Weighing in on the Progressive Community
I consider myself a “progressive” reenactor. The units I belong to generally label themselves as such, as do the majority of the reenactors that I consider to be my friends. There’s been a lot of talk in the last few days about the progressive side of the hobby, and I felt that I should probably weigh in, so here you go:
For one thing, I feel that there has been a bit of a misunderstanding of what “progressive” means within the hobby. Many people, including the author of the original incendiary article that prompted the recent hubbub about the progressive movement, seem to consider it to be the new word for what used to be called “hardcore” reenactors by friendlies and “stitch nazis” or “thread counters” by enemies – i.e. the reenactors that go as far as possible to be accurate.
I would argue that this is at least partially incorrect, which is the source of some of the general misunderstanding.
Progressive reenacting is, to me and most of the “progressive” reenactors I know, defined as creating and maintaining your impression based on the most up-to-date information and research available from primary sources, and changing it when new information comes to light.
I consider myself a progressive reenactor because I keep myself constantly updated on the most recent research and I adapt and adjust my impression based on any new findings. I base my impression entirely on research, rather than on what might seem obvious (but is incorrect), comfortable, convenient, or cool.
That said, I machine sew the long seams on my garments for my impressions that are from the pre-sewing machine era (they’re invisible once it’s assembled). I have a camera bag full of modern camera equipment hidden somewhere in camp. When it gets too cold, I do sometimes go sleep in my car. I am not a “hardcore” reenactor (though I used to be moreso) but I am a “progressive” one. And the reason for that label is that my impression is based on current research, not on conjecture.
A lot of people have been claiming that progressive reenactors are bullies, misogynists, and generally unpleasant. I disagree. Are there jerks within the progressive community? Absolutely. But there are also jerks within the “mainstream” community. There are assholes everywhere, as they say. I do think that a lot of what is meant as helpful advice is sometimes taken as judgmental criticism by those it is directed at, and since progressives tend to dispense a lot of advice in the interests of improving the overall accuracy of the environment in the hobby, they end up being seen as the most critical.
As for the charge that progressive units tend to be misogynist and sexist – this one I will flat out state as wrong. As you know if you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, I’m transgender. I used to “galtroop” on occasion, but I largely participated in the hobby as a woman, and mostly within progressive units, before I came out. Not once have I ever been made to feel unwelcome by any of the progressive units that I have associated with. To be honest, I’ve never really been made to feel unwelcome by anyone, but I’ve seen a lot of vitriol spewed online from both the progressive and mainstream sides of the hobby, regarding the participation of women in the hobby. I don’t really feel that any one side is, as a whole, worse about it than others. Specific individuals? Sure. But whole swaths of the hobby? That’s a rather broad brush you’ve got there.
The hobby does have something of an issue with cliquishness, which is to be expected of any hobby with such a large number of participants from such a wide range of backgrounds. I think that that is ultimately what needs to be addressed more than anything, and this is what I want my readers to think about the most.
As reenactors, we are more alike than we are different. We all share a love of history and a desire to recreate it. Each and every reenactor has a unique set of reasons for participating in the hobby the way they do, a particular set of goals they want to accomplish with said participation, and a distinct set of motivations behind their participation in the first place. And you know what? That’s why we have all different kinds of units and events. Some reenactors reenact for the experience of feeling like they’re in another time, others reenact because they want to educate the public about history, and yet others reenact because they are interested in furthering research in the field of material culture within their chosen time period.
The thing is – there’s really no “right” or “wrong” way to reenact, in my mind. There are merely groups and events that you may find yourself incompatible with. Don’t like to run around in the woods and sleep under the stars? Don’t join a unit that makes that their modus operandi. Don’t like to burn a bunch of powder and want to focus more on education? Join a unit that has a similar focus. Now, there are some basic guidelines that you may want to follow, no matter what period you reenact or what your goals are, but in general, the key to enjoying this hobby is to find “your people”. Seek out those who have similar goals within the hobby, and focus on them – and let everyone else do the same. Don’t look down your nose at someone who isn’t up to your personal standard, because that’s what it is – your personal standard. And don’t look down your nose at someone who is above your level of attention to detail. Let. Eachother. Be.
I generally prefer a fairly high standard of authenticity within my impressions, so I look for units with the same attention to detail and largely ignore those without it. Likewise, I avoid the big events where the focus is more on large scale spectacle (which I don’t care much about) at a macro level, with less attention given to units members and camps on a micro level. They’re just not my cup of tea. Do I think that those events should go away? Hell no! Because there’s clearly a lot of people who do enjoy them, and who am I to deny them that? Likewise, I’m glad that events like that have started to have a section of the camp setup that is specifically for more progressive and campaigner-style reenactors, as there’s no reason that we should be unable to participate either.
In short: relax, enjoy yourself, make room for people who are different than you, and stop paying so much attention to everyone else. Focus on yourself and your own participation in the hobby and you’ll be much happier. If everyone did this, the hobby would be much more enjoyable for everyone, so why not start the movement with yourself?