In the 1980s, Toni Morrison had been going through the recorded history of slavery and came across something that disturbed her. Ina newspaper clipping about runaway slaves was the story of a woman who did the unthinkable. When it was clear that she would be captured, she killed her own child. She said that she would rather see the child dead than watch it grow up as a slave. This story had a profound effect on Morrison. Her obsession with this tale developed into the novel Beloved.
In Beloved, an escaped slave woman tries to kill herself and her two children rather than return to slavery. One child dies, but the woman and the other child survive. Years later, they are living free lives when the ghost of the dead baby comes to stay. She arrives in the form of a teenaged girl and it is some time before her true identity is discovered. Published in 1988, Beloved won Toni Morrison the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. No African American woman had ever won a Pulitzer before.
In 1993, Toni Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Again, she was the first African American Woman to win this prestigious award. At the podium, she said “I felt I represented a whole world of women who either were silenced or had never received the imprimatur of the established literary world…. It was very important for young Black people to see a Black person [succeed]…. Seeing me up there might encourage them to write one of those books I’m desperate to read. And that made me happy.”
I have to agree with her there. The term role model exists to describe someone who can show us how to be in the world. These people serve as examples of the kind of person we can become. it is vitally important for children (and adults) to have examples they can relate to. When you relate to someone, you can imagine yourself becoming as great as they are, as famous as they are, as wealthy as they are. Growing up, I did not have any role models with whom I could relate. I did not have a famous Black female artist to look up to, so I cherry picked and cobbled together my own vision of who I wanted to become.
Women Behaving Badly exists for those women and girls who wish to relate to their role models. For them, I have reached back into time to find the Great Dames of the past. These women went off the beaten path so that we would follow in their footsteps.