The Paradox of Well-Behaved Women

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“Well behaved women rarely make history.” Eleanor Roosevelt had a good point. Often when we read about women in articles or in textbooks we read about the audacious ones, the daring ones, the boldly unconventional. Only the ones willing to take risks and challenge the paradigms  seem worth mentioning. We take these women and laud them, put them on a pedestal, and tell them how truly groundbreaking their contributions are. Herein lies the paradox. While we idolize and praise these bold women for their achievements, some parts of society continue to raise girls to be obedient in all forms, passive to authority, and accepting of inequality as a norm.

From an early age, girls are taught to be respectful and placid; wary of any action that could rock the boat. This is good in theory, for these are good qualities for most children to have. However, they seem to be only pushed with girls. Young boys get the same lessons, but if they later choose to ignore these teachings for rambunctious abandon, it is brushed off with a, “boys will be boys.” Girls, on the other hand, are cautioned for speaking out, chastised for not following exact instructions, and punished for such repeated offenses. This leads to whole generations of women being told they must follow the arbitrary limitations society has put forth on them. Whole generations of women are being told to accept what they can and cannot do.

This practice of teaching obedience has negative implications for women in the workplace, at home, and within their relationships. A women who is taught to be obedient will be more likely to accept the instructions of authority figures, whether their intentions be good or bad. These women might heed authority figures such as bosses who are intent on pay inequality, domineering family members, and verbally or physically abusive spouses.

These women may know that their situation is unequal but what will they do when the implicit message their entire lives has been, be accepting and obedient? Some may try to break free of the the societal norms of inequality, but sadly some will continue being submissive and unresponsive to fostering change. Women earn seventy-seven cents to a man’s dollar, and supporters of the Men’s Rights Movement call it negligible. The federal government hires two men for every woman, and they call it an unintentional oversight. An oversight, or a blatant disregard for what’s fair, women are taught acceptance.

If we continuously fail to notice or acknowledge these ever-present inequalities, we will set women back all the distance they have come. While it is important to continue support of those women brave enough to make a change, we must hasten to mend the inequalities that present a need for such change in the first place. Only then will all women, well-behaved and otherwise be recipients of the equal social, political, and economic opportunities they deserve.