When “Well-behaved” Just Won’t Do

“Well-behaved women seldom make history.”

Cover of "Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make ...
Ulrich used her famous line as the title
 for her latest book.

You’ve probably seen it on a bumper sticker or a coffee mug, but do you know who said it? Do you know why? She’s Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, an historian, Harvard professor, and Pulitzer Prize winning author who once used the phrase in a paper she wrote as a graduate student.  As an historian who has spent a lifetime writing about the role of women in American history, I think she nailed it in one simple sentence.

I’ve noticed that the older I’ve gotten, the more well-behaved I’ve become. You’d think that would be a good thing, right? Most of us do, especially once we have children and become models for behavior. But there’s a difference between courtesy and complacence.

For years now, my partner and I have told ourselves that just living honestly and openly is the best way to advocate for our family (and other “nontraditional” families). We don’t “advertise” ourselves as a lesbian couple, but we don’t hide anything either. We hope that as people get to know us, even like us, they’ll find that we’re pretty much just like everyone else. We pay our taxes, love our children, honor our parents, help out our neighbors and our friends when we can. We’re nice people. And we don’t make waves. What’s to hate?

It’s just a yard sign, but
it’s a beginning.

On May 8, the voters of North Carolina will consider a proposed amendment to the state constitution to ensure “that marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.” There’s already a law against gay marriage in North Carolina, but it seems some of our state legislators (of the Republican persuasion) felt that it wasn’t illegal enough. They want an actual amendment.

For years now, I’ve told myself, So what? What do I care if the state or the federal government tells me I can’t marry B? We love each other. We’re raising a family together and plan to spend the rest of our lives together. What do we care if we can’t legally marry? (Actually there are some very good reasons involving health insurance and my non-existent legal rights as her partner. But this essay isn’t about that.)

It’s about our kids. By telling us that we can’t marry, the state of NC is telling our sons that their family is not legitimate. And we just can’t have that.

State Senator Daniel Soucek, the Republican who sponsored the bill for Amendment One, warns us that the amendment is necessary to defend the existing law against “activist judges” who may not agree with the “majority” of the voters and overturn the law. So voters should have the last say. All the voters. I’m sure that was his intention when he and his fellow sponsors of the bill arranged to place it on the ballot on the same day as the Republican primary.

Recently, Soucek had this to say to the Huffington Post, “It’s not just the term ‘marriage.’ It’s all of the societal communal building blocks that make up traditional marriage. We think that’s the healthiest way to raise children.” And there it is. This isn’t just about marriage. It’s about our children.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard or read similar words from people with the power to do a lot of damage. I’m tired of it. I’m tired of being referred to as perverted, immoral, mentally ill, evil, unnatural, or maybe worst of all, unfit as a parent. I’m tired of trying to “nice” the bigots and the haters into their right minds. I’m tired of being well-behaved.

So I’m setting up my soap box on this blog for the next three weeks until the vote on May 8. Expect to see a lot about basic human rights, about ordinary people who happen to be gay, about family values and why the Republican version of that phrase is an oxymoron. It won’t be “nice.” It won’t be “well-behaved.” But it will be true.

Leave a comment


  1. Those opposing gay marriage are actively harming people such as yourself. many would now like to pass it off as a reasonable disagreement. It takes a tremendous sense of entitlement to think of the question of whether of not someone else gets the right to marry someone they love as a question of reasonable disagreement. I hope ya’ll kick their asses.

  2. Here, here! Well said!
    It is my favourite quote. 🙂

    • Cool! Can you imagine how she must have felt to see one little sentence she wrote in grad school become entrenched in American culture? It’s a great line.

  3. S Foy

     /  April 21, 2012

    The “I’m tired…” paragraph made me tear up a bit. Good for you. You have a lot of support and if anyone thinks you are ill mannered, fuck them. It doesn’t always pay to be nice.

    • Aww. Thanks, cousin! That’s the sweetest thing anyone’s said to me in a while. (And B just read your comment, cracked up, and said she loves you.)

  4. Go for it. Wish I could give you my vote — but I’m battling the Crazies in Virginia with mine. And I’m not a very well-behaved woman (although I doubt I’ll make history). You just don’t get anything done that way. It’s the squeaky wheel theory of life, and it works.

    I hope your side wins.

