Hot! Things That Are More Authentic Than A Girl In Uniform

Now, it’s a well-known fact that one of my gripes with the reenacting hobby is the misogyny that is often so prevalent.  I know that it varies from unit to unit, period to period, and location to location, but every reenactor I have met has agreed that it’s a general problem within the hobby as a whole.

One of the aspects of this that annoys me the most is the idea that one of the most farby, inauthentic things a unit can do is to put a woman in a man’s uniform and role.  It seems to be one of those things that will “torpedo” a unit’s reputation no matter how authentic they are otherwise.  However, today I will not be talking about that, what I want to talk about is the fact that many women get turned away from units that are already farby, on the basis that putting a woman in a uniform is farby.

Based on my own experiences and those I have collected from other female reenactors, here is a list of things that are, apparently, less offensively inauthentic than a woman in a uniform:

a 300lb Gebirgsjager (mountain climbing infantry)

a WWII infantry unit with no soldiers under age 40

a 14 year old medic

inaccurately patterned clothes made from polyester

an extremely uniform, sparkling clean militia “on campaign”

a “regiment” of 5 people

wearing a plastic rain coat underneath your uniform

blatantly wrong-period clothing or gear

cell phones and obviously modern cameras

getting totally trashed after the battle and leaving beer cans around the site

a plastic camping cooler under a blanket

a 60 year old sergeant

These are just a few of my own observations and a couple that I’ve collected in just 30 minutes of asking around, so if you have anything to add, please let me know in the comments and I’ll gladly add it!  If you’ve ever been told that women in uniform are farby by someone who is farby himself, please let me know!

[Photos by:  Colonel Liam Ross, Alain Boufler, Colonel Killgore]

34 Comments

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  1. Bwha-ha! And actually (speaking as a fan of folk music) a woman in a man’s uniform doing a man’s work is the least farby thing in that list above. As evidence, this verse from a traditional English ballad:

    “She went into a tailor’s shop,
    And dressed in men’s array,
    And stepped aboard a vessel
    To convey herself away —
    Oh, convey herself away!”

    (video of the full song, here: http://youtu.be/Fxkf_ZSupQ4 )

    True, these songs are likely wishful thinking, and storytelling make-believe… but the same can be said of reenacting.

  2. Couldn’t agree more. I have offen been told I can’t reenact this or that because I am a woman and I would be ‘cross dressing’, only to have the same people say nothing of the over weight over age paratroops that seem so common at some events here in the UK. I am a total supporter of accuracy, and getting it right, but there are double standards at play. Even in cases where there is evidence that it is historically accurate for women to cross dress or be soldiers (18th century Royal Navy, and 1940 partisans for example) I still find that I have to argue my case and back it up with research where a man who is totally unsuited to the impression doesn’t have to.

    Also have to agree about misogyny in reenactment, it’s the same here in the UK.
    Anyway rant over….

    • Yes. The issue is really about women acting outside of their accepted gender roles, but it’s hidden behind the fake argument of authenticity.

      I too am a total supporter of authenticity, but I think that this double standard has got to stop. I will quit bitching about not being able to wear a uniform when reenacting units stop accepting anyone over 50 years old or 180lbs.

  3. I’ve been told that if I were to join in a group of guys considering portraying the 4th Mass LI circa 1782, that they “would have to carry around documentation” that a woman successfully passed as a man in that unit. Bear in mind that woman was Deborah Sampson, and almost any AWI reenactor knows her name and at least a small bit of her story.

    • Yep. By that argument, can I request documentation of every 200lb paratrooper or 65 year old corporal?

      • Oh, and this certain group of guys has one rather portly fellow, one slightly less so but getting up there in age, and one other middle aged fellow. Like you, I have no real beef with those things, except that those are considered so minor, but a women carrying a musket beside them is a tragedy.

        • Yep. There are only a couple impressions that I really wish I could do as a girlfarb, and for the most part, I don’t have much of a beef with this. However, what really gets my goat is the double standard that you mention. It’s also one of the most difficult things to explain to men because it is incredibly ingrained in our culture at this point.

