Monday, June 13, 2011

Second -Class Citizen

I feel really lucky that as a female interested in Living History, all of my first experiences with Living History were very egalitarian. My first experience was in the classroom where everyone was included, no matter what, my second was at a museum where a wide variety of stories were told, and women filled a variety of roles, including leadership ones. At the renaissance faire I did not feel like a second class citizen: wenches have power, female sword slingers are sexy, and often everyone is ruled over by a queen. It has only been recently that I’ve attended the more usual type of reenactment dominated by battles, soldiers and a much more gender segregated feeling. I must say, I don’t like it one bit.

I don’t mind cooking, I like making our camp cozy and tidy, I have no interest in shooting guns or swinging swords, but I don’t like to be left on the sidelines. I don’t like knowing that in order to start up a revolutionary war unit we have to have seven male members, female members do not count. I’d like to get more involved in local 18th Century Living History. Does anybody out there know of any less gender biased 18th C events (preferably late summer) in the New Hampshire or Northern Massachusetts region?


  1. I definitely feel the same way. I have had relatively little chance to participate with my group however I almost immediately felt the same gender imbalance. I feel that while living history may be about the past, it is represented by modern people and that care must be taken not to let the more negative tendencies of the past make their way into the hobby. I really feel that there should be a concerted effort for more women, or even just civilian, representatives at planning events and meetings to ensure that there is voice and presence for all who participate in the hobby. As a newcomer I was also, frankly, surprised that female reenactors aren’t more upset about this imbalance. Had I more seniority under my belt I would definitely be attempting to change this in my chosen time period at least!

  2. I think it all has to do with the emphasis on wars. I don't actually want to change the way wars are reenacted, I think there is a level of authenticity lost when what you are reenacting is a battle and women are given equal presence. Really what I want are events that are not just battle focussed.

    I know museums often do non-battle stuff, but I feel like most of the time you have to make a pretty big commitment to be a volunteer at a museum, either that or museums do not have the energy to work with volunteers. I think we just need more civilian events.

  3. I'm not aware of any 18c groups that are more gender equitable.

    I think you're right, this is actually a civilian vs military portrayal issue, but some of it stems from the fact that many 18c groups have their roots in black powder shooting clubs which were notorious for being "good 'ol boys" clubs.

    Regardless of it's root cause, this gender inequity was a huge factor that made us decide our family would not be involved. This despite the fact that we've got ample opportunities to re-enact 18c since we're 10 miles from the Saratoga battle field.

    I've got to wonder though, what "governing body" says you've got to have 7 male members to start a Rev War unit? Start one anyway! Or don't start a "Unit" (which implies military) start a civilian group. AFAIK there's no one who can tell you not to. And who knows, you might just end up providing a home for the rest of the people and families that don't want to be part of military centric re-enactment.

  4. The governing body is BAR, which stands for Brigade of the American Revolution, though I was wrong, the actual rule is: "New units must have a minimum of four men-at-arms" Taken from their web page here: BAR has high standards and seems like a pretty good organization, but they are very much based around the military unit.

    It is true I could start my own group, but I think I've got enough self-motivated projects, and really don't have the energy to start an entirely new group. There are so many people out there who know more about the 18th Century than I do, why should I duplicate all of their fine efforts just to be able to hang out occasionally in a popular timeperiod?

    It is not true that there are no events out there that are not military centered, I interviewed some folks this past winter who told me they were almost exclusively doing non-military. My next step will be to try to find the folks that I interviewed on Facebook.

    1. You don't necessarily have to belong to the BAR. You can have a completely independent unit, if you want.

  5. I don't like it either. I have a huge problem with the idea of civilian participants being "support staff" for the "real" military reenactors. I also have a huge problem with the utilization of (especially 3rd person) staff according to their sex's historical role as opposed to their craft/agricultural/interpretation skills. My experience has been that reenacting (battles) and to some extent living history (hobby and professional) are highly misogynistic. There's the blatant "boys' club" of some reenactment groups and the sexual harassment that occurs in that environment, and then there's the idea of "we need to stick to historical gender roles because it's accurate." I feel you may disagree with me here, Alena. I am not into accuracy for accuracy's sake. I do enjoy immersion, and I do think it is a disservice to present sloppy history, either in content or in physical presentation, such as costume. I think we can learn and teach more when we do pay attention to the details. However, gender roles are still integrated into our lives in 2011. I think visitors do not think twice when they see a woman cooking or a man tilling. It's hard to be critical of something you take for granted. There's some saying about a fish and water... So are living history museums teaching about gender roles in the past, or simply reinforcing gender roles in the present? I mean, when you're trying to recreate historical patriarchy for supposedly intellectual reasons, and you're not undertaking some serious intellectual reflection, is it any surprise that the resulting interpretation structure (reenacting and living history) is itself misogynistic?

    So that's my pet issue, which I may have mentioned before on the forums. I do wish you luck in finding a good group. Wouldn't it be nice to find some groups who were *actively* interested in equal opportunity and representation? I did hear of one group, years ago, called "Pig of Knowledge," that was supposed to be civilian 18th c and highly accurate. Maybe a Southern thing.