Well-behaved women seldom make history

I’ve been tagged by Nick Barrowman at Log base 2, with the historical figure meme. My mission, should I choose to accept it, is to pick a historical figure and list 5 random/weird things about this person.

I had to think really hard to pick my favorite historical figure. I don’t think I can name my favorite ice-cream flavor, let alone a favorite historical figure. I thought about William James, because when he was at Harvard he was a buddy of Charles Pierce, which is the historical figure chosen by Nick.

But–sorry Bill–it ought to be a woman. A crowd of bad-behaved women came to mind:

  • Emmeline Pankhurst (“Be militant each in your own way. I incite this meeting to rebellion.”)
  • Rosa Parks (“When they stood up and I stayed where I was, he asked me if I was going to stand and I told him that ‘no, I wasn’t,’ and he told me if I did not stand up he was going to have me arrested. And I told him to go on and have me arrested.”)
  • Anaïs Nin (“I disregard the proportions, the measures, the tempo of the ordinary world. I refuse to live in the ordinary world as ordinary women. To enter ordinary relationships. I want ecstasy.”)
  • Josephine Baker (“I wasn’t really naked. I simply didn’t have any clothes on.”), and
  • Rachel Carson (“The ‘control of nature’ is a phrase conceived in arrogance, born of the Neanderthal age of biology and the convenience of man.”)

I wonder why I thought of them. I suspect that it’s because women need to be good to the point of sanctitude or quite bad to become historically famous. And bad girls tend to be more interesting.

mae2.gif mae8.jpg

So I picked the baddest woman on the block, Mary Jane West, know to the world as Mae West. I’m pretty sure she counts as an historical figure. She was born two centuries ago–exactly on August 17, 1893. And everybody who is still famous after so many years deserves her place in History, wouldn’t you say? [or shall I say Herstory?].

  1. mw_c1917.jpgIf you think that Mae West got famous just because she was sexy, thing again. She became famous because she wrote her own material, both in Broadway and in Hollywood. Between 1926 and 1931, she wrote six plays that were produced on Broadway (Sex, The Drag, Wicked Age, Diamond Lil, The Pleasure Man, and The Constant Sinner) and she rewrote many of the scenes in her early movies, until censure got in the way.
  2. After 375 shows, her play Sex was shut down because it was “calculated to excite in the spectator impure imagination” and Mae West was arrested for “corrupting the morals of youth.” She spent 10 days in prison on Roosevelt Island and became famous. Mae West wrote about prostitution (Sex, 1926), homosexuality (The Drag, 1927), castration (The pleasure men, 1928), and interracial relationships (The Constant sinner, 1931), and she had to deal with censure and police many more times. For example, her play “The Drag” was closed after only 2 preview performances and the entire cast was carted off, some in full drag, in a police van.
  3. When she starred in her first Hollywood movie, Night after Night, Mae West was already 40 years old.

  1. She is the only actress to have her name featured in the Webster’s Dictionary. A Mae West is “an unflatable life jacket, originally issued to pilots during World War II.”
  2. Mae West is famous for her double-entendres, so much so she once said “If I asked for a cup of coffee, someone would search for the double meaning.” Among the most famous:
    • When I’m good I’m very, very good, but when I’m bad, I’m better.
    • I generally avoid temptation unless I can’t resist it.
    • I believe in censorship. I made a fortune out of it.
    • Between two evils, I always pick the one I never tried before.
    • Love thy neighbor – and if he happens to be tall, debonair and devastating, it will be that much easier.

    In a 1994 message to the Berkshire Hataway Shareholders, Warren Buffett quoted Mae West: “Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.”

And so we remember you, Mae. Way too much of a good thing.


My turn to tag.
The rules of the meme:

  1. Link to the person who tagged you.
  2. List 5 random/weird things about your favorite historical figure.
  3. Tag 5 more people at the end of your blog and link to theirs.
  4. Let the person know they have been tagged by leaving a note on their blog.

And I hereby tag:

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7 thoughts on “Well-behaved women seldom make history

  1. A wonderful post! Mae West’s quotes remind me of Oscar Wilde. She was really something. I hadn’t heard of Josephine Baker, but she was pretty impressive too.

    Thanks for joining in on the meme.

  2. My favorite Mae West saying is “Anything worth doing is worth doing slowly.”

    After you listed five historical women and said you were specifically picking a woman, I was then later disappointed to see all five blogs you chose to link to are written by men.

  3. I missed your email earlier (gotta send you my real address!), I will post very soon 🙂 (great choice btw!)

  4. Thanks for the article. But not only bad girls make history. What about Mother Terese? It is enough to do something really shocking in social, politics, cultural life and people will know you. You should have nonstandard thinking and maybe behavior. If you have ideas that can turn the world you will be great women. It is not so easy but not so hard. The main thing is to have aim. There are a lot of examples when women managed the countries by hands of their man who was king or had high status. The good girls involved in affries less, they have more deep-laid personal politics. That is why we know less information about them. To be famous as bad girl much easier as to be famous as good girl. Is it?

  5. Sure, Kristina, we all love Mother Teresa. But here I’m not talking about compassion versus evil. I’m talking about pushing the boundaries of what is “appropriate” for a woman and shouting a little bit too loud. I’m talking about the courage to be oneself and fighting for what is right, even if it’s dangerous or put sends you to prison.
    I’m talking about fighting for what you think is wrong and society thinks is right, like the suffragette or the civil right movements did. Think about people that we now sanctify, but that at the time were thrown in jail. These are the bad girls, and I assure you, they had a lot of aim.

  6. when does it become enough to be trivialized. women your husbands are sometimes a burden especially when they dont stop.

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