  4. Not everyone was skinny. For the Revolutionary War, I’ve seen a painting of William Washington, who was both fat and tall, even though the ideal dragoon was slight and tended to be shorter than average, like Ban Tarleton. Though I deplore misogyny in reenacting, I don’t think the best way to combat it is to replace it with weight discrimination.

    You have a point about certain eras and units, such as the WWII paratroopers, but that would apply to women, too, as by then it was already past the time when women could disguise themselves as men to enter such units.

    Reenacting isn’t just for the young and skinny.

    • I’m not implying that women should be reenacting as women disguising themselves as men – I’m saying that they should be allowed to reenact AS men. Like I said above, if I can ignore a beer gut on a paratrooper or a 14 year old medic and not have them intrude on my experience, those same folks can ignore a slightly feminine face and some taped-down boobs.

  5. You can add to the list units made up of all sergeants and lieutenants with no privates, or alternatively, viking bands made up of all jarls and chieftains with no peasants or thralls.

    I’ve always accepted women who wished to dress as a men into my units. Its hard enough to get people into the hobby to begin with without turning away 50% of the population. But when you do the dark ages there’s more room to maneuver.

    • Yeah, there is, and early period folk tend to be more liberal and accepting regardless. Clearly, I just need to switch eras for awhile.

  6. I’m an overweight woman myself. I was a part of a Dragoon unit in a Rev War group here in the Midwest for a few years. I switched between a Gentlewoman campfollower to a dragoon trying to look like a man often. Granted, I looked aweful nevertheless. But it was my unit commander who convinced me to dress up as a man so as to increase numbers. There were too few of us at events and he was more than willing to overlook that fact I was a woman rather than a man.
    This is a hobby. Generally it’s not enjoyable when people start pointing fingers and making more restrictions that would make people uncomfortable. However, each group and association has their rules. Generally it’s all about 1) finding the right group/unit, and 2) enjoying history.
    The thing is, there are so many varieties of people, lots of individuals. They will always want to do something their particular way. It’s finding a happy medium between those variations. Luckily, I’ve been fortunate to find some people who are in it for the fun and love of history and will focus on the positive rather than the negative and overwhelming restrictions.

    ~Lady B

  7. Using another s farb to excuse our own? We could just drop all pretense of any professional standards and just do things the way they should have been, not the way they really were. Perhaps we could call this the Society for Creative Anachronism 🙂

    Just sign me as 43 year old guy rucking up for another deployment, who once drank in the same bar as a 70 year old guy who was on the ground in Afghanistan prior to even SOF linking up with the Northern Alliance…….

    • I’m not saying that one farbism excuses another, nor am I saying that women should necessarily be in uniform. What I was pointing out was the hypocrisy of using the authenticity excuse to exclude women when the person doing the excluding is just as farby or even moreso. Over-age men are typically given a pass, while a woman, no matter how fit, young, and masculine, would never even be given a word in edgewise. That is what bothers me. I don’t mind, for instance, that my Loyalist unit doesn’t allow women in the ranks, because they’re hyper-authentic in pretty much every way they can be. However, when a 200lb gebirg says that girls in uniform are farb, I have to laugh.

      If you’re trying to pander your military experience as some sort of respect-maker, you clearly know nothing about me.

  8. Not too long ago I was in a flat out dead brawl argument of words with two male self proclaimed ‘authentics’ on a Civil War message board regarding this subject… and it was just as stated, more about gender roles that are widely accepted vs actual historical accuracy. Their argument was that a woman belongs in the kitchen, and that all of the women who ever tried to serve in disguise in the Civil War were caught… hyuck hyuck! Apparently they had never heard of Clalin or Edmonds, the two most famous women of the war! BOTH served undiscovered for the entire war! So then the argument turned to well, ok, so that’s 2- they’re still over portrayed. Um, ok, so are fat Confederates, Vivandieres, small scale artillery, Fort Econolodge ‘campaigners’, cavalry, Berdans, Dismounts, well dressed wealthy ladies… and so on and so forth… Pretty much it boiled down eventually to ‘because droves of farby [improperly disguised] women soldiers flood the hobby, no more women should be allowed in the ranks’… even those of us who do it right. Automatically I found myself also defending the integrity of my unit simply because I was in it. This is a unit of men I have grown up with and have watched my impression develop over the years… to a point that our Sgt, whom I’ve known for 12 years, couldn’t even recognize me SITTING AT A TABLE across from him. Not even a yard away. I’ve even been compared to an original dag. of a young boy soldier from the 6th OVI!

