I got into a conversation with a friend yesterday in which we found ourselves bemoaning the disparity in the degree of historical accuracy to which male and female reenactors are held at military living history events. [Note: I have this conversation with someone at least every two weeks. Because it’s still a problem, and I have nothing better to do.]
We were discussing how frustrating it is when the fellas spend hours sitting around talking over the finer details of what several-hundred-dollar blanket they must all own, and then turn around and let Jane McDaisyFace come to an event in poorly-fitted clothes because she’s dating Herbert, and “isn’t it nice that she wanted to come, and we should make her feel welcome”.
This is of course true. Without a doubt we should make Jane feel welcome, but let’s make her feel welcome by paying her the respect of assuming she actually cares. I find myself frustrated when I see male recruits being lent coats to wear, and instructed in military drill for hours, while women sit around eating cheddar and supermarket bread because the only activity anyone could image for them was cooking, but no one bothered to explain the process of starting a good fire.
Like I said, I rant about this approximately fortnightly.
Yesterday however I had a new thought: there are settings in which I have come across very similar situations, but with the genders reversed. At some civilian events, and several historical dances I find that the men’s material culture lags significantly behind that of the women. At events where the expectation is that everyone will dress up nice and look pretty, the gents often get a gold star just for showing up, usually in their shirtsleeves, since the only coat they own is a regimental.
Thinking about this I see a distressingly low bar set for women at military events, and one equally low for men in traditionally feminine settings. This is ridiculous: literally worthy of the ridicule I hope I am currently showering upon it. Guys, gals, we’re after a common goal here, lets help each other out. No more work or expense is involved in making sure appropriate clothing is available to male living historians interested in participating in domestic or ‘social’ events than is involved in helping female living historians have the appropriate material culture to participate fully in military reenactments.
This is an example of a society that assumes men like war, and women like dancing, and that therefore the other gender is a lost cause in each scenario. We are better than this! Let’s do ourselves the favor of assuming that women who show up to a military event actually care, and want to be there, and that men attend balls for reasons more extensive than placating their spouses. And let’s all hold everyone, regardless of gender, to the same standards of authenticity in any setting.
6 thoughts on “Men Like War. Women Like Dancing.”
Ah, yes. Picture men portraying soldiers from the Mexican-American War, 1848; girlfriend in hoopskirt and flip-flops.
I’m interested in your take on what are appropriate roles for women at military reenactments. If we can get the men to realize that women were a vital and important part of the war effort, we can get units to pay more attention to what “Herbert’s girlfriend” is wearing. More units would have “slop chests” of appropriate female clothes if the women were treated as just as important to a unit’s reputation as the men, by having a bigger place in military reenacting as a whole.
And can we stop blaming poor Ms. Jane for not knowing what is appropriate and having the courage to show up in funny clothes anyway? Otherwise, we lose her and probably Herbert too from our hobby which needs new people. If a unit can outfit him with care, they should also care enough to help outfit her appropriately as well.
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Kim, the issue of appropriate women’s military portrays is one that I (and a number of friends and colleagues) have been working on a lot in the last six months. We’ve been posting and sharing information as we collect it, and will continue to do so. I’ll try to make sure that information finds its way on here as well. A lot of our work has been going into researching roles such as laundresses, nurses, petty-sutlers and more. Though obviously this needs to be tailored to particular historical events… The documentation does exist (though it can involve a lot of reading between the lines of more male-centric documents).
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I had a similar experience. We watch the movie “Austerlitz”, and men were discussing the uniforms which were not correct in every detail. And men discussed the military events and there were not correct in every detail… Finally they decided thet the movie was bad and not worth watching!
Then I ask them what they think about the women dresses and hairstyles in the movie and the dances at the ball scene in the movie….?
They could not answer that question!!
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I am in a historical dance company, and we deal with this a lot, but what your post immediately made me think of is my experience doing military events (mostly WWII). We have accurate, well-researched impressions and jobs to do in a military environment, but we’re frequently dismissed as hangers-on…especially by tourists, who will gladly talk to our male friends about their role/equipment/uniform but just stare at us. It gets frustrating.
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