Saturday, July 30, 2011

Well Behaved Women

The moment we begin to fear the opinions of others and hesitate to tell the truth that is in us, and from motives of policy are silent when we should speak, the divine floods of light and life no longer flow into our souls. ~ Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Have you noticed how many bumper stickers appear on cars these days? It seems as if everyone has an opinion, on just about every subject. The far left believes that we should  all be vegetarians, remain out of all wars, reduce our carbon footprint and vote for the Democratic party. The far right wants us to know that we can take their guns from them...out of their cold, dead hands, as well as demanding that we vote for the Republican candidates. We are told to wear Birkenstocks and to share the road with bicycles. We are implored to shop locally and think globally. We are entreated to ask for birth certificates and reminded of the Bill of Rights. There are stickers denoting a Confederate flag, whether or not a person's child made the Honor Roll at Lincoln Middle School or how they'd like to kill fans of a rival sports team. On and on the bumper stickers go. People don't advertise their politics or personal code of ethics on their sleeves, but on their cars.

Frankly, the one bumper sticker I'd be slightly tempted to put on my car would read "Pro-privacy". Why? Because I prefer not reading about someone's legislative dynamics. Again, why? Because so few people live up to the standards their vehicle may espouse. By virtue of noticing a person's 'light reading' when stuck in traffic, I hold that person to the standards their car advertises. I don't think that's an unreasonable assumption to make.

An experience I had recently brought this point home. The bumper sticker on the back of a Prius read "Well behaved women seldom make history". I happen to agree with this sentiment. I graduated from the oldest women's college in the United States and I'm very proud of that fact. During my time in college, I learned more than the average college student about the role of women throughout history. The suffragette movement was particularly interesting to me because I came of age to vote my first year of college. I learned what an extraordinary priviledge this was and that I was able to be a voting woman thanks to a group of 'non-well behaved women' who lobbied tirelessly. They were the vocal minority fighting against an equally vocal majority who did not believe that women were capable of deciding government affairs. 

The "pious Prius" in front of me, however, led me to feel anger at this particular bumper sticker. In addition to cutting me off in heavy traffic, the driver flipped me 'the bird' and screamed "get your 'bleeping' gas guzzling SUV off the road." She also yelled out epithets regarding female dogs and the possibility of my being illegitimate at my birth. As I slammed on the brakes (to avoid hitting her car, as she ran through a stop light), the bumper sticker was inches away from my own front bumper. I followed this driver slowly, through the gridlock of Maine summer driving, and had ample opportunity to think of nasty rebuttals. My mind went round. And round. And round. Every vicious, calculating, evil idea that crossed my thoughts remained on the tip of my tongue. When the non-well behaved woman held up traffic to double park in town, and I was able to inch by her, I had the perfect opportunity to shout any one of the snarky retorts I'd devised. My window was down. She was stuck next to her double-parked car because nobody was letting her cross the road without being in the crosswalk. Dozens of mean spirited comebacks were available to me!

I did not say any of them. I actually smiled, and waved her on so that she could cross in front of me. Of course, I thought these comments to myself. My internal monologue was screaming at this woman. But, I didn't say a word. Why? Because I'm far too well behaved to have caterwauled unkind, and unnecessary, insults. Maybe this means I won't make history. I'm positive it signifies that I'm doomed to live a quiet life of swallowing scorn. But, I'm okay with that. I don't believe I'm any less valuable to society because I am a well behaved woman. I'm frankly damn proud of being well behaved. In a world in which people hurl insults at one another based on which baseball team one favors, I'd like to think I can rise above this kind of petty anger, sparked by bumper sticker mayhem.

I don't put bumper stickers on my car. I have no beef with anyone that does choose to advertise their beliefs in a vehicular fashion.What I do have is some advice: keep in mind that your "words of wisdom" are read by lots of people every day. If you choose to advertise your feelings on any given subject, you should be prepared to live up to those same words. If they entreat, implore or encourage the person in the car behind you to believe in your ideals, you should be answerable to them. If your bumper stickers are offensive, harsh or downright disrespectful to anyone, ask yourself why you feel the need to publicly put others down. I agree wholeheartedly in difference of opinion. The world would be a tremendously dull place if we all felt the same way on every issue. I've actually learned the most from people with whom I have had a healthy debate. Yet, far too often people's opinions cross the line in a very public way that may even reflect badly on the very issues they feel strongly about. Is it too much to just want us all to 'get along'? Is common courtesy a thing of the past? I remain steadfast in my own commitment to simply 'be nice'.

In the meantime, I remain a well behaved woman. I may never make history, but I fully intend to live up to my own paradigm. I just choose to keep those ideals private.

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