May 05, 2006

That's the way it was.

Since Ktreva and I are huge history buffs as well as re-enactors, we enjoy a reality series done by PBS. They take people from various aspects of life, assign different roles and place them in a historical setting. The people are supposed to work together in their historically based roles to meet a pre-assigned objective. Frontier House was set in 1883 Montana Territory, the families in this episode where supposed to make a functioning community that would survive the winter. Colonial House was set in 1628 New England. The participants where supposed to make a colony that would not only survive the winter, but also be profitable to the company that funded the expedition. Texas Ranch House was set in 1867, post civil war, Texas (duh!). They where supposed to make a profitable functioning Texas ranch.

People were assigned roles based on this historical norm in their time period. They were supposed to live life and work as they would in the year they were portraying. This includes laws, social norms and tasks. As a re-enactor I would love to take the 2-3 months off of work to do something like this. Ktreva and I have both talked about it; unfortunately we have a family and just don’t see us giving up good jobs to go re-enact for 3 months straight. That and I honestly don’t think they would pick us. We have way too much experience in “primitive living.” The shows are great as you get to see people’s reaction to life in the past. We both have one problem with these shows.

The participants don’t seem to get the concept, especially the women. (No offense ladies, but they don’t.)

People have a hard time setting aside their 21st century beliefs to accurately portray their roles. Work doesn’t get done or projects are handled with a modern twist. This doesn’t bother me, but I feel they are missing out on the actual experience. What bothers me is when people want to shun the entire project. IE, you have people in 1628 refusing to go to church and admitting they are atheists, people admitting they are gay or women refusing to wear hats. It’s 1628; you would have been outcasts, severely punished and more likely executed for these transgressions. In all three you have women walking around in what would be their underwear doing daily tasks. You had men that would be disrespectful to people of higher station. They would take the women and children into what would be considered hostile situations, like negotiating with the natives.

What really bothers me are the women. In every episode it is the women that start the breakdown of the project. Why? Because they don’t like the traditional roles they had to portray. They get upset because the men get to ride horses, go hunting, wrangle cattle, and do all the other romanticized historical tasks. The women want to do these same things and feel it is unfair. They don’t want to do the cooking, cleaning, sewing, gardening, etc that was a common and necessary part of life back then. They complain that life isn’t fair and that the guys are being chauvinistic. They tend to try to take on more authoritarian roles in the communities and resent when they aren’t being listened to.

Well, I hate to break it to you ladies; life back then wasn’t fair. The point of these projects isn’t to give a woman a chance to experience life as a cowboy, explorer, soldier or hunter. It’s an exercise on seeing how life was like back then. Women at these time periods where chattel. Even in 1883 there was no equal rights for women. Now, before I have some of my female readers go off on me, I’m not saying this is right. It’s just how life was back then. Just like you’re not going to have a Black military officer in 1867 Texas, you are not going to have a female cowboy.

About now the militant panty brigade is going to say, “Well there where female cowboys, hunters, explorers etc…” To which I will respond, there are very limited examples of this. For every female you find in a non-traditional role, I’ll find a couple million examples of them being in a traditional role. These females are the extremely rare anomaly, not the norm. Triplets are more common then they were.

What I find most amusing is that I run into this problem when we re-enact. We’ve run across female warriors, soldiers, trappers, traders and craftsman (These examples do not include merchants that are selling actual wares to re-enactors and public, I’m referring to people that are trying to portray a historical character.) I was at a battle a couple years ago where there were at least 10 females on the battlefield (Not even plausibly disguised) fighting. They weren’t needed, they just wanted to get out there and every single one of them gave the same example of a documented case of a woman who disguised herself as a man to fight. What they left out was that she was hung shortly after being discovered because she falsely represented herself.

History isn’t pretty. In fact can be down right ugly, and I’m not even talking about Grau and I wearing kilts in a high wind. If you’re going to do something like these shows or re-enact, at least try to do it right. If you don’t like the historical role, too bad, you volunteered.

Posted by Contagion in Rants and Raves at May 5, 2006 08:12 PM | TrackBack

I am so glad I am alive right now. When my boys eventually drag me off to camping, I want bug spray, water in bottles and all the other comforts of home. Unlike those idiot women who 'volunteer' to do the old days. First off, if those women truly lived like they did back then, they would NOT have time to bitch and complain. They would be exhausted at the end of the day and sleep the night. They wouldn't wonder what their hubby was doing and if it was 'more fun'. Ugh. Ok, I had to let loose because I watch those shows as well... and it just amazes me. I am so happy to have a vacuum cleaner, dish washer, stores to buy clothes and more.

Posted by: vw bug at May 6, 2006 07:24 AM

"life back then wasn’t fair"

You mean it's fair now? Damn.

"Grau and I wearing kilts in a high wind"

Oh, I did NOT need that one.

Posted by: Ogre at May 9, 2006 01:07 PM

"Fair" is a complexion, and that's all it is.

Posted by: Wes at May 10, 2006 09:34 AM