The independent news organization of Duke University

The case for good-willed women (and men)

notes from the girl your mom wants you to marry

It’s been a few weeks since my last column, “The case for well-behaved women (and men), in which I reflected that the common adage, “well-behaved women seldom make history,” should give us pause.

Since then?

On Twitter, my peers told me to “delete” myself; I was called a “bootlicking conservative” and denounced as “internally misogynistic”; I was ridiculed as having written “probably one of the worst things the chronicle has published this semester”; I was asked, “did you get picked? Did he text you back?” because of my column’s tagline. 

On the Chronicle’s Facebook page: “Why are white women” and “the pick-me’s are out in full force today.”

From the comment section of my fellow columnist’s response, “Misbehaving makes history, not manners”: 81 likes. “Not excused, we just know already they will never change, so why waste any energy at all on them.” 

And those are just the, well, less well-behaved reactions to my call to embrace our common humanity and treat one another with graciousness that I could see.

Other condemnations swiftly infiltrated campus gossip: Misogynist. Racist. Sexist. Typical of a white, presumably upper-class woman from a perfect background. (Who, me?)

As I received this heat (from which I never expected to be immune), I struggled to heed my own wisdom.

My reflection—that a disregard for well-behaved-ness “burden[s] human interactions [with] coarseness” and incites in us the impulse to return insults and antipathy in kind—rang true. 

“These commenters denouncing me with hateful slurs are prejudiced in reading into my column their own misguided, uninformed perceptions of me and my background,” I instinctively thought. Case in point. 

Now, let me be clear: I mention these replies to my column not to portray myself as a victim deserving of pity, but to let these words speak for themselves, to emphasize just how easily our coarseness of dialogue can dehumanize when it lacks the grace and charity we owe one another. 

How, then, should I respond, if not by slinging social media insults?

Firstly: my ultimate aim as I write is to seek and promote the Truth (yes, I meant capital-T, universal, finite Truth), not to inflate ego or gain notoriety as the campus misogynist/racist/sexist. In that vein, I seek to engage humbly with those constructive and intellectually honest criticisms lodged against me.

In so doing, I have realized one critical understanding about standards of good behavior and politeness which I believed to be self-evident: society’s rules for being well-behaved are imperfect, reflecting our own imperfections as fallen beings. As such, these rules are not infallible and inerrant in their creation or enforcement, and never—especially not in my previous column—did I claim them to be otherwise. 

Instead, we must realize that, just as we humans fall short in our own aims and aspirations towards the Truth and justice, so, too, do those traditions and conventions we create. Therefore, we must examine and be discerning of those customs of supposed good behavior we inherit and in which we take part. 

If they lead us astray, away from the Truth and justice which we seek, we should violate such expectations of well-behaved women (and men). 

If our rules of well-mannered-ness apply unequally to humans—men, women, black, white and everywhere in-between—inherently equal in dignity and worth, we should violate them. If they perpetuate injustice and oppression, we should violate them. If they “delight in evil,” or “call good evil and evil good,” we should violate them. 

This point I attempted to make clear by admiring the pursuit of the Truth and justice which the likes of Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman and the American patriots embodied in defying societal molds of well-behaved-ness which perpetuated injustice and slavery in its many forms.  

Secondly: instead of, “glorify[ing] defiance and vilify[ing] well-mannered-ness,” we should lament the fact that our standards of well-mannered behavior do not truly promote well-mannered-ness, that they flout the Truth and justice while advancing evil and injustice. 

We should grieve a world in which we, in order to abide by the Truth and justice, must bear the mark of impoliteness—of being ill-mannered and ill-behaved. By carrying the name of rule-breaker, in this way, we should call attention to the usurpation of our code of behavior by those who pervert our rules for their unjust ends. 

Thirdly: we, by pursuing the Truth and justice against customs of politeness which would consider us ill-behaved, should endeavor to reform those customs, to more closely align them with the Truth and with justice. 

In this sense, we should be what my peer calls “rebels, rabble-rousers and revolutionaries.”

Yet, we, painted as radicals in the eyes of those who uphold an “understanding of politeness [which] is [truly] narrow-minded and stifling,” should not pursue the Truth and justice—should not seek to reform—by using the very unjust, “impolite” means with which we were met. 

Contrary to my peer’s call to reject “societ[al] demands that [we] take the high road and ignore the rudeness without returning it in kind,” we should—we must—do the opposite if we hope to achieve the greatest fulfillment of our end. 

We must not meet “belittl[ing]” with belittling. We must not “dismiss” as we are dismissed. We must not “insult” our insulters. 

It is this very ethic of good-will, of unconditional love—that embodying the truest meaning of what it means to be well-behaved, polite, kind, gracious—which the most radical, change-making, rule-breaking people in the history of the world have embraced.

The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.—with whom I share a faith—stands foremost among these “revolutionaries” who pursued the Truth and justice with undying good-will towards everyone from his neighbor to his oppressor.

It was he who called his fellow man wrangling against racial injustice to be “an extremist for love, truth, and goodness,” to “[rise] above [our] environment,” and to “bear against those evils by the forces of goodwill,” in the same way that we must be unconditionally good-willed—to be truly well-behaved—to those who act with malice towards us.

To abide by this ethic, then, that of undying good-will for one another—is to take issue with the ease with which we dehumanize one another through cowardly ill-will

For, it is ill-willed to stereotype without knowing; to antagonize online or in-person; to slander and name-call; to write-off one’s neighbor, especially because of race or sex or some other perceived knowledge about him or her. And it is this sort of pervasive ill-will that “multiplies the existence of violence and bitterness in the universe.”

Instead, we must not glorify rule-breaking for rule-breaking’s sake. We should lament that our rules are imperfect and unjust, and then seek to reform them in a spirit of good-will by speaking the Truth, by loving one another—even our enemy—as our neighbor equal in worth and dignity. 

If remaining steadfast to this ethic of good-will is what allowed King to make history, then perhaps there is hope in this world for those who pursue unconditional good-will to make history, too. 

Maybe, then, we can transform those we think we hate with the love, kindness and Truth we know are the only real, lasting weapons against the injustice, bigotry, oppression of this world.

And, maybe, then, our laptop stickers could read, “Good-willed women (and men) always make history.” 

I wish for that world. I hope you would, too.

Lizzie Bond is a Trinity junior. Her column, “notes from the girl your mom wants you to marry,” runs on alternate Mondays.


Share and discuss “The case for good-willed women (and men)” on social media.