The Wrong Message

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SEARCHING FOR PICTURES of historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich on Google images left me muttering to myself this morning.

“Some people … just … don’t … get it !

Ulrich is a 1991 Pulitzer Prize winner who made a short statement in a 1976 article about Puritans that found a foothold in popular culture. Her maxim that “well-behaved women seldom make history” leaped from the printed page to posters, T-shirts, coffee mugs, sidewalk graffiti, fortune-cookie messages, and more.

I agree with the statement. It’s similar to what the Ozark Mountain Daredevils said in their 1974 song, “If You Want To Get to Heaven (You Got To Raise a Little Hell).” Sometimes, we have to shake things (and people) up to get things done.

The problem is that Ulrich’s maxim has undergone distressing mutations, as one can see on Google images. For starters, several Pinterest-type postings have attributed the quotation to Marilyn Monroe, which muddles the whole message. In a 2007 book titled Well-Behaved Women, Ulrich wrote about rabble-rousing activists like Harriet Tubman, Susan B. Anthony, and Betty Friedan.

I adore Marilyn Monroe as an actress and pop-cultural icon, but she was no social-movement maverick. Her late-career misbehavior and absenteeism on movie sets had everything to do with mental health issues and nothing to do with broad social statements.

Other postings have attributed the quotation (usually substituting “rarely” for “seldom”) to Eleanor Roosevelt and, at least in one case, Anne Boleyn.

What’s more bothersome is the mangling of the meaning. One picture shows a heavily tattooed, cleavage-baring model juxtaposed with the “Well Behaved Women Rarely Make History” pronouncement. Which says … what? That hot models drenched in ink are making history?

AudreyOther postings seem to confuse Ulrich’s quotation for Mae West’s line, “When I’m good, I’m very good, but when I’m bad, I’m better.” In one case, the “well-behaved women” line is slapped on a cartoon of a blonde dressed up as a sex present.

What perplexes me the most is a picture of Audrey Hepburn with the “well-behaved women seldom make history” statement. Is this deliberately ironic? Even the most hardened cynics say Audrey Hepburn was the classiest and most “well-behaved” actress to ever appear in Hollywood. Was this a refutation of the good-women-accomplish-nothing line? Or an admonition that Hepburn, who gave so much time, money, and effort to UNICEF and other causes, didn’t do enough?

All I know is the Pinterest Age is upon us, for good and ill. Pinterest is a website where users can post pictures, statements and quotations, sometimes all together, for others to see. Most of these pins and pictures are fine and some are outstanding, but others make no sense at all.

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