“Well-behaved women seldom make history.” — Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
“When I’m good, I’m very good. When I’m bad, I’m better.” —Mae West
Consider the so-called “bad” girl. Playing by the rules and coloring within the lines are all well and good, to a certain extent. But what if your dreams and desires just can’t be confined by the contours of a “good girl” life? What if your vision of the world is bigger than what the world currently has to offer? What if you just don’t fit into any of the roles society has deemed acceptable for you?
The “bad” girl shrugs her shoulders and cha-chas forward. She breaks rules with impunity, fights for what she believes in, and pursues her dreams, no matter what the cost. She stands up, speaks out, and tears down anything that stands in her way.
Is it any wonder, then, that so many of the women history remembers fondly today were considered “bad girls” in their time? Here are just a few of the courageous women who pushed buttons and limits, and left a legacy any aspiring “bad” girl can be proud of.
Edith Wharton bit the hand that fed her in the daintiest way possible by satiring the old New York society in which she was raised. Novels like The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence questioned long-held assumptions about love, marriage, divorce, and women’s rights. In a time when such things just weren’t done, Wharton rejected her own loveless union for a life of greater social freedom in Paris. She was also the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for literature.
Dorothy Day turned Catholicism on its ear by co-founding the Catholic Worker Movement. After reading Upton Sinclair’s novel, The Jungle, Day started questioning the social conditions around her and the political structure she believed contributed to them. Day’s long life of activism included housing and feeding the poor, standing up for labor rights, and publicly protesting, an activity for which she served jail time. In recognition of her efforts to demonstrate that sincere faith and social action are not mutually exclusive, a movement is afoot to have her canonized.
Although Josephine Baker is most frequently remembered for her scandalous singing and dancing career, she also gained fame and renown as a political activist, both in the United States and Europe. During World War II she smuggled intelligence for the French resistance, passing information to the resistance in Portugal via coded messages in her sheet music. She also persuaded officials in Spanish Morocco to issue visas and passports for Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe. For an explanation of these and many more colorful stories and actions, check out one of the many biographies written about Baker.
These women’s stories are, of course, just the tip of the iceberg. For books, videos, and more information on more notable women, ask a librarian. Oh, and don’t forget to nurture your own unique gifts and abilities, gentle readers. Once you go “bad,” you never go back…and the world is a much better place for it.