Well behaved women seldom make history
18th November 2019
Based on her research of certain early American women, Harvard professor Laurel Thatcher came to the conclusion that ‘well behaved women seldom make history’. Many women she referred to as ‘the hidden ones’ who only featured if they became troublesome, such as those in the Salem witch trials. We might also include law breakers such as Civil Rights activist Rosa Parkes or Emmeline Pankhurst and the suffragettes. Such women rose to prominence because they broke the silence and stepped outside the expectations of the way in which a well-behaved woman in society should act. In all cases it proved costly and sometimes women have chosen to remain silent because the cost to themselves and their families was deemed too high. It puts me in mind of the recent women politicians who have chosen to stand down as MPs in the next election. From being labelled ‘shrill’, ‘aggressive’ or ‘strident’ when they assert themselves in the public arena and being subject to the most grotesque online misogynistic abuse, they have decided to call time on their public service. While times have indeed changed, it is still a brave woman who puts her head above the parapet and as a result women have not always been visible in history although they have undoubtedly been contributory in its making. History is the story we tell ourselves about where we have come from and it shapes our identity. Who writes it and what it includes is therefore significant and there are those who would argue that the balance of history should now be redressed with herstory. In this way our girls might discover the legacy of all women and consider how they too will contribute in the making of history.