Thursday, August 25, 2011


Yesterday at the Central Park Zoo, a mom was wearing a t-shirt that said: "Well-Behaved Women Rarely Make History." It made me wonder: How do you get your children socialized while wearing a shirt with the opposite message?

And also, do you really have to misbehave to get shit done? This is a concept I have been thinking about since I read a New York Times article about Madelyn Pugh, pictured at left in that awesome chair, on which "Girl Writer" is printed under her name. (I want one like it, even though I'm not a girl anymore.) Madelyn Pugh was a writer for I Love Lucy. According to the author of the article, she was an excellent writer, and she know how to make the show's scripts realistic because she was a woman. She even went beyond her strict job description, trying out stunts to make sure they'd be ok for Lucy to do. It was said that she always behaved like a perfect lady.

Of course, at that time, it was not socially acceptable for women to be anything but ladies. Ladies had to be polite, sugarcoat their overly forceful opinions, and never appear in public without stockings. So Pugh was maybe smart to get her ideas across while conforming to the norms of her time. (On the flip side, this broad at left, lyricist Fran Landesman, was anything but a lady, and she seemed to have a great time, according to her recent obit.)

My mother raised me to behave like a lady, and I usually did. But when I discovered feminism and Ms. Magazine in high school, I decided that being a feminist meant rejecting those restrictions. Sometimes I equated being rude with strength, and I admired icons who seemed to personify that: Badasses, broads, foul-mouthed rules breakers.

That all seems very adolescent to me today, three weeks before I turn 50. In our increasingly vitriolic culture, what I aspire to is a strength that is also civil and respectful. Note: I said aspire to. My husband always says that I am not to be trifled with. Truly, I can be a bitch if the situation calls for it. But I usually regret it.

I hope that my daughter will become some combination of a lady and a badass. I am raising her to stand up for what she believes in. But she can get the point across, and maybe make history, without behaving poorly. At least that's what I wish for her.


  1. That is such a good post!
    I created my blog (Lady Habits) because I think that to be a lady you are both polite AND assertive. I try to be polite and well behaved, but there are situations where you must be tough!!! And women should!

    I was raised to be, what you call, a badass. Im never afraid to give an opinion, to change when I find necessary, complain, and so on... But since Im a child I wish I had more rules, a consistent parenthood, learn how to dress, use makeup, be graceful, and so on...

    Today, just like you, I believe it is both. I'm happy being able to enjoy Joan Jett and Joplin, being able to dress very well, but not vulgar. It takes an independent lady-like women to live well, happy, and with dignity in today's society.

  2. I can completely relate. I was raised to be very polite and ladylike. When I was younger, I didn't always know how to stand up for myself and was bullied. I also hated conflict. I had to learn to be more assertive. One of my favorite quotes is, "Be a bitch if you have to." I sometimes I wish I was more of a badass that didn't care what others think.

  3. Such as exciting post! That was lovely and a bit of an epiphany.

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  4. My mother (ten years older than yourself) raised me to be polite but assertive. She's of the generation of feminists that hates the word 'lady.' You can be polite even when arguing with someone, after all.

    I ended up finding ways to use polite ladyness against people (and insisting on replacing the word "women" in any building/title with "ladies" to annoy my mother).