In her review of Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s wonderful book Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History, Kathryn Harrison of the New York Times wrote, “Much of what is characterized as female “misbehavior” is a matter of voice—of a woman insisting she be heard: paid not only attention, but also the respect due a being as fully human and necessary as a man.” When I read these words, something resonated deep within me. And as I began a deeper examination into the stories of women who “misbehaved”—at least, according to the expectations of the surrounding society—I began to understand that what had happened to me was merely the tip of the iceberg of the type of mistreatment, misunderstanding, and outright hostility that women of all ethnicities have been exposed to since—well, since the beginning of time.
In much of corporate America, “go along/get along” is the tacitly accepted rule of the road, especially for women. We are expected to comply, be good soldiers, take one for the team, and salute the colors on the way out the door. To think for ourselves, or, heaven forbid, to refuse to bow to the wishes of the organization, however misguided they are, almost always makes us suspect in the eyes of the powers that be. In other words, to insist on our own rights of independent thought and action is to do the unexpected, even the unthinkable.
As I have encountered the stories of women who “misbehave,” I have discovered that most if not all of them did what was considered unthinkable—at least for a woman—during their lives. They dared to defy cultural expectations in order to chart their own courses in history. And in so doing, they have changed our world.
As you read the stories of a few of these women, I invite you to imagine your own course. What might you accomplish—in your home, your workplace, your community—if there was no one who could stop you or stand in your way? As you consider those possibilities, I challenge you to take the next step: dare to define your own possibilities, rather than continue to allow others to define them for you. As you meet some of the women who have inspired me as they dared to reject stereotyping and societal definition, allow their courage to find its way into your heart and (re)kindle your dreams.