Well Behaved Women Seldom Make History


“Well behaved women seldom make history” is a well-known quote, often wrongly attributed to Marylin Monroe or Elanor Roosevelt, that adorns coffee cups, bumper stickers, tee-shirts, and social media across the United States. It has become one of the slogans of the feminist movement, seemingly implying that being “well behaved” is unbecoming of a woman who wants to accomplish something worthwhile in her life. A life of sin and rebellion is far preferred for the modern woman.

But is that what the quote really means? It actually comes from a little known scholarly article written in 1976 by Harvard historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich pertaining to obituaries of women in early America. You can read the article in its entirety here: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:14123819

Here is the opening paragraph of that article:

“Cotton Mather called them “the hidden ones.” They never preached or sat in a deacon’s bench. Nor did they vote or attend Harvard. Neither, because they were virtuous women, did they question God or the magistrates. They prayed secretly, read the Bible through at least once a year, and went to hear the minister preach even when it snowed. Hoping for an eternal crown, they never asked to be remembered on earth. And they haven’t been. Well-behaved women seldom make history; against Antinomians and witches, these pious matrons have had little chance at all.” (Virtuous Women Found: New England Ministerial Literature, 1668–1735.)

Essentially, she is saying, “Well behaved women seldom make history”…but they should! (RM) Well that changes the meaning entirely, doesn’t it? This statement is taken out of its greater context and leaves the wrong impression—an impression or meaning that the author didn’t originally intend. In fact, she intended the opposite meaning, but people take that quote and use it to fit what they already believe.

This same thing happens all too often with the Biblical text. A scripture, taken out of context, becomes the rallying cry for a false doctrine opposite to what the inspired writer intended.

For example, 2 Timothy 2:13 says, “if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.”

Many take this to mean something like, “even if we mess up God is there for us, so don’t worry too much about changing your life if you’re sinning!” But is that really what the quote means in context?

2 Timothy 2:11-13 says, “The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; (12) if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; (13) if we are faithless, he remains faithful-- for he cannot deny himself.”

Notice what comes just before verse 13, “if we deny him, he also will deny us.” The context tells us that 2 Timothy 2:13 really means if we are unfaithful to the covenant, God remains faithful to it, because that’s the kind of God He is! In other words, God does not make empty threats. If He says something will happen as a consequence to sin, it will happen!

We are often unreliable and inconsistent in our “threats” as parents. Several months ago, Stephanie and I had the High Schoolers over to our house and I told Madi, our oldest daughter, not to do something or else. To my surprise, she did it anyway!

Now what?

How I would respond says something to everyone there, so Madi got the “or else.” So too, God our Father NEVER makes empty threats.

He will continue to fulfill His part of the covenant. Yes, He will continue to accept us when we return. Over and over and over he is longsuffering, but this is a conditional covenant, and if we are faithless, he will be faithful to what he has said and send us to hell.

Well behaved women seldom make history, but they are often written in the Lamb’s book of life. Faithfulness is required of us, too. “If we are faithless, he remains faithful — for he cannot deny himself,” but also, “if we endure, we will also reign with him.”