bride_of_the_atom: (Default)
Bride of the Atom ([personal profile] bride_of_the_atom) wrote in [community profile] monstrous_regiment2011-05-29 08:18 pm

"Show a leg there!"


I have a kind of latent fascination for women who presented themselves as men in order to join the armed forces (or other exclusively male circles) throughout history. I say "latent" fascination because I've never really been able to delve into the subject, but keep thinking that I'd like to whenever I hear or read about one of those women. Does anybody here know about good places to start? Books, webpages?

There's also a related thing that has had me wondering for some time. As far as I understand, women disguised as men weren't that enormously uncommon in the armies of, say, 16th to 19th century Europe, but very, very rare in the navies. Being a fan of naval fiction, I'm assuming that the crowded environment and lack of privacy made it considerably more difficult to hide one's physical gender aboard a ship. The question I was wondering if anybody can answer, though, is this: I've been told that "show a leg" originally meant literally that - an order to the seamen to stick one leg out of their hammocks so any disguised women among them could be found. To me, it seems improbable and rings of the contemporary delusion that women's bodies are hairless by nature. Does anybody have any interesting ideas, or even better, facts about this?
legionseagle: (Default)

[personal profile] legionseagle 2011-05-29 07:15 pm (UTC)(link)
Actually, there were surprisingly numbers of women aboard at the relevant period; when one woman applied for the medal given to all participants in the great Napoleonic sea battles from the Nile onwards she was refused on the basis that the Admiralty would be deluged by similar requests.

It's also worth looking up Mary Lacy, the female shipwright, whose biography is available from the Greenwich Maritime museum.

My understanding about "show a leg" was that it wasn't to find disguised women sailors on the payroll, but to sort out the actual sailors from the whores (who weren't expected to hand, reef or steer)
mouseworks: A crop of an orchid shot taken with a Nikon 105 macro lens (Default)

My understanding also that it was to

[personal profile] mouseworks 2011-05-30 02:07 am (UTC)(link)
see how many legs there were in the hammock in question and to get the whores to leave the ship before it set off.
legionseagle: (Default)

Re: My understanding also that it was to

[personal profile] legionseagle 2011-05-30 08:26 am (UTC)(link)
I have to say, the idea of sex in a hammock strikes me as involving some pretty implausible contortions, but I suppose practice makes perfect.
legionseagle: (Default)

Re: My understanding also that it was to

[personal profile] legionseagle 2011-06-02 05:44 am (UTC)(link)
I read The Picts and the Martyrs at an early age, which certainly impressed on me that hammocks were chancy things.
legionseagle: (Default)

[personal profile] legionseagle 2011-06-02 06:18 am (UTC)(link)
O'Brien is very different from CS Forester, in my view on that side (after all, he doesn't just have the two little girls rescued from the smallpox island pressed into service as loblolly girls, he does actually have a female member of the crew in some of the later books, again as a surgeon's assistant). What Forester appears to do is project an early 20th century mindset (and the naval tradition going with it) back onto the 18th/early 19th century and other authors copy Forester. If you read Jane Austen, by contrast, you'll see that inferentially Mrs Croft must have been at sea during the battle of Trafalgar, and one can bet that she rolled up her sleeves and went down to assist the surgeon.
shadowvalkyrie: (Me)

[personal profile] shadowvalkyrie 2011-05-29 07:54 pm (UTC)(link)
A good and enjoyable read to get a first general overview on women disguised as men in the military is Julie Wheelwright's Amazons and Military Maids.

More specialised is Rudolf Dekker and Lotte van de Pol's The Tradition of Female Transvestism in Early Modern Europe, that, iirc, deals primarily, but not exclusively with the Dutch navy.

I don't remember "show a leg" being in either, though, but it's been a while since I read them.

Good luck with your research!
thistleburr: A burr from a burdock thistle. (Default)

[personal profile] thistleburr 2011-06-17 08:16 pm (UTC)(link)
Thanks for suggesting these. I picked up your first suggestion and I'm really enjoying it.
sharpiefan: Tall ship, sailors in the rigging (Sailors aloft)

[personal profile] sharpiefan 2011-05-30 06:48 pm (UTC)(link)
As far as I'm aware, 'show a leg' was used in port when the ship was open to wives and sweethearts. When men were required to turn out for duty, the bosun's mates went through the berth-deck calling 'show a leg'. A woman's leg entitled its owner to stay in the hammock rather than getting turned out unceremoniously to go on watch.

And I think it's partly because the sailors of the time were so often barefoot; a woman wouldn't have the sort of dirty tar-stained feet of a sailor. (As well as likely having a more shapely leg).
legionseagle: (Default)

[personal profile] legionseagle 2011-06-02 06:47 am (UTC)(link)
Presumably the woman didn't actually want to be carried off to sea for the next six months, though, so f the boat were about to leave port it was useful to know about it.

There's a story about a fire breaking out at sea and four hitherto unknown women appearing, fighting the fire, and vanishing again when the danger had passed. So female stowaways do seem to have occurred, and looking up the etymology of the phrase "son of a gun" is also useful.
matgb: Artwork of 19th century upper class anarchist, text: MatGB (Default)

[personal profile] matgb 2011-08-12 03:40 am (UTC)(link)
K, I was clicking links, and this actually interests me from a different angle.

Ages ago, I read an article talking about various sayings with a nautical origin. Unfortunately I don't know where it was, if it wa sonline or in print, and have never found it again. However, I do recall one thing.

"Son of a gun" refers to a child born on ship, during battle. The article made it clear that women on board ship was fairly common, and not just as prostitutes but as serving ratings. Majority male, yes, but not exclusively.

I always mean to do a lot more digging on it, but never have got around to it. The Wiki article is, well, unsatisfying, as is the Snopes.