Don't Call Me a Wench!

My take on the word wench.

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.

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Lisa Patterson Lay July 20, 2012 at 12:41 PM
Love it! And were there any closeted male pirates who secretly wished they were wenches? I agree with your eloquent statement that sexism's demise is taking way too long. Wench? Surely they can't be serious. And as Leslie Nielsen said, "I am serious. And don't call me Shirley. Or wench."
Frances Avnet July 20, 2012 at 02:44 PM
Ahoy Lisa, Thank you for your comment. To answer your question: I'm certain that there were closed male pirates, just as they are/were closeted males in all segments of society. I never read the book but, Sodomy and the Pirate Tradition: English Sea Rovers in the Seventeenth Century Caribbean by Barry Richard Burg, takes a look at this issue.
Eileen Coles July 20, 2012 at 03:52 PM
This mentality is associated with the effort extended by the British, which began during the reign of King Henry the Eighth, to rework the brewing profession into one run entirely by and for the benefit of men. The British Navy and it's sanctioned privateers all got a daily tot of alcohol, which was usually either rum or ale. The increased demand was noted by Britain's war profiteers who began to enforce the usage of hops, a plant difficult to import and grow locally in Britain. Britain's proud and financially independent brewsters - (female brewers) were eventually driven out of the business of brewing by draconian and unjust legislation, and demoted into mere servers of the product - the "wench". In some venues they were not even allowed to enter the pub at all - the best known remnant of this supremely sexist tradition was seen as late as the 1970s in our own NYC based pub McSorley's. Reference here: http://www.amazon.com/Ale-Beer-Brewsters-England-1300-1600/dp/0195073908
Lisa Patterson Lay July 20, 2012 at 10:01 PM
Wow! Thanks Eileen! I am not a student of history but your information is very interesting. I am glad I live now as opposed to then.
Frances Avnet July 21, 2012 at 03:36 AM
Well Met Eileen, Thank you for your erudite comment. I learned from it.


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