    These men were more offended that a woman would even consider wearing a uniform and carrying a rifle beside them than working over a fire or needle in the civilian camp. I am so tired of chauvinists, ya know?

    Now I am in a Soviet ww2 unit, and even with the much larger, more openly enlisted DOCUMENTED numbers of women on the front lines (800,000 in the Soviet forces alone, and 2mil females in all capacities) I still get (from folks outside of my unit, of course) the whole ‘oh women were only snipers and medics in the Soviet army’… right. I portray a regular infantry soldier. I am also considering a machine gun squad *all female*.

    Let’s not forget that the WW1 GWA does not allow women to dress ‘as men’, but there are documented cases of Russian women who both disguised themselves or were given special permission by the Czar, not to mention the Womens Death Battalion led by Maria Bochkareva (whom I am in the process of developing a 1st person persona) While the WDB saw only a few moments of action, there’s no reason to not allow those of us who portray these heroic women at living history and other events that span to include 1917 and the Eastern front where they mainly served.

    There is definitely a double standard among men, but it’s among women, too. There’s an all ladies’ civilian unit in my city who constantly give me grief for being ‘scandalous’, while they all trounce around in their costly dresses in military camps. Like THAT isn’t farb or ‘scandalous’…

    Anyway… that’s my piece.

    ~ Jessica
    Aka. Pvt./Brev. Sgt. Lukas Siefker (Civil War)
    aka. Kras. Zoya PETROVA (WW1)
    aka. Kras. Zarya MOROZOVA (ww2)

    • Yep. Heck, in my old Soviet unit, our commander insisted that I just HAD to wear a skirt and beret, because he had seen a few photos of Soviet female soldiers dressed that way. No matter how many photos I showed him of rows and rows of them wearing pants as well, he would not drop the issue. This is the same guy who also wanted me to wear PANTYHOSE on a BATTLEFIELD and claimed that he had seen something “perfectly accurate” at Frederick’s of Hollywood – yes, the sexy lingerie store. What an ass. I ended up humiliating him in front of the entire rest of the unit, who promptly kicked his misogynistic ass out and reformed the unit.

      I think that a lot of men (and women for that matter) just flat out can’t wrap their heads around why any given woman might not be overjoyed at the idea of sticking to strictly female impressions. Not only is it boring, often degrading work as you mentioned, but it also severely limits the type and number of events that we can attend. Even when, as you pointed out, women get together to do a perfectly authentic impression that fits within the scope of an event, we are often essentially locked out. I too want to do a WDB impression (where are you, geographically? let’s talk), but every GWA admin I’ve talked to has given me the cold shoulder.

    • LOL… Fort Econolodge! I love it. 🙂 Good one. Sadly, so true though.

      And yes, agreed. Even among women the issue of farbs, scandal, etc. Worse, nitpicking at others about their “station”! Oh, that pissed me off most of all (besides the massive horse debate, long story). Of all the people I brought to the reenactments, they often heard something from their first and only reenactment they were guest at that completely turned them off to reenacting. If it wasn’t the clothes (which they were borrowing from other camp members, damnit!), then it was the fact they knew nothing about what to do and what not to do historically (Umm, they are new to this? hello?), or some other picky little thing as though they needed something yanked out of their backside! Seriously? Can reenactors really stop being so anal and snobby that it pushes away newcomers? There is a point of authenticity but when it’s negative and overbearing, it kills a person’s interest and an association of ever getting a new member!

      We’ve learned a lot thus far about history. It’s constantly being re-written. I guess, reenactors really do need to be atop their game of the historical fact since we are portraying it as it was or suppose to be, not as someone believes it was or should have been.

