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

On the Problem of Bathrooms

On The 4th of July, two fellow female soldier reenactors invited me to the Antietam National Battlefield Park where they volunteer so we could watch the fireworks together. We witnessed the Maryland Symphony Orchestra play all sorts of patriotic songs including the 1812 Overture complete with cannon fire, which was exceptionally wonderful for all of us because we have all been “fighting” on cannon crews as reenactors for quite a while. We have a special love for the big guns!

However, during our several-hour visit to the park, I did end up having to use the facilities to relieve myself as it was extremely hot and I had been drinking tons of water all day. It was on our visit to the restroom in that battlefield park, that one of my fellow ladies in arms informed me that the lavatory we were visiting was THE “Lauren Cook Memorial Bathroom!” Well, it’s not really called that, but that was their nickname for it.

I observed that the LCMB was completely non-descript, not much to notice at all. There was no plaque out in front denoting a special honor, and there were no features that could have distinguished the room from any other ladies’ room one might visit. However, because I know the history of that park and of Lauren Cook’s rather infamous trip to that bathroom, I still found it to be one of the most exciting trips to the toilet I have ever taken in my life!

Let me explain this history to you so you can also understand the sheer importance of that bathroom. Lauren Cook Wike (formerly Lauren Cook Burgess) was a female reenactor who portrayed a soldier, just like me! In 1989, she visited the Antietam Battlefield Park with her unit to perform in a living history program where she was to play a wounded soldier.  Everything seemed to be going fine for her and the unit until Lauren had to use the bathroom. She entered the ladies’ room in her male uniform attire, and upon exiting, she was confronted by a park ranger who told her that she had to leave. Why? Well, they didn’t allow female reenactors in uniform at their park.

Ms. Cook ended up fighting and winning a lawsuit on the basis of gender discrimination because she didn’t want to be removed from future events just because she was a woman. She knew that several women fought in the Civil War battle that took place at that very park! She also loved that park, and when I spoke to her she made it very clear that she did NOT want to say any disparaging remarks about one of her favorite battlefields. After visiting there, I can agree. The Antietam Battlefield is richly historic and also gorgeous!

Winning that lawsuit, however, completetly changed reenacting for the rest of us women! It forced the Park Service to create new regulations that would allow women to reenact as soldiers in any events on public land or open to spectators. That’s why that bathroom is so important to me. What happened there made Ms. Cook take a stand for female reenactors everywhere!

Now that you know the history, though, let me tell you, it’s still a very non-descript bathroom. I was pretty shocked after going inside how normal it was. It was almost disappointing. I don’t know why, but I was expecting fanfare of some kind, fireworks like there were outside. Maybe there SHOULD be a plaque!

But that bathroom is not where the problem of bathrooms for female reenactors trying to portray soldiers ends, oh no!

Another problem that affects women in military reenacting is that people seem to take issue with women urinating outside, which is not as big of a problem for men. At an event in Florida, I once heard a soldier yell, “Okay, guys, go water the trees before battle!” I was really confused until I saw a bunch of the guys take a few steps out behind the trees to go pee.

However, since I can’t pee standing up or without exposing my nether regions, if I wanted to “water the trees,” I’d need a device to prevent my trousers from getting soaked through. FYI, there IS a device to do that, there’s more than one actually. Two “popular” brands include the GoGirl and the Shewee. Basically, these devices are just urine funnels. Trust me, the user reviews are hilariously excellent. You should check them out on YouTube!

I’ve always thought about getting one of those to really try to pull off the “I’m a man” thing at reenactments, but most of them come in a very feminine pink or purple color. Way to make it obvious, device manufacturers!

Is there always going to be one thing that separates the women from the men? How am I supposed to be really convincing if I can’t even pee like everyone else? And what am I supposed to do when we’re in the middle of the woods with no toilet, no port-a-potty, and no really, really big trees around when I really have to go?

All of these questions got me to thinking: What would women have done about bodily functions back in Victorian times if they were trying to pass as men? How would they be discreet enough to never have to pee around anyone else, especially when everyone is camped out together? From my research, I’ve come to understand that people were more modest back then than they are now so they didn’t tend to urinate in “public” as often. I’ve been told it would have been relatively easy for a man to claim he was uncomfortable peeing with the guys, and just go off in the woods to do it by himself. A woman passing as a man probably could have gone off into the woods to urinate alone, relieving her of more than her need to pee.

I guess the point of all this is that the ideas we explore as reenactors, we might never think about if we didn’t have to experience at least somewhat of a similar situation to the real people who lived in the 1800’s.

But then I thought, there are people out there today that experience these problems with gender-divided bathrooms on a day-to-day basis: transgendered people and intersex people! This issue is more current than ever RIGHT NOW!

At an event in small-town Pennsylvania, I surprised a woman in a bathroom when she saw me in my uniform, assumed I was a man, and promptly freaked out that she might be in the wrong bathroom. I know that passing as a man when I’m in uniform is the idea, but I found I could easily explain to her in my feminine-sounding voice that, no, she wasn’t confused, I’m really a woman, and she was in the correct bathroom for her. We even laughed together about it afterward, and it started a short conversation about women disguising themselves as soldiers during the real Civil War, turning an awkward moment into a teaching moment!

However, if I were a transman forced to use the women’s restroom like some transmen in certain states might be if laws are passed requiring people to use the bathroom that corresponds to the gender they were assigned at birth, this wouldn’t be so funny. I might have to explain to a complete stranger that although I present myself as a man and am recognized as a man, I was assigned a different gender at birth. I might have to lie and tell someone that I’m female to assuage their fears but deny myself and my identity. This wouldn’t be awkward but funny; it would probably be awkward and demeaning. In certain cases, I might just wait until I could go to the bathroom alone so as not to have to deal with the issue all together, which might be awful for my sense of self-worth as well as my bladder.

You should check out the hashtag #weneedtopee for info on a protest being conducted by transgender activist, Michael Hughes, that discusses this issue in a very easy-to-understand way.

All in all, the problem of bathrooms pervades history. We hope to explore it thoroughly in the Reenactress movie, and we hope you can’t wait to see what we discover.

Stay tuned!