I believe in women’s equality, and I believe we have a LONG way still to go. Hell, we may not even get there in my lifetime if current attitudes don’t start changing a little faster.
And yet…at the end of the day I’d rather gain recognition for doing a job well than gain recognition for doing a job well because I’m a woman. And I DON’T chew a guy’s head off when he opens a door for me.
And I sure don’t want to be pointed out as a woman when I’m reenacting.
Reenacting is a weird temporal space. It makes you look at your own modern world differently because you’ve temporarily transplanted yourself to a different society with a different set of rules. Gender roles were far more rigid back then, but what also came with it was a sense of gentlemanly conduct, of politeness and chivalry, that is dying so fast I feel like I can see it happening.
There are those on the Rebel side who do impressions as women masquerading as men. That actually happened. It happened several times. The colonists needed soldiers; they didn’t look too hard when willing applicants showed up. But there’s little chance a woman would have gotten herself into the British Army that way. There are women who fought, and that’s a really fun post for another day. But for me, at an event, my day is about blending in to the best of my ability.
Good luck to me, right?
It’s usually not that bad. If we’re in formation and spoken to as a group, I fully expect the commanding officer/serjeant major/etc. to address us all as “gentlemen”, because it’s correct. Only twice, when in a very small group, did the speaker say “gentlemen” as he swept his gaze across the line and then amended, “And ladies! Sorry!” I wanted to tell him not to apologize, because it was my goal to be incognito. In camp, if a member of the public asks me if it was common for a woman to be in British uniform, I’d explain that no, not really, but that it was something I really enjoyed doing and I just try my best to blend in.
Once, at an event, this reporter started up a conversation with me and asked me questions about women in the army. I explained how it happened more on the colonist side because of how strict British army regulations were, but how some women had stepped up to the plate when their husbands had been killed in battle, etc. I thought she was interested in the historical aspect. But then she started saying how she might be interested in doing a column on me. Wile I was flattered, I was a little surprised because I was just one of many reenactors there that day, reenactors who were far more interesting subjects than I. She was talking fast, excited, saying how it would be great to do a portrait of a “modern woman”; some such thing as that.
And that’s when it hit me: she thought I was doing this as a statement. That I was dressing up in men’s clothing and toting a gun side-by-side with them to try to prove some sort of point. Which is the exact opposite of my intent. I do it because I love history. I love reenacting. And, quite frankly, I love running around with a big weapon that explodes.
All tomboyish tendencies aside, I love the visceral experience of being out there on the field, smoke stinging your eyes and blotting out your entire field of vision, choking on the grains of gunpowder you accidentally swallowed when you bit down too low on a cartridge, five different officers shouting twenty different commands at you that all contradict one another. It’s a rush unlike any other.
Maybe I’m taking it too literally, or too hard. Maybe it’s meant to be a compliment when people observe that I’m a woman doing this stuff. Goodness knows I overthink and overanalyze everything in the world around me. But I’m not trying to prove that I’m as good as the guys. Quite frankly, I know I’m not. I’m a five-and-a-half-foot-tall twentysomething who used to be a ballet dancer. I’m not going to accomplish the same thing on the field as the six-foot guy who’s been reenacting for 20 years and can bench press my weight.
But yer darn tootin’ I’m going to go out there with all the gusto and all the ferocity a tiny Irish girl can manage. I’m going hurl insults when I’m within earshot of the Rebels. I’m going to rattle my bayonet as I charge. I’m going to fight until I just can’t go anymore. And I’m going to do it because I love the experience, not because I’m a woman but because I’m a human being.