Tuesday, December 10, 2013

What to do with the women?

A recurring question in pirate reenacting forums is what to do with women. The hard-liners insist that there is no place for women in the ranks. The question the historic accounts of women disguised as men and count the pirates who were openly women as aberrations.

As far as I can tell, these hardliners do not run any actual events or head any pirate crews. If they did then they would have to face the reality - women are going to show up and expect a place. Some are willing to spend their time cooking and sewing but not many. That leaves three possible roles.

The first is women taking up arms while in dresses. This is the least jarring and there are accounts of women carrying arms throughout history. This works best when the women are among the defenders and every hand would be needed.

The second and third option involve women dressing as men but I am going to split them up as two categories. The first is women playing men. A lot of reenactment allow women into the ranks as long as they are dressed as men. If anyone asks, they explain that this is what they are doing. Some women are better at this than others but most spectators get the idea.

The third option is to play a woman who was disguised as a man. This is harder because the woman needs to look convincing. I do know a few women who can do this. There are historic accounts of a few women who were discovered in the ranks. The book The Weaker Vessel documents the presence of women in the military multiple periods so there is a historic precedence. Moreover, many of these women only came to light later when they claimed pensions. Piracy by its nature was poorly documented so he presence of disguised women is more open to speculation.

None of these are perfect solutions but, as I said, the women who show up need to be accommodated. Most reenactments are already stretching things by the men they allow in. Most reenactors are older and heavier than the people they portray. A truly authentic pirate event would limit participation to men in their 20s and possibly early 30s and have a BMI limit of underweight. You could count the pirates who qualify for this on the fingers of one hand at most events. So we make allowances for the men. That makes it difficult to exclude the women on historic grounds.