The Vandals at the Gates

By Jonah Begone

Since it is the male portion of the Camp Chase Gazette readership I wish to address at this time, I will excuse the ladies. You may withdraw to the parlor, boudoir or snuggery, wherever you wish, but you must now leave us. (Rustling of crinoline, some resentful looks - to no avail - and a gentle breeze as yards of fabric and the scent of perfume removes itself from the dining room.) Secure the doors. Mal, pass the cigars around if you like; Reb, please hand me that can of Vernors from the cooler, would you? Thank you. (Jonah takes a mighty swig of the ginger beer and swallows without choking fits, provoking looks of admiration from among the men, especially the Michiganders.) Ah, that's better. Spike, remember that "He-Man Women-Haters Club" sign I had you letter? Remove it from the wrapping and hang it next to that print of Bedford Forrest. I hereby call us to session. Put away those flasks - no liquor, boys. I wish you to be attentive to my words. It is reason and understanding I seek, not the riotous, vomiting-into-the-campfire behavior we normally display at events. Are you with me? (General nodding of assent.) Good.

What I'm about to say may remind you of the scene in West Side Story, where Riff gathers the Jets and asks what's to be done about the incursions of the Sharks into their turf, but that cannot be avoided. Boys, we are under siege, and are suffering from a common enemy: women. And ourselves. The venerated elders among us remember the happy days of the Sixties, Seventies and early Eighties, when reenacting was almost exclusively a male province and men weren't concerned with fairness, law suits or what women may think of us. (Knowing smiles among the older members.) Oh, sure, we kept up and developed that orthodoxy of "authenticity" to camouflage the fact that we're really reenacting the dirt clod battles of our boyhood and not the battles of the Civil War, but the situation has pressed itself onto us and we must now act.

The women are taking over and we are losing one of the last great bastions of male sanctuary: The Hobby.

I know, yes, Jonah knows, that many of you do not see this as a problem. I have read your fawning, conciliatory words in the reenacting literature and am aware of your situation: raised in the post-feminist era, you seek the approbation of women over the affirmation of your male nature. In short, you seek approval. This is natural. As Tim Allen once pointed out, men often do things for women they'd rather not do to get women to do things they'd rather not do, and to a degree this is acceptable. But brethren, you are overdoing it.

Take that gang of storm-trooping female musketmen down the block, for instance. (The ones making a noise like thousands of Vandals at the gates of Rome.) You have pathetically chanted the mantra of authenticity, that as long as they comport themselves as men without being caught out, that they're free to reenact in our midst. Gents, if I needed to be defended in a court of law, you'd be the very last legal bright-lights I'd select. Abandon this silly line of defense. Women have logically and correctly pointed out that most of you are in some way pathetically unauthentic yourselves, and are in no position to judge or point accusing digits. I will refrain from using the f-word here; I know how sensitive most of you are and see no reason to unnecessarily provoke you. (Mutterings of "Hear, hear," etc.) As for me, The Hobby is one- hundred percent recreational, and I do not shrink from being labeled with the f-word - but I digress.

We all know women need their space away from men - they know it too, and have the bal.., ahem!, courage to insist upon it. (After all, you don't read of the Justice Department coming to grips with all-female colleges. No politician in his right mind wants to alienate more than half of the electorate.) Fairness means little to them. There's a gender war going on, they know it, and have had their rhetorical sleeves rolled up to wage it upon us for some time. What's more, they have us all in rout. Even as we speak, our brethren in other fields of (reenacted) battles are fleeing in disorder past the funnel cake stands and porta-potties. It's high time we took up another line of defense. Abandon the argument of authenticity, drop the Alan Alda-ish nice guy first person impression, dump the obliging 90's thought-exercises of "presenting living history." We need our space, too! (And I promise to whip the first man in the room who suggests this is anything like "living space." I don't do World War II impressions.)

The British - a supremely sensible race - have long understood the worth of the private club, a leather and dust-filled male space, free of floral prints, little tole-painted wooden things or potpourri. There's even a word for it: a "growlery," where men go to growl. Boys, reenacting used to be our growlery, but we are accommodating women in taking it away from us. This need not be, and ought not to be! Women need not be accepted where they are not wanted. For instance, I, a Yank, would not presume to walk unmolested in a Reb camp - and I expect the opposite is true in a Yank camp.

I see your anxious looks, your minds reeling with the force and originality of what I am saying. Why, you've never read this in reenacting literature or discussed it around the campfire, have you? Of course not. And why? Because you are afraid of what the women may say and think of you. Forget that. I have observed that women, no matter what lip service they pay to sensitivity, do not want men to do poor impressions of women. They want men to be men. So fear not. Here's the plan, huddle up. (Phew. Tiny, I don't care how authentic you think you ought to smell - I want that sack coat dry cleaned by the next event!)

When a female approaches your unit with lofty plans to appear at an event, dressed ridiculously in the clothing of men, deny her. She has no legal right to demand to be where she is not wanted. Ignore her threats of legal retaliation - the courts have long ago upheld private citizens their freedom of association. Do not mewl some easily-defeated argument of authenticity - especially if you are overweight, old or pony-tailed. Boldly face the woman and state that your Board of Governors, Trustees, Steering Committee or simply "the guys in the unit" have decided against women in the ranks. Why? 1) We are trying to replicate the male-exclusive feeling of being in a combat zone. When women are present, the differences are subtle but there nonetheless. It puts a finger smear onto our window into the past. 2) Let's be real: there isn't a woman born who can pull off the old "six foot rule." (If my little kids can always spot the female in the ranks, anyone else with anything like normal vision can.) 3) I don't have to give you an excuse. Unless you want to cook, darn and hold tea socials, hit the road, sister.

There. Catch my drift? Savvy? Good. Are we reenactors men, or persons? ("Men!" Men!") Shall we shun the fight, or engage in it with bayonets fixed? ("Bayonets fixed!" "Bayonets fixed!") Do we possess the courage of our fathers? ("Courage! Courage!") WILL YOU FOLLOW WHERE I LEAD? ("Jonah! Jonah! Jonah!") It is well. Open the doors, the ladies await us!

No, dear. Of course not. I know I agreed to look at furniture that weekend. I'll take the Begone children to McDonald's for lunch during your trip to Macy's with Pam, no problem. Oh, is that where my shirts were? Sorry, I didn't see them. Did I leave it up again? I apologize. I'll put it down next time after I'm done. Yes, I know how hard it is for you to keep all three kids next weekend - I'll not do that particular mega-event, okay? Oh, you want to come with me this time? Uh...