It never fails. I’m participating in a pirate festival dressed as a pirate, complete with cutlass at my side and pistol in my belt, and some guy will ask me if I’m a wench. I usually respond, “Do I look like I’m about to serve you a beer?”
As you can see, I don’t like being called a wench. I’m a pirate. What do you call a female pirate you might ask? A pirate.
It is possible that the man heard that women weren’t allowed on board ships because they were considered bad luck and it is possible that he did not know that there were several female pirates. In his ignorance he just went on the assumption that any woman near pirates is a wench—her only purpose to serve pirates’ needs.
Even excusing the lack of knowledge, I find it off putting that in post women’s lib America the first thing that would pop into a person’s mind when they see a woman in a pirate outfit is a servant. When I’m called a wench I want to look at a calendar to make sure the year is 2012 and not 1950. Sexism is dying a long, slow death.
Navigating a ren faire is tricky. There are women who have chosen to be wenches. But a woman can also be a heavy weapons fighter, a fencer, or participates in the joust. So you might want to be careful who you call a wench. A safe bet would be to address a woman you don’t know as milady.
Are there women in pirate groups who portray wenches? I’m sure there are. (I have nothing against a woman who chooses to be a wench that is her choice. I don’t like the assumption that all women are wenches.) Are there female pirates who don’t mind being called wenches? Probably. Keep in mind, that like a ren faire, that “wench” might know how to handle a pistol and cutlass…ye be warned.
One last thing, we may never know how many women, disguised as men, were pirates. Those who did endured the hardship of life at sea not to be servants but for a chance to rise above their lowly status, a chance for a better life. So please don’t disrespect their courage by assuming every female you see at a pirate festival is a wench.