelling mandate to always be polite, suck in what we really think and smile at all costs. Now I know this is by no means an uncommon story for women. Girls from all walks of life had this directive hammered into their brains for centuries. Serve. And Smile.

I happen to come from a family who believed in this because of the social costs. These were hoity toity country club people (how things can change in just a generation!). I chafe at this and I don’t want it to be my history, my background, but there it is.

As a young woman, my discomfort at the injustice of all this unearned privilege obscured the pain it also carried. Women’s dreams sacrificed for safety and survival. Young and arrogant, I still had no clue how lucky I was to be enjoying the freedom and choice that generations of feminists had fought for.

I just knew I didn’t feel like I was with my real tribe.  I removed myself from that sphere of influence as soon as I could. Fending my way on my own on the opposite coast, I thought I’d shucked away all those lies about how women should behave. No cocktail parties and false handshakes for this hippie!

It took many years for it to dawn on me that creating physical distance doesn’t take away those deeply embedded stories. It’s a bit more complicated than that. I might have been living in a counter culture world, but I was still a well-behaved woman. The mere idea of speaking truth when it could cause discomfort – to me or someone else – struck fear in my heart.

And sadly, it still does.

I wrote this essay back in 2005 about the legacy of the women in my family. It was an assignment for a course on Women in Literature, and an exercise in excavating the stories of my own family. I’d recently picked up a bumper sticker with the words from the quote above, “Well-behaved women seldom make history,” and resolved to make it my mantra.

Let’s see, that’s almost seven years ago. I’m more than a little disappointed to realize the minimal progress I’ve made toward becoming… less well-behaved. What holds me back?

Time to start misbehaving! What the hell am I waiting for?

If you want to read more about my personal legacy of being well-behaved, you can read that essay here. It’s a little rough, and I like to think I’ve at least refined my writing skills a bit since then – if not by behavior.It tells a story of some very unhappy (and quite well-behaved) women, and how that looked to me as a little girl.