Source: Massacre the History?
First and foremost, if you haven’t taken the time to check out Our Girl History, do so now. Her blog is beyond better than mine can ever hope to be.
But recently, a discussion started over this post. Though Our Girl History (OGH) uses the Boston Massacre event as her example; make no mistake, she references a larger issue in the hobby.
I’m fortunate, both in my modern life and my 18th century life, to be a white male. When looking at 18th century events, military or civilian, you can almost guarantee that a white, 20 year old male was present. So I’m pretty much game to show up to anything.
But looking at the Boston Massacre, there’s only two documentable women present in the “inner mob” (Those closest to the soldiers). The organisers of this event have put SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO much research into this that most academic historians could take a lesson from these people on how to do primary source research and put it to use. Our dear Aunt Kitty once said to me, to paraphrase, that just because children and families like coming to reenactments doesn’t mean it has to be dumbed down. A good impression or event can and should be just as researched and nuanced as any scholarly writing.
OGH isn’t here to pick on the event. She’s looking at the gender divides in the 18th century and how by modern standards, they suck. Thanks to Title IX and numerous other efforts that are lengthy to write out in this post, women no longer have to be kept out of what was considered a “boys only club.” Nor should they have to be.
But when we portray 1770, Title IX doesn’t exist and neither do all the feminist achievements of the 19th and 20th centuries. Instead, we’re left with a heavily gendered world where men play their roles and women play theirs.
Having to exclude someone just because of their gender goes against everything I and a large chunk of the population have been taught. But to our 18th century counterparts, this is nothing new to them. It hurts our 21st century selves to not be able to take part in something in the 21st century because 18th century gender roles say so.
OGH brings up a really big point:
I want to help recreate the events faithfully, but to do that, I should really just stay home.**
I come up against this problem a lot, and it bothers me. A lot. There is a part of me that thinks, “to hell with it. Would it hurt to re-write things a little to depict a slightly fairer past?” and there is another part, of equal size, that thinks the idea of falsifying history for some theoretical, ideological “good” is morally reprehensible. I do not know the solution, I just know that sitting at home, wondering “how the boys are getting along at the event” feels like crap, and so does standing around at the event explaining how “as a woman, I probably would not have actually been here”.
I crave a solution where I have a sense of ownership over the parts of my history that my culture values. However, since those parts tend to be dominated by male figures, I fear I may need to get used to disappointment…
**Don’t worry, I’m not going to. (I’ve lucked out and have a documented “part” to play.)
At what point do we forsake authenticity to appease our 21st century selves? Some may say let the women dress as men to participate. Others may lobby just let the women come in and we ignore it all together. Some say keep to the documentation. Like OGH says, there is no easy answer whatsoever. It ultimately depends upon the person you ask and what time of day it is. The topic is similar to politics. Every reenactor has an opinion on it and no matter how much you argue or how right you think you are, the other person isn’t going to change their views.
On one hand, I can never fully understand how women feel about the issue. This blog post is only me trying to scratch the surface of the surface at the larger issue. On the other, the discussion posts like the one made by OGH start lead to some really big eye openers, for me anyways.
The Boston Massacre has been my dream for a long time. Ever since I got into the hobby 8 years ago, I wanted to take part. At first I never had the right clothing and on top of that, the standards are high. But this is one of the events that inspired me to up my game so I can be a part of it. In no way are the organisers of the event trying to be purposefully exclusive to women. They’ve planned countless activities for the bulk of the day in which women are welcome to attend and take part in. I can’t say I know much about how this event is run and I can only try to imagine how much work has been put into it. From what I’ve seen just from pictures and internet contact, this is the most well planned, well documented, and highest standard event I will ever take part in.