You’ve probably seen the bumper stickers: “Well behaved women seldom make history.” Women’s History Month is an opportune time to explore that slogan.
I’ll admit, the bumper sticker was off-putting for me when I first saw it. It seemed to be glorifying discord and turmoil. It seemed to be telling women that if they were not part of some fringe element, they could not achieve greatness.
It’s true that women do not have to be saber rattlers to be influential. Take, for instance, first ladies who have swayed the national consciousness by championing causes or simply becoming role models – from Eleanor Roosevelt down to Michelle Obama. All well behaved. (Yes, Eleanor Roosevelt kicked aside the conventions of the time – for instance she once caused an uproar by suggesting that it was OK for young women to drink beer. But she was hardly of the bra-burning mentality.)
Sure, you can say the husbands of these women helped them become prominent, but that does not diminish their accomplishments once in the spotlight. (Anyone who thinks wives and daughters of prominent men could not succeed on their own would have to explain Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Dole, Lindy Boggs and quite a few others.)
And there are plenty of women who made history independent of any man and did not have to rouse any rabble. Marie Curie, for instance, the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, was denied many opportunities and privileges because she was a woman, but she politely stepped around barriers and kept on strutting on her way to ground-breaking scientific discoveries.
But then I started thinking about some of women who made history by breaking down barriers for women – women like Fannie Lou Hamer. Hamer was best known as a civil rights activist in the 1960s, but she also was an early activist for women’s rights. She helped establish the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1971, according to Biography.com. That organization has helped spur impressive gains for women in the political arena.