bride_of_the_atom: (Default)
[personal profile] bride_of_the_atom posting in [community profile] monstrous_regiment

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?

Date: 2011-05-29 07:15 pm (UTC)
legionseagle: (Default)
From: [personal profile] legionseagle
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)

My understanding also that it was to

Date: 2011-05-30 02:07 am (UTC)
mouseworks: A crop of an orchid shot taken with a Nikon 105 macro lens (Default)
From: [personal profile] mouseworks
see how many legs there were in the hammock in question and to get the whores to leave the ship before it set off.

Re: My understanding also that it was to

Date: 2011-05-30 08:26 am (UTC)
legionseagle: (Default)
From: [personal profile] legionseagle
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.

Re: My understanding also that it was to

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

Date: 2011-06-02 06:18 am (UTC)
legionseagle: (Default)
From: [personal profile] legionseagle
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.


The Monstrous Regiment of Women

May 2011


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