      Keep up the kicking, ladies!

      • Thanks gals! Sorry if I tend to be a little more tongue in cheek than some, but that’s just me!

        Geographically, I WAS, at the time of original posting, in the Midwest. Kelsey, there is a new WW1 association being chartered, Midwest Great War Living History Association- they are on FB and are very happy to allow and support WDB as well as all other female impressions, Russian or otherwise. The gent who heads it up is an AMAZING fellow. I’ve since had to nix the WDB impression for now, and had to bump down to civilian for ACW due to health, but there I’m still doing some ‘lesser known’ things, including postmaster impressions, that people still raise an eyebrow at. (yes, it happened… in fact, the Delphos, OH postmaster, appointed in 1854, was a woman. That’s where my mom’s family is from, and PA had over 300 female postmasters by the 2nd half of the 19th c) I now live in central PA though, I have yet to test the WW1 waters around here, I’m not far from Newville (or Gettysburg 😉 )

        As far as the ‘changing’ knowledge and available factual information… I still shake my head that guys use this as an excuse to bar women from the field. How long have we known now that women donned uniforms, cut their hair and bound themselves during just the ACW alone? Come on. The excuse of ‘prove it’ is no longer valid. It’s just that, an excuse. Prove to me soldiers were drunken and disorderly on a nightly basis in camp!

  9. Posted this on tumblr about this, and at the request of the author posting it here:
    People reenact for different reasons. I know personally, for me, it is to honor the history of the time period. History to me includes the human struggle and lifestyle that would eventually mold how we live today. But this is not always the case. You got the gun nerds, and you got the ‘it’s just fancy campy with the boys’ guys. In the end people are going to clash on WHY they reenact. The term farb will be thrown around as well as the term stitch nazi. In the end it’s just people seeing different ways to enjoy the weekend. With that being said, as some one that puts showing the history as one of the forefront reasons for WHY I reenact, I prefer to do a persona that women actually did have. The fact women had combat roles in WWII is why I do WWII soviet, and even got me interested in the history of the Soviet Union. (Which I am for ever indebted to who told me that since they shaped my interest so drastically) When I did civil war living history, I did the United States Sanitary commission. As a feminist and a women’s historian I sometimes feel the small steps that women made are over shadowed by the heroic history of men. I want to pay respect to the women of history and the roles they had. So for ME I would never do women in male dress roles. I enjoy my femininity and I am interested in how the femininity played out in women soldier roles in the U.S.S.R.

    THAT BEING SAID…..

    I hold no issue with women in male dress, and if done right… they can be spot on some times. But I do hold an issue with girls that are do not try and hide the fact they are a girl. Some people I meet through civil war and some in rev war, I have NO idea they are female until I talk to them. These people have impression that put most people to sham. These people should not be punished merely cause of their biology. I hate to say it as a girl you have to try harder then guys do. I hate to say it, but I do not hate, or get angry at the male groups that deny females if there unit did not have female roles. To many of the time I’ve seen the poor female reenactor that holds on to showing her cleavage in what should have been a male role.

    But the REAL issue I have is the fact events don’t support ways for women to get involved. I want to go to more WWII events (that are not ost front) and a way I find suitable is doing partisan. I talked to a friend of mines that’s been in the hobby forever and told me most events don’t even accept partisans, since there too farby, or just not the style of warfare the groups want to deal with. To be honest, I just think it’s an excuse. I know plenty of people that would do partisan in non-farby ways.

    Sexist still happens even when you are portraying a time period accurate role. Most of the time, it’s not really the people that are the history enthusiast that are the sexists. It’s usually the guys that see this as a gun club with the guys. Reenacting draws all different types, I have met some of the greatest people… yet at the same time I have meet some of the worst. To those assholes that try to sexually objectify me, I just go out in the field and prove to them I am JUST as able, if not more so. For the most part, with the people I reenact with, this attitude earns me respect. (Granted I’m still fairly new) In the end, with the one REALLY bad case I had, most everyone in my unit/ german units I’m close with, took my side. The sexist I’ve encounter was merely a bad apple. Though I know I’ve been warned some of the ladies that come out to reenact, reenact merely go cause they have a weird uniform fetish and want to find a guy for the evening. Not saying this is untrue… but I think some of the guys can see being friendly as coming on to them. The fact that was assumed about me joining the unit before I proved it wrong says something about the atmosphere of reenacting.

