Posted by: saramariafinley | January 31, 2013

Well Behaved Women Rarely Make History


The first time I saw that quote I was 7 years old. It has stuck with me ever since. I went home after seeing it fully believing that to make history I needed to misbehave. Needless to say, I ended up in my room very quickly that night while my mom refused to listen to my protestations and explanations for my behavior. But the truth beneath that quote continued to stick with me. In history class I would hear of these women who had clearly defied the social norms for women of their time and as a result, their names are embedded in history. The things that they went through continue to amaze me.

Two females that lived in stark contrast with other females of their time were Mary Read and Anne Bonny. The were female Pirates who sailed with Calico Jack and his crew. When their ship was finally attacked by the British, as legend goes, all the men fled below ship while Mary and Anne fought fiercely alone on deck till they were overpowered. When they were put on trial, the only thing that saved their lives was the fact they both were pregnant. I found it interesting that in their story, they were tried the same as their male counterparts and the only reason they were not executed right aways was because of their pregnancy.


Other well known women leaders that have “misbehaved” include Cleopatra, Rosa Parks, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Annie Oakley. However a question that must be asked is whether or not women can make history only by “breaking the rules”? Almost any example of a famous women involves her having broken the assumptions surrounding women of their time. Nowadays there are still women who are “breaking the rules”. That’s even one of the questions we are supposed to ask for our interview. However it made me wonder if men also have to “misbehave” in order to have a spot in the history books? Maybe breaking the rules isn’t as necessary for a male leader to be remembered but it definitely helps in making a more memorable mark on history.


  1. The thing that caught me about this was the quote, which I also remember reading as a child. Although I did not act on it, I believe Sara Marie makes an interesting point on how women leaders do so more than men need to act out in order to be noted in history. The more interesting point this this post that caught my attention were the women fighters. My first thought was that how these women were pregnant but that didn’t stop them from still living their lifestyles and continuing to be pirates. Today, as soon as women get pregnant people expect them to take it easy and stop doing things they usually would, however, in this story they didn’t even hesitate to face the British while pregnant. Then hearing that they were treated as equals when being tried, it makes me wonder why? Because they successfully survived in a male role and successfully competed against men, that they deserved the right to be called equal as men? But then once discovered as pregnant, they were punished differently. Bringing me to the point of how women use pregnancy as a burden or weakness. Yes it is an important time to take care of your body and be careful of the strains placed on it, but it shouldn’t take away from the abilities of women. I find it interesting how as soon as a women is declared as pregnant, everyone looks at them differently and treats them delicately. Women should not feed in to pregnancy as a weakness but instead work harder to prepare for the hard years ahead and set themselves up into the best position they can at work in order to provide the best supported future for their child. I’m not saying women should be ignored or disrespected because they are pregnant, but they shouldn’t be looked down upon as incapable because we are carrying a child within us.

  2. I don’t think that men have to misbehave to be put in the history books. Many of the men who come to mind actually became successful by playing BY the rules, opposite of the women. Maybe this is because there are more rules for women to break? Think about it, there certainly are fewer restrictions on men in history. Take for example the reading we did on women in the South as compared to those in slavery, men and women. Pretty much any behavior would be overlooked or excused if it was performed by a white male. It seems like any minority has to behave badly to be considered at all and often it has bad consequences.

  3. I think history is about those who dared to stand up for what they believed in or wanted. No one would want to remember a normal life because we see it everyday. History was made by those who were victorious. This means that to create history you first had to make it. Again, just leading a farmer’s life would not be enough to be recalled throughout the ages. So I don’t think it is only females who are remembered for their flamboyant deeds, I can not recall a portion of history that was not crucial to how we live today. From discovering bacteria in a cork to female rebellions against wage reduction in France. Nearly all historical figures female or not had to do something outrageous to make the books. Though it is true not all behavior had to be bad in order to be memorable. But considering the queens of the past in any country could not misbehave lest they be dethroned, I don’t think women need to misbehave to mean something to the world.

  4. One thing that caught me about your post is the fact you got punished for trying to break the rules and “make history.” This just makes me think, do all women that get famous get caught and punished to make history? The fact that these lady pirates got caught and were not executed shows that there are times when being a women would help someone break/bend the rules. However, if they were not pregnant and they did have to face their punishment, they probably would still be noted throughout history as the fierce female pirates that they were. Rosa Parks stood up for her rights (well not literally) and was arrested for sitting in a white-zoned seat even though she was in the colored section. So do women that want to make history have to get caught and deal with the punishment? Or is that just the most common way for the mass population to see the movement they are making for rights of all kinds.

  5. Your question about men needing to break the rules in order to get a spot on the history books really got me thinking. I feel like men make history by changing the rules not necessarily breaking them. When women’s suffrage first started, the women were focused on getting women’s voices heard regarding men’s leadership. Women were still deferring to men as capable of leading the country, they just broke the rule that demanded women keep their opinions silent. However, some men in history did something different. Greek Sophists believed life could be figured out by simply observing the world around them. Socrates objected and demanded that they prove what they claimed and understand why they could prove it. Socrates argued that simple acceptance of observations would never reveal the truth about life and how it works; he changed the rules. Observation was no longer the right rule. It was completely obsolete.

  6. When I was reading your post, I got to thinking that maybe throughout history women who have become famous inspirational leaders were only noticed because they were the few to not abide by the normal standards of society. I think that becasue they went above and beyond the normal expectations for women that they became symbols for our leadership history. There have been plenty of women throughout history that we may not know about but have had huge impacts in our culture. I am sure you could even think about someone you know now that has made a big difference but isn’t know all aroun the world. I think that women have these set standards that they are suppose to “abide by” in leadership. But why? Why can’t someone be who they are. Why change how you lead becasue that is what everyone else wants you to do. Its disturbing to think that our society puts such a burden on people based soely on expectations of their gender. People are quick to judge others without seeing the good that they can provide to our society. Men and women are both created differently and beautifully to help and provide our world with success but in different ways and I think that as a society we need to cherish that and use it to our benefit. Its important to realize that people too are their own person and have certain skills and experiences that others don’t.

  7. I don’t know if it is about technically “breaking rules.” Could it be that they just have to go against the norm? Or is that the same thing as “breaking rules?” Perhaps people that are in the history books are only in there because they took chances and treaded on new territories (literally and figuratively.)

  8. I feel like women who “broke the rules” made history because they were able to stand out from their quiet, polite counterparts and shake everyone’s preconception of women’s roles in society. To me, this brings up the argument about how exactly change happens. I’ve always been taught that there are really two options when bringing about change: you can outright go against the norm (which these women you’re referencing clearly did) or you can play by the rules, act kosher, and then essentially work from the inside out once you’ve gained respect. Is change ever really made from simply doing that or do you need to really commit yourself to acting out? Something to think about for sure.

  9. I definitely agree. Lets think back to the very beginning. the bible, there are no books named after women.. There are very few women in the bible. Who is the most famous? Mary. Why is she famous? she is Jesus’ mother. isnt it sad that the only woman who was paid major attention to was because she was his mother… No attention was paid to women until they started to break the rules.The women we hear about after that are the women that step outside the norms & break the rules.. For example, Rosa Parks, Susan B Anthony, like these pirates Sarah talked about. These women were not punished as severely probably because they were women, If men had committed the same offenses then they would probably had faced stronger violent consequences. As a woman I am very fortunate that these women went out on a leaf and broke these rules because if they had not our world may be totally different.

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