    • Thanks, Elyse! I just want to make family history so our boys will see us standing up for what’s right. (Or being squeaky!) Good luck in Virginia.

  5. God, I’m glad you are doing this, Tori! Hoping it will someday be legal for us to marry here in Kentcuky, my partner Sara and I both thank you.

  6. I don’t know if you heard then 19-year-old Zach Wahl’s speech in Iowa last year about the subject, but I’ve included it in the post I link to below. Hope your readers will take a look.



  7. And if someone smarter than me knows how to insert the YouTube video directly into these comments, please do so for me!

  8. Wow, great essay. I do not know what to say…..it really sucks. It makes no sense to me and I talk to my kids about this frequently. We have friends who are in a same sex union and it just breaks my heart that they cannot get married. Hopefully there will be change. My husband and I are in a mixed race marriage and that would not have been possible in the past….This political climate is out of control.
    Maybe Rachel Maddow will run for president???
    Hang in there. There are a lot of people behind you that may not be as vocal as the “crazies” but we are out there and support you.

    • For some reason your comment went to the spam folder and I forget to check it. Thank you so much for the encouraging words. Ironically, our first and best friends in our neighborhood are a mixed race couple. They saw the bumper stickers on my car when we moved in and came to introduce themselves and our kids immediately bonded. They’re very active politically and sometimes inspire me to try to do more. Thanks again for the kind words. (Oh, and I would so vote for Rachel!)

  9. Couldn’t agree more! Being nice only goes so far and unfortunately sometimes we need to get down in the mud with the backward-thinking “elephants”. I had to write a paper on the party mascots in college and the reason behind the republican elephant mascot always stuck with me. It is supposed to (and I had to look this back up so I got it correct) “depict republicans as elephants, docile but unmoveable when calm, unstoppable and destructive when excited”.

    It seems fitting that they used the words “unmovable” and “destructive” especially today. I wonder if they even worry about how destructive their rhetoric about “traditional family values” is. From what I see on your blog it’s abundantly apparent that you (as a couple) are providing an educational, inspirational, nurturing and loving environment for your boys. In a world where it seems more often than not that it’s not the case in “traditional” households, you two should be commended – no matter what your sexes are.

    Shame on anyone who is hell-bent on keeping you and families like yours from the same benefits and legal rights we all have.

    Sorry! Didn’t mean to jump on your soap box! Just got a little carried away there. Good luck to you. If I lived in NC I’d be voting with ya!

    • You can jump on my soap box any time! Thanks for the kind words and the history lesson. (I always wondered why the GOP chose the elephant.)I wish we had a few more people like you in NC.

  10. Two of my oldest and dearest friends are going through the same fight in Minnesota. They have been gay rights activists for years, and are so dear to me. If you can, take 5 minutes and look at their testimonial.

  11. Soap boxes are great places to take a stand (pun intended). Keep it up, change will come. It has up here (Canada) and will for you, too.

    • And it makes me taller too! I hope you’re right about the change. Canada has the right idea about several things that Americans just aren’t getting.

  12. Catherine

     /  April 22, 2012

    YES! Soap box on!!!!! Thank you!!!!

  13. When I moved to this country, one of the first new expressions i learned was “not making waves” and that it was a good thing. Nonsense. Make a tsunami and I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed.

  14. joni

     /  April 24, 2012

    Tori, great blog! Very awesomely honest. Matt is my second husband and it was very important to me that the kids know we were married. That they saw the moment when we officially became a family. So I understand in a small respect how you feel. I have never understood why people care if people are gay, or black, or inter racially married. It seems so silly to not like these people that I often forget it is even an issue in some peoples eyes. So I am personally apologizing to you for all the heterosexual douche bags out there who consider you evil or immortal. I promise to raise my children with more tolerance. Hang in there- for some reason the South takes forever to catch on xoxox

    • Thanks, Joni! I wish there were more people like you raising the next generation. And I wish it was just the South but the Midwest apparently has trouble resisting the temptation to legislate bigotry, too. It’s been called to my attention that Minnesota is also voting on an ammendment that would outlaw gay marriage this year. It’s a sad thing. Thanks for your support, almost-cousin!

      • joni

         /  April 28, 2012

        Yeah well the midwest also loves puppy mills so I think it is safe to say that part of the country sucks a little

  15. Many people believe in equal rights and benefits for all, even here in the Bible Belt. It will change.


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