    In the end, women have to try harder. We have to prove that we are ‘the guys’ too. The social norm is that it is masculine to like history, guns, and have an interest in war fare. These are things that should bond reenactors¸ not separate us by sex.

    TL;DR: Sexist exist, but not in the ways of denying female reenactors traditionally male parts.

  10. I think that ultimately it would be good if there were more civilian roles and groups. I mean reenactment events can turn into a solely military affair and surely if living history is about portraying the past then it should look at more than just a small (military) section of it. Personally I would love to do more civilian e.g. industrial history, but there are very few people who do this. As a woman there really is very little for me to do with most military groups unless I dress as a man.

    Another point is that very often I have come accross men who argue fiercely against women taking part in battles whether crossed dressed or in acurate combatant roles (such as partisan or red army) and yet have very little knowledge of the history themselves. By no means always, but offen I find that reenactors have little knowledge outside of uniforms and weapons. I also find that male reenactors assume I know less about war or military history simply because I’m a woman, despite that the fact I actually have a degree and masters in military history. So what I guess I’m saying is that those that criticise women reenactors should at least have a proper argument and knowledge of the history, and not just rely of sexist ideas of women, for example the guy kelsey mentioned who wanted all red army women to wear skirts.

    Sometimes I get the impression that some male reenactors don’t think a woman had ever left the kitchen before 1968.

  11. I don’t see what the big deal is; women in uniform are MORE authentic than 90% of the entire SCA membership.

  12. Kelsey- I am in Ohio… The formation of my WDB impression is going very slowly due to money as well as I want it WELL researched, and there’s only a small amount of down and dirty details available to me at the moment.

    ~Jessica

  13. I’ll take all this bitching more seriously when you tell me with a straight face that a man dressed as a woman re-enactor is A-OK. Just one FEMALE’s opinion.

    • If he can do it and pull it off, I’m fine with that. As long as he or she can look the part, who cares what his or her plumbing is? I take issue with female reenactors who can’t pull off the male look, but if they can do it, great! The same thing goes for any male reenactor who could pull off a female look.

  14. Would that I were a Cis-female! I’d use my useful effects makeup skills and pass as a male reinactor, just to harpoon this idiocy. It’d be one helluva undercover article!

  15. I just found this blog an hour before. It’s wonderful! And also this discussion here! You speak to me so much from my soul! This meant that in Germany it is no different to this theme! There are a lot of men who talk about the evil of the suffering women in uniform (after watching photos with pretty female Napoleonic cavalry admired). And I stoped some years ago to write or talk no more because with them. it is as if you are talking in a deflated space.
    I myself, am a reenactment Piper for the napoleonic period in a Scottish infantry Regiment and our Kilties are happy that I am there.
    However, we had already let insult that it is better to dispense with the Piper before being a woman! It Needless to say that I’m the only Piper in Germany during the Napoleonic reenactment period… 😉
    Wish you all a wonderful year with new and good voyagers into the time!

  16. I hear you! As the author of a series of books set in the Napoleonic Wars, there were lots of women who served in male uniform — some passing as male, and some openly female. And sure, not common, but certainly possible.

  17. I was not able to join a local unit although several of their members are wearing inaccurate headgear or clothing- and their Major could not recognize me in the photos that I sent- but “thought that guy looks familiar” There were women who were listed as privates- not hiding there gender at all- see Elizabeth Gilmore Berry listed as a Elizabeth Gilmore Private in Northumberland County Pa. I often wonder what DID she wear???

