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Female Cabin Boy

This tag indicates a specific literary motif where a woman takes on male disguise to take up a nautical profession. The motif shades more generally into disguise for any sort of martial profession. Although stories and songs employing this motif may tease at homoerotic potential (both ff and mm) there is almost always a clearly heterosexual resolution.

LHMP entry

Somewhat similarly to Dugaw’s book on gender disguise in military contexts in the early modern period (both in life and literature), this book examines the phenomenon of persons born as women who took up military careers as men, whether out of patriotism, as one facet of a transgender identity, from some other desperate need, or a combination thereof. The book is copiously illustrated, including many photographs of the more modern subjects who are included.

Jelinek has collected information about a surprisingly large number of gender-masquerade autobiographies, covering the 17-20th centuries and focused on the English-speaking world (likely due to the reseracher’s own interests). The bibliography at the end lists 18 publications, covering 17 different individuals, of whom 13 are discussed in detail in the article. As a context for the material, Jelinek notes motifs of women disguised as men in literature , including several works by William Shakespeare and Margaret Cavendish.

There are no identifiably female authors in this set. Several works are anonymous, but unlikely to be by female authors. Sappho continues to be a theme, with approaches that range from a positive interpretation of her homoerotic themes to a satirical portrayal of her invention of lesbianism. Out and out pornography is well represented, presenting sex between women for the male gaze, in one case disguised as condemnation. And we have a couple examples of the blurring of gender categories in ways that could be interpreted as homoerotic (among other interpretations).

Images of women-loving-women were established enough in 16th century England to appear as a character type that was not so much defined as simply assumed, and therefore was available for reference both explicitly and obliquely. Within this general type, there were clear distinctions made between the motifs of desire between women and sexual acts between women. This chapter explores evidence for this character type in non-dramatic sources that were available to early modern English playwrights and their audiences.

There are as many as 80 early modern dramatic works that feature cross-dressed heroines, with overt motivations ranging from following a (male) lover, avoiding rape, scandal, or death, traveling freely, or as a deliberate expression of gender non-conformity. In roughly 30 of these plays (written between 1580 and 1660), the cross-dressing also precipitates female homoerotic desire in some fashion. This raises the question of how and why this motif was employed.

(by Rose Fox)

Chapter 4 is "Classic Amazons: Performing Gender in Goethe's Weimar." Weimar was small and poor, far from major trade routes, with an enormous "dominating" palace. Krimmer doesn't mince words, drawing an analogy between the “great palace” and “shabby town” and the “acclaim for Weimar's male writers” versus the “obscurity of Weimar's female writers”. "In order fully to understand the gender concepts inherent in Weimar Classicism, we must read canonical works alongside marginalized texts by women writers of the time."

Chapter 5

Rather than arising from male fantasies as some suggest, the ballads are rooted in actual working class experience. Three features are key contributors to the context in which they arose. There was a general expectation of physical strength and toughness from working-class women. There was a context of near constant warfare and the routine participation of women in military contexts, as well as a somewhat less rigid and regimented structure to the military. And there was a general preoccupation with disguise and cross-dressing.

Chapter 5: Condemnation and Praise

Two extremes show the range of reactions to women passing as male soldiers who were discovered only after death. Aal the Dragoon was handed over for medical uses (a fate reserved for serious criminals) and ended as a taxidermy display. Trijntje Simons (serving as Simon Poort) was buried with full military honors with both military and civic dignitaries in attendance.

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