Throughout the ages, women all over the world – from every race, culture and religion – have ‘behaved badly’. This ‘bad behaviour’ has occurred in innumerable forms, yet is generally universally agreed to be defined as the transgression of the implicit social, behavioural and moral conventions – and of course the explicit political regulations – that bind a society. Thus, a woman who behaves in an undesirable manner is one who defies her society’s conformist expectations of her place in its composition, and thus acts in such a way as that her behaviour offends those around her. Hence in this particular context, the term “behaving badly” could perhaps be more appropriately expressed as “behaving differently”.
In light of this, many of the world’s most famous women: both historically and in our modern era, can be regarded as ‘women behaving badly’. Consider the first woman, Eve, whose disobedience of the world’s first set of laws resulted in man’s expulsion from paradise; French national heroine St Joan of Arc, a simple fifteenth-century peasant girl who rescued France from defeat in one of the darkest periods of the Hundred Years’ War with England; African-American seamstress Mrs. Rosa Parks, who through refusing a white passenger her bus seat in 1955 staged one of the largest protests of the American civil rights movement; and, more recently, Pauline Hanson, whose politically incorrect opinions made her the target of Australian anti-racist antagonism.
Among the readings included in this book are two texts whose heroines particularly emulate this concept of “women behaving badly”: ‘Lysistrata’ by Aristophanes, and Chaucer’s the ‘Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale’. In her original context of 5th century Greece, Aristophanes’ character of Lysistrata could be described as a typical ‘woman behaving badly’: defying all of her society’s unwritten social rules, and crossing all of the boundaries of decency and common sense – a radical deviation from her society’s expectations of the role and place of women at the time. The extremity of the digression of Lysistrata’s behaviour from the 5th century status quo ensures that she can be seen as a clear example of such a ‘woman behaving badly’. Thus, Lysistrata’s behaviour is ‘bad’ in the most fundamental sense.
Chaucer’s Wife of Bath is an equally fitting candidate for the title of a true “woman behaving badly”. The Wife: outspoken, crude and independent, is also portrayed by Chaucer to be seen as ‘bad’: that is, unusual in her manner, values and behaviour in the context of her own era: the conservative, often prudish Middle Ages. The Wife, however, appears to be fully aware of her defiance of her society’s expectations of women such as her – yet delights in her ‘bad behaviour’, boasting to her audience of her scandalous actions. Accordingly, the character of the Wife is most certainly an appropriate personality to include in this collection of readings, as she not only represents the personification of ‘bad’ behaviour, but she is also an obvious advocate for the need for societies’ implicit social boundaries to be crossed in the first place by individuals such as herself.
Nevertheless, Lysistrata and the Wife of Bath are together only two examples of ‘Women Behaving Badly: merely threads in the rich tapestry of different opinions, perspectives and ideas that the readings in this book offer concerning the multitudes of women the world over whose behaviour have been labeled ‘bad’.