I’ve been intrigued by the bumper sticker: Well behaved women seldom make history, so I decided to track down its origin. Evidently it is from the writing of Laura Thatcher Ulrich, a prominent professor of Early American History at Harvard. The line is from a 1976 scholarly article about Puritan funeral services, specifically those of pious women. These women were virtuous and demure. Professor Ulrich wrote of them: Hoping for an eternal crown, they never asked to be remembered on earth. And they haven’t been. Well-behaved women seldom make history…”
It went viral. Some entrepreneur figured out there was money to be made off this line, so it was put on T-shirts and bumper stickers and a lot of iconoclastic women bought them.
As I pondered this, I couldn’t help thinking about the current marches around the country supporting women, and the pro-life march in Washington D.C. this past week which is reportedly to have been the largest in quite awhile. And I also couldn’t help but think of the best behaved woman of all time, a woman who has made a good deal of history, our Blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary.
This brings me to an article I read in a recent addition of National Catholic Register. It’s written by a woman named Carrie Gress and it is entitled: If There is an Antichrist, What About an Antimary?
She writes: “While researching my latest book, The Marian Option: God’s Solution to a Civilization in Crisis (Tan Books, May 2017), I was struck by a new theological concept. I kept running across the notion that Mary is the New Eve, an idea that goes back to the early Church Fathers. Mary as the New Eve is the female complement to Christ, the New Adam. In Scripture, St. John speaks of an antichrist as a man, but also as a movement that is present throughout history (1 John 4:3, 2 John 1:7). This got me thinking: if there is an antichrist, perhaps there is a female complement, an antimary?”
Dr. Gress continues: “What, then, would an antimary movement look like, exactly? Well, these women would not value children. They would be bawdy, vulgar, and angry. They would rage against the idea of anything resembling humble obedience or self-sacrifice for others. They would be petulant, shallow, catty, and overly sensuous. They would also be self-absorbed, manipulative, gossipy, anxious, and ambitious. In short, it would be everything that Mary is not.”
I had to pause and think that this is something a man could not write if he were to be effective and not offensive. And even still, I feel as if I’m treading a fine line by even presenting it. But I kept thinking of the phrase—“Well behaved women seldom make history.” Hmm.
Dr. Gress goes on to say: “While behavior like this has been put under a microscope because of the Women’s March on Washington, D.C., the trend of women-behaving-badly is nothing new. There is, however, ample evidence that we are witnessing something, because of its massive scale, quite different from run-of-the-mill vice seen throughout history.”
She continues: “The treatment of motherhood is one of the first signs that we are dealing with a new movement. Mothers (both spiritual and biological) are a natural icon of Mary, to help others know who Mary is by their generosity, patience, compassion, peace, intuition, and ability to nurture souls. Mary’s love (and the love of mothers) offers one of the best images of what God’s love is like, unconditional, healing, and deeply personal.”
Upon reading this, I immediately flashed on one of my former colleagues in the Episcopal Church who accidently became pregnant and had an abortion so that she would not be encumbered by a child. One of her friends posted this about her on facebook: “If the Reverend Anne Fowler had not had access to an abortion when she accidentally became pregnant after enrolling in Divinity School, she would never have been able to graduate, to serve as a parish rector, or to help the enormous number of people whose lives she has touched.” Oh my…
I return to the article by Carrie Gress: “The last few decades have witnessed the subtle erasing of the Marian icon in real women. First through the pill, then the advent of abortion, motherhood has been on the chopping block. Motherhood has become dispensable, to that point that today the broader culture doesn’t bat an eye when a child is adopted by two men.”
“Every culture until ours has known how critical a mother is (even in her imperfection) for healthy adulthood and spiritual maturity and no culture can renew itself without spiritual maturity. Yes, there are many people who have been motherless. Most would agree that truly, there are few things as tragic. But these sad realities only strengthen the argument that children need mothers, instead of diminishing their importance. It can be no accident that we are witnessing unprecedented emotional and mental trauma and brokenness in every segment of our population when motherhood has been so devalued.”
She concludes: “Another striking clue that we are in an antimarian age is that, for all the so-called progress women have made, there is precious little evidence that any of it has actually made women happier. Divorce rates are still staggering, with 70% initiated by women; suicide rates are up; drug and alcohol abuse is soaring; depression and anxiety are everywhere. Women are not getting happier, just more medicated.”
That was a pretty strong statement, but one that I think is worth pondering. And although I don’t agree with everything she wrote, Carrie Gress has a good point. There is a general coarsening in our culture that is both explicitly and implicitly anti-marian. But it concerns men as well as women. Vocabulary that once would have been shocking, is now common on our airwaves. As an aside, one of the things about vulgarities and swearing and cursing is that they are acts of laziness. By using these words, one need not think about wit or statements that actually would require some thought.
To be a vulgarian, especially if one is in a position of trust, influence and power, is inexcusable. I must say that President Trump disturbs me greatly because he is setting a very poor example. Here, I join with many women who have been offended by his language and his attitude and his behavior. He ought to know better. However, we Christians, especially we Catholic Christians ought not to respond in kind.
And we need to look to our Blessed Mother for both example and intercession in difficult times. There is no record of her ever being vulgar. She embodies all that is strong and good and gracious and generous and kind. She demonstrates those things which are required of us who would be faithful disciples of Jesus. All we need to do is look at the Beatitudes which were the subject of today’s Gospel lesson and we can see that she is an exemplar of all those attitudes and actions.
She embodies humility, which is the essence of being “poor in spirit.”
She knows the great depth of grief, witnessing her son’s scourging and crucifixion. Oh how she mourned.
As Queen of Heaven she is meek, not timid, powerful but not imperious as she reigns.
She hungers and thirsts for righteousness and she is merciful and clean-hearted and a peacemaker.
There is no doubt she suffered great persecution from both her own people and from Roman authorities. But she did so for the sake of righteousness.
Oh, yeah. She is a well-behaved woman. And she did make history.