you don’t have to make history
In its original context, famed bumper sticker “well-behaved women seldom make history” wasn’t actually an exaltation of revolutionary women. It was historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s way of recognizing the voiceless majority: the women who keep the world running while the rest of us burn it down.
Right now I’m seeing many calls to action in the United States, and make no mistake: I’m grateful for them. It’s high time we instated collective action on this kind of scale. I think everyone can do at least a little. But in the spirit of Ms. Ulrich (who is one of my favorite historians), I think there’s a missing piece we ought to remember.
The wheels of progress have always been greased by invisible labor. Behind every great man there’s a a great woman, they say - more like an entire host of them. For every leader, every hero, every revolutionary who muscles world leaders to the table, there’s someone who makes dinner. There’s someone who lends an ear and a comforting shoulder when the odds seem too high. Someone who pays the bills, watches the children, makes the appointments you’re too burned out to make. For every person changing the world, there’s at least one more quietly running it.
It’s only within that infrastructure that we’re able to meaningfully organize at all. Even the best and brightest break down without food and sleep. Yet it’s so easy to ignore it precisely because it’s so constant. I take for granted the bus service that delivers me to and fro every day - the bus service that enabled me to attend last night’s protest. I take for granted the warm cafe my friends holed up in to decompress afterward. We’re battling uphill these days, but we forget just how much steeper the hill could be.
So here’s to the well-behaved women, and men. Here’s to the ones who care for us as humans so we can care for the world as activists. We might not remember their names, but we can unearth their invisible work.