Good Example Of Women Pirates Essay

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Women, Vehicles, Life, Ship, Lifestyle, Men, Pirates, Love

Pages: 4

Words: 1100

Published: 2021/02/26

Piracy has been romanticized in both literature and in the Twentieth Century in film. Pirates are viewed as swashbucklers, who fought and robbed and lived a glamourous life of independence and wealth out at sea. In truth, piracy was a dirty and difficult lifestyle. It meant a months at sea, traveling from port to port, facing injury and death with every attack on another ship. Tedious periods of boredom were coupled with highly stressful encounters of the criminal sort. It is historically documented that many women ended up living the pirate’s life for various reasons. The life of a pirate satisfied the wants and needs of women for several reasons: financial; a sense of independence and romantic.
Female pirates such as Cheng I Sao and Granuaile were exceptions among women pirates. The commanded their own ships only because they came from families or marriages with wealth and power. Women such as these were able to command a ship for a period because of their connections. In the case of Cheng I Sao, she took over command of her ship from her dead husband (Stanley 154).
The role of women was to marry, have children and keep house. Women did not typically work unless the family was extremely poor or for some unfortunate circumstance she was alone in the world. Career choices were severely restricted for these women. Circumstances such as becoming a widow, being very poor, being an outcast of society left women in a position to fend for themselves. Women who worked as prostitutes, especially in ports and near the docks were in close proximity not only to the ships but to the crews and had an understanding of the lifestyle. The opportunity to work on a ship was a much brighter option that working the rest of her life as a prostitute. Often work on more legitimate ships such as laundresses, cooks and prostitutes would offer the opportunity to jump ship and work more independently on a pirate ship. Besides working in a support capacity, if a woman was able to deceive her way or earn her way into the ranks as one of the seamen, the booty collected from their criminal activities was much more appealing than a life of washing other people’s clothes. A feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment would surely be a motivating source in this venture (Stanley 160-161).
Women who chose the life of piracy felt a sense of independence and freedom that they could not have had if they remained in expected roles at home. The ability to travel many times between continents and countries and earn their own money provided a sense of self-sufficiency for female pirates. There was no need for these women to succumb to society’s perceptions and expected roles.
Some many argue that women on pirate ships often became nothing more than sex slaves to the crew or a particular lover and had no more freedom than any other woman. This does not seem to be a completely valid point. Men would not want to travel and plunder with a woman by his side who could not defend herself and be a proactive part of the ship’s functioning, nor would the crew stand for it. Women aboard boats was considered bad luck, so a woman had to prove herself capable. Ann Bonny and Mary Read were strong and capable. They were the first to jump into battle and often demonstrated greater courage than some of their shipmates. People familiar with them noted that they were not held on their ship by force, they were willing and freely made the choice to be a part of the ship and their pirating activities. There are accounts of women (and men) who were brutalized when they were kept as hostages or prisoners on pirate ships. Black women were especially harshly treated (Stanley 165). These are very different circumstances and cannot be applied to the women who freely joined a pirate crew.
Not all women were open about their gender or sexuality. Many women dressed as men in order to become a part of the crew. It is uncertain whether the men knew that their crewmate was indeed a woman at first glance or discovered the fact later. Some may maintain that women could hide in plain sight if they were dressed as such, this fact is hard to digest. There are too many physical and behavioral attributes that would indicate to the crew that their latest recruit was in fact a female. Stanley makes the claim that wearing men’s clothing, especially breeches was empowering to women. A woman could not work on a vessel successfully dressed in a corset and layers of long skirts. To perform the duties associated with work on a ship breeches were the necessary uniform. Stanley argues that breeches in fact were a uniform that helped the women to fit into the small pirate society on the ship (165). Read and Bonny dressed in pants or breeches during confrontational exercises but at other times would dress in more feminine attire. Another reason besides the practical, was many women who became pirates were cross dressers or lesbians.
In addition to the dress, Stanley cites that body language was also important for a female pirate. She had to behave masculine and tough. She could not be easily intimidated and had to endure constant harassment. By defending herself and performing her job, in addition to the male attire, a female pirate might be able to live a decent life in the ship (165).
The lesbian lifestyle was truly misunderstood by society during these centuries. It was not frowned upon or condoned, people just could not comprehend its existence. Women who discovered that they were attracted to other women, identified with the male gender at that time. The situation was not a clearly understood. Pirate ships were more tolerant than any other place in society towards any kind of lifestyle, including lesbianism. For women who were partial to cross-dressing as a way of life, there was no punishment or judgement on pirate ships.

On occasion, a romantic entanglement took women out to sea with their lover or husband.

Several captains had their mistresses or wives with them on board their ships. Historical documentation pertaining to their role on the ships is spotty and incomplete. Some are viewed as simply the wife or lover and did not have a role in the ship’s management, others were considered a true partner to the captain and intervened in the ship’s operations (Stanley 156). Cheng I Sao entered the world of piracy through her relationship with her husband as well. Many women followed men that they loved out to see. The reasons are many: they could be with their lover or husband; the life at sea was appealing and they could experience the excitement and danger together. Critics often cite that the women who were kept on board pirate ships where nothing more than prostitutes or hostages. Their presence was obviously not a consensual relationship.
The pirate’s life for many women meant an escape. The liberation that came with their escape from a difficult and dull life. The freedom to follow the man she loved and participate in a way of life that would otherwise be unattainable was empowering. Lesbians easily fit into the life of a pirate without judgement and could life a less complicated life than they could at home. Women could earn a decent living which they never could have done working the rest of their lives as a prostitute or laundress. Although an unconventional life choice, piracy empowered and liberated many women in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Works Cited

Stanley, Jo, ed. Bold in Her Britches: Women Pirates across the Ages. San Francisco: Pandora,
1995, 153-166

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