    I finally found a unit based out of Philadelphia that are happy to have me.
    IMPO if you fall out like a guy than you should try hard to appear a guy- I am miffed by “guys” wearing lip gloss and eyeliner or mascara. I am never placed at the end of unit fall in lines- always in the middle so I am less likely to be “made”.
    I do also try VERY hard to not be the least girlish when I am falling out with my artillery unit- I fill in my eyebrows, not a bit of any makeup- ugly 18th c glasses, chest bound, keep my hat down and my shirt collars up with stock or wrapped hair is queued – usually have soot on my face, dirt on my breeches I go to lengths stand and sit , eat and spit like a guy. Never have hands on hips or one leg kicked out when standing idle. Pinch up my breeches when I sit- take up space when I sit… etc. Our unit gets tons of laughs cause sometimes they forget… Oh- I also have a Lady J in my haversack so I CAN pee standing in the field.. lol… I haul the cannon and man each station as an equal to each guy in our unit.

    http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=berry&GSfn=elizabeth&GSbyrel=all&GSdyrel=all&GSst=40&GScntry=4&GSob=n&GRid=29974939&df=all&

    The very best part is that after 5 or public time – our unit allows me to change up and attend the dance- It is easy to get the change of plans from the other team with a bit of drink and swish of silk. So in that case I get the best of both worlds and love and appreciate it.
    My highlight was standing next to an officer in the blue box line on AM and he had NO idea that we had danced and danced the night before!
    point is- having women in a unit does not automatically lower their bar or make them less accurate – I know of a few great gunners that you can’t tell are females till they smile or speak up.
    It’s just like every other aspect of the hobby – some set the bar high and some don’t.

  18. Anyone who possesses an unabiding love of history, a eagerness to update their kit, and willing ness to abide by the black powder safety rules would be a welcomed addition to Gardner’s Regiment. Any type of restrictions including race, gender, ethnic, age, religious, political and weight have no place in re-enacting. The point is to have fun and enjoy our hobby.

  19. It is interesting, that since I’ve started working on an 18th century impression, and looking at the upcoming season: I find myself watching more men in our current century and the vast differences in personalities that contributes to the “poses” people strike. What we consider “masculine” varies from century to century and culture to culture.

    The mannerisms of 18th century men would probably be considered rather feminized in comparison to our current thoughts of “how men act”. Matter of fact, even leading into the 20th century, American escaped POW’s in Germany during WWII, were often “given away” by the way they sat. European men cross their legs when they sit. To do otherwise was considered impolite. So when the Gestapo was looking for escaped POW’s, more often than not, their lack of “gentlemenly manners” gave them away. Thus is the reason why in the military, they told us to be very aware of how people in a foreign country act, for being able to mimic them accurately could be the difference between life and death.

    So, that being said – I find it fascinating looking at 18th century period paintings, how feminine everyone looked. Even common people, though they are not portrayed in the same rosy cheeked fine dimpled smile (with the hand on the hip) as wealthy gentlemen are, they still don’t look like, maybe let’s say Communist Era Soviet art, where everyone looks like a guy! So I think it’s funny in a certain sense, when modern men get all bent out of shape about a woman in uniform whom they deem to “act to feminine”. Many women today are far less feminine than what (at least we perceive) to have been historically true of bygone eras. So the modern chick in the 18th century army uniform is likely closer to the historical cultural norm than what they who are harassing her are.

    Other interesting tidbit of information I’m discovering about 18th century women in the army, (British as well as Continental) is that some of what we are now learning about their presence or real numbers, we are finding by chance when we have to move bodies in mass graves for one reason or another. There was one mass grave of British soldiers from a particular battle found in Canada. There was something like 500 total skeletons unearthed and I think 14 of them were female, at least half of which it was certain (by items such as buttons and breach buckles found around the skeletons) that they were wearing men’s uniforms. So in other words, if that mass grave was a microcosm of the British army from that particular era in that particular battle; two to three of every 100 soldiers were women. Which, if we compare that to modern statistics, it’s kind of interesting. Out of an entirely voluntary armed force; about 30% of those in rank of the modern American military are women.

    So what could this mean? Maybe less has changed over the past 250 years than we think?

  20. Hi!

    I happened upon your posts about women in reenacting and as one myself I’d love to read more. Did you ever write that series of posts about misogyny in reenacting? I’ve been poking around your blog but haven’t seen them yet.