Well Behaved Women Rarely Make History


I recently read that historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich (the first to say, “well-behaved women rarely make history”), was not using the statement as a rallying cry for women to act more like men, but as a statement of fact. The things women routinely do every day are absent from history books. She was urging us to pay more attention, to infuse what we do with more importance. I love that idea!

The authors of Half the Sky confirm this in their introduction, “…we journalists tend to be good at covering events that happen on a particular day, but we slip at covering events that happen every day.” I understand because I can see the same effect in my family photo albums. I am not in them because as the family photographer, I took the pictures of special events; no one thought to take pictures as we went about our everyday lives. We don’t honor those little things that we do every day that often turn out to actually matter the most.

Having a formal job gives an automatic title and job description. An unconventional life requires taking the time to think about and write down a specific and personal one-minute infomercial. How we think and speak of ourselves shows how much we value ourselves – this is important because people value us only as much as we value ourselves.

I felt this very personally in an encounter during a school field trip with my daughter ages ago. All of the parent chaperones were sitting around the table talking and asking, “What do you do?” When it came to me I said, “I’m a stay-at-home mom.” Silence. Nobody knew what to say, including me. It would have taken too long to explain how I needed to be available 24/7 because my husband’s very demanding position had him away so often that he couldn’t promise to be anywhere in advance. I didn’t want to say I knew I didn’t have the strength to ‘do it all’ the way other women seemed to. I didn’t think my volunteer position as the Girl Scout NTCC (Neighborhood Troop Committee Chairman) worthy of mention.

If I had already read the books of Brene Brown, I would have known my encounter with the other parents for what it was – a moment of shame. In a world measured by how much you get paid, what are you worth if everything you do is free? Here’s my string theory. The world is a beautiful necklace; women are the string that holds it together. Largely undervalued, unseen, yet completely necessary.

If I had already read, “It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for.” from The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer, I could have turned the conversation to, “Would you be willing to do this job if you didn’t get paid for it?” I enjoyed the challenge of being the head of the largest Girl Scout Neighborhood outside of the US (with 400 girls and 200 adult volunteers) even though I didn’t get paid.

Women’s stories need to be told. The Virginia Women’s Monument: Voices From The Garden was recently unveiled. These twelve statues of women represent over four hundred years of Virginia history and reflect various spheres of influence and geographic areas of the state. Valley Haggard, in Richmond, writes and shares her own brave and true stories and encourages others to do the same through Life in 10 Minutes. Peggy Sijswerda shares the stories of women in the Hampton Roads area through her local magazine Tidewater Family Plus.

Our work as women is to pay more attention and infuse what we do with more importance. We need to value ourselves, find the things that make our heart sing, tell our stories, and listen to the stories of other women. Our valuable feminine (yin) energy is required now more than ever to balance the predominant masculine (yang) energy of the world. Both are needed, like the sun and moon, because ‘all sun makes a desert.’