Well behaved women seldom make history~Eleanor Roosevelt
I love how a quote can embed itself in your mind, and depending on how you found it, you never have to think about it. Who was Eleanor Roosevelt? What is it that makes her opinion, her ideas so worthy of repeating? History is littered with the legacy of many great people, mostly men, and women who have dared to step out of their role, their position to do something truly great.
To find out about Eleanor Roosevelt, we can conduct a simple search in much the same way that you can do for anyone who comes to work for you. Are they on Facebook? On Twitter? What do they say? How do they behave? Who are their friends?
The truth about Eleanor Roosevelt as we know it can be found in a Wikipedia article, encyclopaedias, and more than one non-fiction source. The main events of her life, considered relevant by editors, are outlined in chronological order and given due consideration. These facts can be triangulated and the various sources analysed. We can critique the veracity of the facts. We can even analyse the way that her life has been framed to suit a particular narrative- that history is a reflection of the status quo, the accepted beliefs.
Reading her profile on the Whitehouse we see her described:
Tall, slender, graceful of figure but apprehensive at the thought of being a wallflower, she returned for a debut that she dreaded. In her circle of friends was a distant cousin, handsome young Franklin Delano Roosevelt. They became engaged in 1903 and were married in 1905, with her uncle the President giving the bride away.
It’s quite clear there are expectations of her, beauty and pose being one of them. So then, how is it that she came to speak about well behaved women? What is the context for something coming from someone who, according to her biography, knew exactly how to behave.
Well, she didn’t. And this is when things get tricky.
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich is a prize-winning author. A Pulitzer Prize winning author. A historian who is a Pulitzer Prize Winning author. And yes, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich wrote about well behaved women. We don’t hear about her as much as we do Eleanor Roosevelt. As she said herself in her article “Vertuous Women Found: New England Ministerial Literature, 1668-1735” published in 1976, women who are well behaved are not included in history. She writes history articles to uncover these women buried in the past- their contributions considered by men to be irrelevant. She eventually went on to write a book called “Well behaved women seldom make history” where she attempted to figure out why that phrase had stuck.
For many, the phrase is a call to arms against being policed. Women are policed constantly for their tone, their dress sense, their sexuality and their beauty. Our manners and our femininity and grace are often called into question should we show aggression, opinions or ambition. It is here that we leave the past and take a look at Peeple.
Peeple is a modern day attempt to write biographies as some way of policing the character of individuals. We apparently can judge people based on the way others judge them. There are a lot of issues with this perspective, not the least of which is that history shows us that human beings write and rewrite history determined on what they know at the time- and that nobody has control over another person’s perspective.
People have been judging other people forever, but now the voice is not that of the historian, or the human resources expert using a flawed personality trait theory to box in an entire human being. How much faith can we put in the voice of the powerless, the oppressed, the average human being, the waiter you dissed at the cafe because you had a bad morning?
What Peeple attempts to do is capitalise on social capital, without any concern as to what it really shows. Who can access it? The homeless man who got lectured by a bank employee on how they could work their way out if only they tried? How accurate are these assessments? These inventories? What is the bias of this information? The margin of error?
Peeple attempts to judge people through other people, and it doesn’t seem to recognise the way that women would be judged as badly behaved or wrong simply for being outspoken. It seems to think that with enough negative ratings, someone would be persuaded to change- or that the person spreading negativity would feel pressured to improve their positivity rating.
Peeple says its goal is to spread positivity. There are already fields of positive psychology that study this, and comparison is not a measure of happiness.
Peeple says you can’t leave once you sign up. But you can add other people to this app without their consent. How this spreads positivity rather than anxiety is beyond me. I’ll leave the final word to Eleanor Roosevelt:
I quess you’ll just have to take my word for it that she said that.