Reenactress Blog

Is Being Female an Anachronism?

I was planning to let this go, but yesterday one of my female military reenactor friends needed some encouragement so I decided to share this story with her. I also want other women to know there are people who support them even if not everyone in reenacting welcomes women in the ranks.

So here goes...

Earlier this summer, I experienced my first un-invitation to a reenactment event.

Our artillery unit's Captain was invited to bring our original bronze Napoleon cannon, along with the soldiers to man it, to an event in in Tennessee called Wauhatchie. This event, which is upcoming from October 27-29, 2017, is meant to be a "campaigner" event, also sometimes known as a "hardcore" event, a "progressive event," or an "immersion" event. 

At a campaigner event, reenactors sleep without tents and eat rations similar to those provided to troops during the battle in question. Reenactors are required to wear uniforms that comply with a certain standard of authenticity outlined in the event rules. The goal is to make the event immersive for participants so they can experience that "period rush" or that "Civil War moment," a feeling which supposedly eludes reenactors at more "mainstream" events with lower standards and where spectators might be present. This particular event would even involve fighting through the night.

Our Captain contacted me very excited. He thinks I perform a strong impression of a soldier, woman or not. He wanted to know if I would be interested in going with our unit as it promised to be an event like no other we had done before. I replied that I'd love to be part of it!

I put the event on my calendar, planned to ask for a few days off work, and paid my registration fee through the event website. Then I started researching updates I might need to make to my uniform. The website explained the harsh authenticity standards expected from soldiers in the artillery. I wanted to represent our unit well so our Captain could be proud of me. 

A few days after I registered, our Captain informed me that the leaders of 40 Rounds Events, the group organizing Wauhatchie, would not allow me to attend. He said they told him they were worried about my authenticity standards and my presence as a "journalist" rather than a regular, every-day reenactor.

The event organizers had asked our Captain to un-invite me. They would refund my registration fee, but they hoped the rest of the unit would still participate.

I was confused. I've never had my authenticity standards questioned before so I asked if I could provide photographs of my impression. I sent several to my Captain to forward to the folks from 40 Rounds Events. I also promised my Captain I would not bring a camera or any kind of recording equipment. I would not be a "journalist" at the event, just an artillery private like everyone else.

However, before we even had a chance to argue my case, my refund was issued, and I learned in an email the real reason I was being denied the chance to participate. Here's the email I received from a representative of 40 Rounds Events:

Note: The name of the author of this email has been redacted to protect his privacy.

Note: The name of the author of this email has been redacted to protect his privacy.

This organizer clearly laid out the policy of 40 Rounds Events. I was being un-invited because I am a woman who portrays a soldier. My gender is considered a "modern anachronism" much like wearing a wristwatch or sneakers to an event would be. Being female is not "period accurate" for portraying a Civil War soldier no matter how convincing your impression of a man might be.

40 Rounds Events didn't even ask to see pictures of my impression. Once they found out I was female, I was banned. XX chromosomes not welcome on the battlefield!

Reenacting for 40 Rounds Events is more about authenticity of genetics than it is about authenticity of appearance. Quality of performance, depth of research, accuracy of the uniform, and providing an inclusive immersion experience for participants are lower priorities.

Funnily enough, it seems I also set the standard for all future 40 Rounds Events (that take place on private property). In his email to me, the event organizer sites the following event rule: *** As always, no modern anachronisms. Female reenactors in male roles are prohibited unless specifically documented to the time and units portrayed.***

I would like to mention here that when I registered for the event, I scoured the site's rules so I could follow them to the letter, and I didn't notice this rule in a single place. This rule doesn't seem to have appeared on the 40 Rounds Events website until the organizer sent me this email. Now it appears on every page about authenticity standards.

I don't think I would have missed a rule specifically prohibiting my participation when I signed up, though I could be wrong. It does seem a little odd that the rule is printed in smaller lettering at the very bottom of those pages, though, and is the only portion of those pages with little asterisks around it. I honestly believe it was added after the fact for my personal benefit. 

Now, some folks have argued that women like me should just lie to event organizers, register under a false, male name, and show up anyway. If my impression is good enough, I should be able to pass as a man just like the real female soldiers did.

However, there are several complications involved in hiding your true identity in the modern age for an event that's supposed to be "fun." (By the way, "have fun" is listed as item #7 on the Wauhatchie event website under "Expectation Management.") The major complications if I wanted to hide my gender from the event organizers are safety and liability. You can't give a false name if you want people to be able to get you to the hospital should you get ill or injured, for example.

Since this is a private event, I also can't fight the decision of the organizers. There's no recourse for me as there would be for an event on public land like one sponsored by the National Park Service.

The only complaint I can make is that rescinding an invitation for someone to come and play with you is really in poor taste.

In the end, our Captain made the decision for me, and for the rest of our unit, regarding what we should do. He pulled our entire group (and our original cannon) from the event. The email we received from him about the decision was an appropriate response in my humble opinion.

I have also removed our Captain's name as well as the names of the other folks in our group who received this email to protect their privacy.

I have also removed our Captain's name as well as the names of the other folks in our group who received this email to protect their privacy.

I'm happy that my Captain thinks our unit is "not good enough" to participate in this event. My unit supports me, just like the units of real female Civil War soldiers Sarah Emma Edmonds (alias Frank Thompson) and Jennie Hodgers (alias Albert D.J. Cashier) did for them when their military records were questioned after the war.

As always, my comrades have my back. Female soldiers have a place in Civil War history, and female reenactors have one in our unit.

If this happens to you, I want you to know that you can find a home and have your "Civil War moment" somewhere else. You will live to fight another day!

Your humble servant,

J.R. Hardman