Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History. Let’s Misbehave!
Well-behaved women seldom make history.
Do you recognize this statement? We’ll give you the background in a bit, but for now, just think about this statement. And believe it.
Many big industries want us to behave. They want us to be live “stylishly ever after,” they want our “girl power” to come from marketing that phrase on our push-up bras, they want our health to be defined by how good we can look from behind, they want us to fit within the boxes they give us that tell us “beauty hurts” and it’s up to us to push through the pain and work forever trying to obtain it. But if you’ve joined this fight to take back beauty, you know it’s time we stop being so “well-behaved.” It’s high time we stop behaving – looking, acting, speaking, buying, thinking – how the ever-so-powerful beauty, diet, cosmetic surgery, fashion, and media industries would have us behave! That’s why Beauty Redefined is here as a nonprofit corporation to speak up and fight back. That’s why we put positive messages that remind women of their worth on billboards and sticky notes and posters that we ship worldwide. That’s why we point out Photoshopping Phoniness and beg everyone to stop “Physically Photoshopping” ourselves out of our beautiful realities!
That’s why we work to constantly remind females how powerful, valuable, and beautiful they are in a media-saturated world that profits from them forgetting that truth. Because when you begin to grasp your potential for good, your power in this world, where real happiness is found, and the beauty you’ve already got going on, you stop “behaving” as these big industries would have you behave.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: A beautiful movement is underway. History is being made. Do you feel it? If you’re reading this, you are part of this hopeful new history being written as we team up and fight to take back beauty, health, and happiness to its rightful place within each of us. With our help, our daughters and sons will not face the pain and waste the time believing females are valuable for their parts and only lovable and successful when they meet beauty ideals designed to be unattainable. History is being re-written every time a girl, woman, boy or man learns to recognize and reject harmful messages about female worth – messages that have truly become second nature and normal for most people in this media world. Well-behaved women seldom make history, and we refuse to behave for industries that make billions off keeping our focus on perfecting our parts. We are capable of so much more than being looked at.
One of the ways we at BR have been misbehaving recently, and receiving lots of attention for, is speaking out against the cultural phenomenon that is the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. What started as a gut feeling that this particular magazine is particulary harmful for both men and women led to Lexie doing a 40-year critical content analysis of SI’s pages (which won top paper at a major academic conference), and sparked our online campaign to teach people how and why to recognize and reject this level of normalized objectification of women. We have also encouraged people to post our sticky notes with uplifting messages for girls and women on that (and all other harmful) magazines when it’s displayed in plain public view, like at the grocery checkout stand. What’s most interesting to us about this particular example is that many, many people see our speaking out against Sports Illustrated as wildly misbehaving. Saying SI’s publicly celebrated display of female objectification and exoticization is degrading or harmful in any way is apparently censorship, prudishness, neo-Nazi conservativism, disgusting and just plain evil. Throw in a sticky note with the phrase “Your reflection does not define your worth” and what we’re doing is straight-up vandalism that has earned us some pretty malicious threats and shockingly vile name-calling.
What this severe backlash against our work tells us is that seeing and treating women as objects to be consumed, judged and ogled above all else is absolutely the status quo. It is the norm. It is invisible. When we call it out for what it is, for what effects it has, with years of research to back it up, we see ourselves as behaving very nicely. Others who are perfectly comfortable inside the oppressive status quo (both men and women) are often extremely hesitant to have their worldview shaken. Those are the people who perceive our work as misbehavior (to put it lightly).
The wonderful women of the Christensen family took our sticky notes to Barnes and Noble and were escorted out after peacefully leaving their mark on the Swimsuit Issue. Subsequently, the No. 1 newspaper in Utah, the Salt Lake Tribune, published a front-page story about our work and the Christensen ladies’ experience (with a photo of us and everything, so you can guess what many of the comments focused on) in February 2013. We were flooded with comments, e-mails, and interview requests and were featured on every major TV station in Utah, a public radio interview, newspapers and magazines, and were contacted by national news (and got bumped by the Oscars, though the producer was extremely enthusiastic about our work and apologetic for the bump). Though the majority of comments on those public forums were unbelievably negative and vile, several commenters expressed support by invoking the phrase, “Well-behaved women seldom make history.” And we know that’s true.
