Looking at Harvard’s courses in women’s studies may lead you eventually to Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, a very distinguished feminist historian at Harvard, who invented the famous phrase used as a title above. It turns out that she has recently published a book of the same name. I haven’t yet read the book, but I’m going to order it once I can convince Amazon.com that I am indeed the same person as I was when I last ordered a book from them. Still, there are two tangential observations I can make:
1. Of course the pressures on women to be well-behaved and do as one is told are enormous. A lot of the pressures are obvious in every day life, since being well-behaved is heavily reinforced. Inside even some feminists there’s a very well-behaved little girl who too often gets out. And, of course, if you do behave in ways others see as behaving badly, all hell can break loose. It can get very, very nasty indeed.
So what do we do? Do you have any ideas? Or perhaps you have a confirming story? Or a tale to tell about finding the nice little girl had taken you over? Is the strong need to be nice somewhat ethnic? Has the culture of strong women in some communities made not being nice easier?
2. And then there’s the book’s Amazon.com site. Sites about feminist books can be painful to read. This one has a puzzling review from the Washington Post by Michael Dirda. He asserts on the one hand that
Despite many virtues, Ulrich’s book nonetheless often feels less like history than ancient history. A lot in its pages will be familiar to readers. Colleges have been offering courses in women’s studies for decades now. That battle is won. …
Still, as Ulrich notes again and again, history isn’t simply what happened in the past; it is what later generations choose to remember. And we do need to remember how it was. Ulrich quotes historian Sara Evans: “It is startling to realize that in the early 1960s married women could not borrow money in their own names, professional and graduate schools regularly imposed quotas of 5-10 percent or even less on the numbers of women they would admit …
So it looks as though he thinks all this stuff is in the past. So why end the piece with
Sometimes, we really do make a little progress — even when there’s still a long way to go.
And let’s note that it is often still perfectly legal to pay women less for exactly the same job; you just can’t say that’s what you are doing. Still, the review has a line we would do well to remember:
Despite her fervor and personal convictions, Ulrich never forgets that she is a scholar as well as a woman.
She is always well-behaved?