Don’t Wanna Be Well-Behaved No More!

“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?

18 Responses to Don’t Wanna Be Well-Behaved No More!

  1. Beautiful. I am so glad you took the journey and that joy came for you. SO honored to be part of your story.

    • Thanks Sara. I’m so glad to have discovered your inspirational site! Loved this week’s warrior women interviews!

  2. I used to have that bumper sticker on our vehicle…It was an interesting litmus test, as some people came up to me grinning to agree and high-five me — while others were horrified (!?) and tut-tutted and grimaced at the…audacity? of it.

    It’s damn true. I don’t want my gravestone to say “she was so polite.” (it most definitely will not, anyway.)

    • You’ve got that one right! NOT the words I want to be remembered by! And so crazy that people actually tut-tutted you for having that bumper sticker. Now that’s a good reason to discover how to be rude! Thanks for visiting my blog!

  3. Beautiful story, Sarah. This paragraph really struck me:

    “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.”

    • Thanks C.A. I’ glad this story resonated for you. How long it takes to circle around and realize these family stories are buried deep. But it’s the realization that helps us to be proactive about rewriting them. At least I hope so!

  4. Very beautiful story Sarah,
    as i read this article i thought back to my years from 18 on. My father was an adventurer and a traveller and grew up dirt poor but built a real estate empire.We didn’t have that hoity toity air about us which must be passed down by the previous generation i imagine. Instead, we lived among others who did have that attitude. I always felt like we never belonged because we didn’t belong to the yaht club or country club or have a bmw when all our neighbors did. i wanted to have that Hoity toity life because it was all around me taunting me. When i finally achieved financial and career success i looked around and realized i was so so unhappy. I was living this suburban life trying to fit in but felt so stressed out at all the false pretenses. Funny. My husband on the other hand grew up at country clubs, in a wealthy east coast family and he does seem to follow certain societal pressures more freely than i. I’m amazed we even get along.
    Anyways, i enjoyed your story it was beautiful. i’m finding i really enjoy your writing style. I think you should write a book.

    • It’s so true Annie. So many people aspire to that ‘hoity toity’ life – only to find that it is emotionally empty. Not to say that success is a bad thing, it’s just super important to stay connected to what’s truly meaningful in your life, your values. Pretending just sucks.
      Thanks so much for the warm words about my writing. It’s been almost two years since I took a memoir writing class and I even wrote on this blog about how I wanted to write a memoir. My daughters really want me to do it – they’ve been hearing these stories all their lives and think I should share them in a book. But of course all the self-doubt crept in, and other projects, and, and… I’ve definitely not given up on the idea though!

      • I’ll pre-order your memoir right now. JUST start writing. My husband started a book over a year ago and he’s still not done. Just saying that the longer you wait, the longer until it gets done. DO IT. I just read this quote it said
        “If you wait for the perfect conditions, nothing would ever get started” or something lke that.

  5. Ah yes, I recognise this story, to a degree! My parents left the hoity toity and became small farmers on an island. As children we grew up with feet in both camps, we were sent to boarding school. I ended up marrying into the hoity toity brigade. My husband never had a foot in both camps. Sadly, my daughters are being raised by him and they’re developing the same attitudes.

    • Ah, Jackie, that must be difficult! I hope you are able to get a little time in with your daughters and can maybe get a chance to plant some seeds about a different way to think about the world! You have so much to share.

      I married the opposite. My husband grew up on a farm in Minnesota, living a completely different type of life. My relatives would view this as marrying down – but it’s the best decision I ever made. (Even though I’m still not able to chase around a chicken and chop its head off!)

  6. Sarah- So glad I found you. I’ve been in both worlds. Hoity-toity country club, valley-girl high school life. It’s not all that different in the upper echelons of any company or industry. I’m very glad to connect with you on this journey and look forward to reading more of your posts.

    • Hi Cara, I too am glad we’ve connected through AYWM. It’s interesting experiencing both worlds. I have a visceral distaste for the hoity toity attitudes, but sometimes it’s good to know how to play the game. (hopefully not too often though!) Thanks for giving this a read, glad it resonated for you. I’m looking forward to following your site.

  7. This one really struck a chord in me as well, Sarah. I was part of the Life you refer to and yet oddly NOT. It must have oozed into me whether or NOT I wanted to claim it. After all, there were some things about it that were enJOYable, nice, comfortable even. But I never ever have felt I BELONG anywhere. That’s the rub for me. I’ve felt outside looking on at all those in having such a splendidly wondrous time of it I’ve forgotten to ask if it really IS what I want, or did that, too, just ooze in, my square peg in the round hole World view?!

    I’ve been something of a tumbleweed all my Life. I’ve thought it gave me character, credibility, even something mysterious and enviable. A few people have exactly that impression of me, that I am bold, so courageous, DOing what they could NEVER imagine DOing themselves.

    But as you say so beautifully, “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.” , it’s NOT so simple from the inside looking out.

    I don’t know that anyone would peg me as well-behaved, but I really haven’t been a rebellious woman either. I’ve been reactive. I’ve hidden in the shadows of my repeated separatenesses from family and friends. I’ve moved cross the country and back and across again and am Now back again, finally living a Life I feel fits, suits, and brings out the best of the woman I’ve longed to BE.

    Reading others’ stories and responses is like a clear flowing stream in the desert. I feel so wonderful to have found AYWM and to have opted in almost reflexively. Unlike so much of what is “out there” this has substance, I feel myself grabbing hold of something with deep roots, far deeper than I can imagine myself having put down moving so much as I have.

    It was interesting when I went to my 35th Reunion with some women I’d known since we were babies yet hadn’t seen in more than those 35 years since graduating since I had flitted and floated away myself in high school. Despite everything that I wouldn’t have wanted to tell you I assumed, many of them had, as I had, found their own path apart from the one we all seemed “groomed” to walk. I was moved deeply by this, and I was humbled.

    I appreciate how generously you and others have shared your stories. This gift has allowed me to take mine off the high shelf, stuck back there, out of sight so seemingly out of heart and mind, too. It’s NOT nearly so frightening when we’re all peering in simultaneously. In fact, it’s almost fun.

    Thanks so much for sharing yourself. I’ve been blessed.

    • Thank YOU for sharing Currie! I feel honored that this post encouraged some thinking and introspection for you. We all have such complicated stories and part of the magic is supporting each other as we unfurl and grow. I look forward to connecting with you more as we adventure our way through A Year With Myself.

  8. i really like this post. i can relate. im not the only one!! ahaah! this is usuallly a “good sign”! 🙂

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