The woman who coined that crazy popular phrase, had no idea SHE would be making the history books when she wrote that. In fact, this conservative woman was writing a history book in the 1970s about 19th century women who were by all accounts just regular women, going about their lives. She was writing about the ways well-behaved women were overlooked in our knowledge of history because they weren’t doing anything historians considered “extraordinary.” But this author went on to win a Pulitzer Prize, among many other honors, and her work has been made into documentaries and television series. Her name is Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, and we happen to feel a special connection to this Pultizer-Prize-winning, Distinguished Harvard Professor because she grew up in small-town Idaho (just like us!), graduated from the University of Utah (just like us!), and has gone on to be a powerful, feminist voice for good in a world that needs her and her catchy statement: “Well-behaved women seldom make history!” By all accounts, she had no idea how much her work would change history. And neither do you.
We (Lindsay and Lexie Kite) started our version of ”misbehaving” when we were 18 years old. We sat in a college classroom and learned for the first time how powerful media is in shaping our view of ourselves and distorting our perceptions of reality, beauty, and health. We both decided we were no longer going to “behave” for industries that profited off us hating our bodies and spending our time, money and energy finding ways to fix our flaws. And so then, in 2003, we decided we were going to be the kind of women that made history. We’ve done nothing too exceptional, but we have remained committed to helping women remember their worth as more than objects to be looked at.
Fortunately, our misbehavior is paying off in unforeseen ways as so many of you have joined us in this fight! Some of you reading this found us because in the last couple of years, several TV news stations, multiple newspapers, radio stations, magazines, and websites have featured stories on the work of Beauty Redefined. Do you know what that means? Good people working in for-profit media are with us in this fight to take back beauty and health for females everywhere, or at least recognizing it as something noteworthy. Some of you are reading this because you have seen us do our visual presentation at your school or community group. Do you know what that means?
Good people have invited large audiences to hear our message and we have gladly accepted the opportunities to speak out. Some of you are reading this because you found a link to one of our posts on Facebook or Twitter. Do you know what that means? Good people are using social networking for a great cause, and every single positive link posted is an opportunity to touch someone’s life for the better. Some of you are reading this because you’ve seen our billboards in Pennsylvania and previously throughout Utah or have seen photos of them online. Do you know what that means? (And is this question annoying yet?!) Good people in the advertising industry gave us an opportunity to use for-profit media to share a positive, truthful message with the world and other good people donated their hard-earned money to get those messages up. Even more people have supported our work by buying sticky notes with our uplifting billboard slogans on them and posted them everywhere, all across the world, from public bathroom mirrors to magazines at the grocery checkout. Do you understand your power in making history yet? Because you have all the power in the world to first understand your own immense worth and then remind the world what that means and what that looks like. But it’ll take a little misbehavior on your part.
History is being written, and you and I are making sure it is positive, happy, uplifting, and empowering for females (and males) everywhere. Today, Lindsay and I are thrilled to use Thatcher-Ulrich’s truthful phrase a little differently than she intended it. Today, we stand alongside every other female and male willing to misbehave in the face of powerful industries that profit from our losses. They win when we lose our self-worth and try to find it where it cannot be found – beauty products, cosmetic procedures, sexual objectification, disordered eating, diet pills, etc. The truth is all around you: You are capable of much more than being looked at. Your reflection does not define your worth. There is more to BE than eye candy. If beauty hurts, we’re doing it wrong. If any of those statements resonate with you, it’s because you already know it inside on some level, and Beauty Redefined is just providing a happy reminder. We’re just here to remind you of truths you already know. And when you know these truths – really KNOW them – everything changes. You can misbehave by choosing to turn away from media that hurts you, spending your money on things that reflect what you value, speaking out against the status quo that maintains a view of women as bodies and nothing more, spending your time progressing in ways that matter – school, service, hobbies, health, loved ones, etc. THAT is how we will make history. THAT is what female empowerment is all about. Are you ready to make history?