At the Woman’s March this weekend in DC, I saw a poster with a quote, which said “Well-behaved women seldom make history.” This quote has been attributed to anyone from Eleanor Roosevelt to Marilyn Monroe. However, it appears the Pulitzer Prize winning historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich coined this specific phrase.
Regardless of who said it, I love this quote. I want to get it tattooed on my arm, except I’m terrified of a little needle cutting into me. So that’s not going to happen. But, if I wasn’t, Eleanor, Marilyn, Laurel – your words would be forever on my skin. I’ll just have to settle for them forever in my mind.
The reason I love this quote is because it reminds me of all the strong women today and throughout history who ignored calls from people who said “suck it up” or “stop complaining ” or “this is the reality, you need to accept it and move on,” which are all terrifyingly fascist, anti-free speech, anti-free expression sentiments still being spread today.
In honor of those fearless women and continuing the ideals embodied in the Women’s March, here are 10 books about women “behaving badly” and making a difference doing it.
1. Reading Lolita in Tehran – Every Thursday morning for two years in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Azar Nafisi, a bold and inspired teacher, secretly gathered seven of her most committed female students to read forbidden Western classics. As blind censors stifled artistic expression, the women in Nafisi’s living room spoke not only of the books they were reading but also about themselves, their dreams and disappointments.
2. I Am Malala – When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley in Pakistan, one girl spoke out. On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, when she was fifteen, she almost paid the ultimate price. She was shot in the head at point-blank range while riding the bus home from school. Malala’s miraculous recovery has taken her on an extraordinary journey from a remote valley in northern Pakistan to the halls of the United Nations in New York.
3. Suffragette: My Own Story Emmeline Pankhurst’s autobiography chronicles the beginnings of her interest in feminism through to her militant and controversial fight for women’s right to vote in England. Even today there is still debate about the effectiveness of her extreme strategies, but her work is recognized as a crucial element in achieving women’s suffrage in Britain.
4. Freedom’s Daughters: The Unsung Heroines of the Civil Rights Movement from 1830 to 1970 From the Montgomery bus boycott to the lunch counter sit-ins to the Freedom Rides, Lynne Olson skillfully tells the long-overlooked story of the extraordinary women who were among the most fearless, resourceful, and tenacious leaders of the civil rights movement.
5. Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen In her remarkable memoir, Jazz must learn to navigate the physical, social, and emotional upheavals of adolescence—particularly high school—complicated by the unique challenges of being a transgender teen. Making the journey from girl to woman is never easy—especially when you began your life in a boy’s body.
6. Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions -A diverse and timeless collection of essays by Gloria Steinem, includes “I Was a Playboy Bunny” ,”Ruth’s Song (Because She Could Not Sing It)” and “If Men Could Menstruate.”
7. The Heart of a Woman In this memoir, Maya Angelou leaves California with her son, Guy, to move to New York. There she enters the society and world of black artists and writers, reads her work at the Harlem Writers Guild, and begins to take part in the struggle of black Americans for their rightful place in the world.
8. The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks The definitive political biography of Rosa Parks examines her six decades of activism, challenging perceptions of her as an accidental actor in the civil rights movement.
9. The Firebrand and the First Lady: Portrait of a Friendship: Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Struggle for Social Justice In 1938, the twenty-eight-year-old Pauli Murray wrote a letter to the President and First Lady, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, protesting racial segregation in the South. Eleanor wrote back. So began a friendship that would last for a quarter of a century.
10. Charity and Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America Conventional wisdom holds that same-sex marriage is a purely modern innovation, a concept born of an overtly modern lifestyle that was unheard of in nineteenth century America. But as Rachel Hope Cleves demonstrates in this eye-opening book, same-sex marriage is hardly new.
Charity and Sylvia is the intimate history of the extraordinary forty-four year union of two women.