And after the cross-dressed cabin boys and whaling wives? Possible futures for women’s maritime historiography

And after the cross-dressed cabin boys and whaling wives? Possible futures for women’s maritime historiography

Stanley, Jo

Women’s maritime historiography – the study of women and gender relations in relation to the sea – is part of maritime history, women’s studies and gender studies. ‘Gender’ is taken to mean differences that are socially constructed, not biological in origin, as is someone’s sex . This article1 deals with both the putting of women into the historical account and the analysis of the gendered discourses and images pertaining to the sea, ships, sailing and coastal zones. It looks both at the labour history of female workers on ship and in port, and at the wider questions of women’s gendered relationships with the sea, such as travel by sea, leisure on the ocean and all aspects of gendered maritime history.

The focus here is on the study of women and gender involved in this one particular form of transportation, rather than within more general contexts such as gendered access to mobility. The primary topic is representational practices, their history and possible future. This is not an article on the seafaring and coastal women who are themselves participants in these practices. Summaries of works about these women, such as stewardesses, naval personnel, nurses, ship’s stenographers and dockers, are available elsewhere.2 This article looks at form: how future works of maritime historiography might usefully develop. It seeks to highlight possible changes in subsequent representations of women’s relations with the sea, including the gendered discourse about those relations. Part one summarises the gains and challenges made in maritime historiography. Part two explores proposals for some new conceptual approaches.

Gains and challenges


In the academy, museums and the wider world – including television, radio, community projects and art – ‘malestream’ or gender-blind maritime historiography has made three major steps in the last thirty years. Firstly, it has put sociological and labour history into a history that was predominantly naval and neglected ships as peopled organisations ordered according to particular sets of rules that connect with the shore societies from which they sprang.3 Some writers on the subject have further to go in becoming aware that masculinist language conceals complexity, denies agency, produces obfuscation and reproduces inequality; it creates a still incomplete history.

However, maritime history now understands the ship as not just a vehicle but as a site that includes workers and passengers;a situation that has a social structure with orders, codes and systems that merit investigation. This link-up with labour history has been separately paralleled by studies of women workers ashore. Such developments have prepared the way for maritime workforce studies. They increasingly include overlooked sections of the work force such as women, lesbian, gay, bisexual seafarers and those of many races and cultures.4

In the second place maritime historiography has recently included women seafarers as subjects of study, for example whaling and naval wives, crossdressed cabin boys and pirates. Most attention has been given to the nineteenth century and to the English and American navies. For example, in the last nine years there have been a number of articles5 and five key books6 focusing on women seafarers. There is overlap between the genres of `women’s history’ (meaning `about women’) and `gender history’ (meaning `about socially constructed gender difference and its operations’). Most of these writings belong to the former category. Necessarily they have been based on adding in rare individuals about whom there is evidence. The absence of data on women makes it difficult to deduce patterns, however, and there has been little analysis of the discourses which produce accounts of such women. Such `women’s history’ is complemented by Norling and Creighton’s seminal work which indicates how gender has functioned as a fundamental component in life at sea, as it is ashore. The articles in that book demonstrate that it is possible to write gendered women’s maritime history and indeed that the two genres are not only compatible but fruitful.

The third recent gain in maritime historiography is the inclusion of the ship/shore interface: coastal zones, including ports.8 The impetus to such study came from economic and business historians9 but it has benefited women and gender studies because it has enabled the transcendence of the old binary sea/man versus shore/woman. Focusing on the women left behind could enable historians to challenge what Lisa Norling has identified as an unhelpful `conflation of the coastal with the marginal’10 and to see the ways in which women, and home support, were and are pivotal, rather than marginal, to maritime life. Private and public support enables seafarers and ships to sail. Individual wives and mothers provide unpaid domestic support services for individual Jacks-in-port. More publicly, over the last two centuries women were an essential part of maritime economies in Europe and America, contributing as ships’ chandlers, laundresses, moneylenders, sex industry workers, boarding-house keepers and shipowners.11 Today First World women’s coastal connection with the sea is mainly through clerical work, not least because the UK fleet is so depleted and liners are staffed by South East Asian people hired by Miami-based agencies to work on ships sailing under flags of convenience. All these areas are yet to be explored.

Additionally, the new inclusivity in labour historiography may have specific effects in gendered maritime history. Already Ayers’s and Burton’s12 work on seafaring men’s masculinity offers ways to re-understand women’s relations with men, including as partners of seafarers.

Continuing challenges

In researching and re-presenting women’s maritime history there are a few continuing challenges, which occur in the four main contextual categories: museums, the academy, publishing and general cross-fertilisation.

Museums are the most accessible public face of maritime history. Many gatekeepers in British, American and Antipodean museums have been relatively progressive in showing women’s role in maritime history, not least because museums’ economic survival requires them to attract more visitors. Women have been underrepresented and thus are now a target of strategies to increase visitor numbers.13 However, some visitors as well as staff can be resistant to exhibitions that put women and gender on the agenda.14 Such resistance implies that there is a general educational opportunity to demonstrate that women and gender have a legitimate right to a place in representations of maritime life.

Secondly, the academy has been reasonably supportive of women’s maritime historiography. There is now a gratifying welcome for papers on women at most maritime conferences, indicating awareness of the former gender-based skew. However, there are few appropriate supervisors for Ph.D.s on women’s maritime history. Maritime historians tend to have no background in women’s or gender studies and there are even fewer women’s studies supervisors with knowledge of the sea.

The third challenge is that publishers are still hesitant about the marketability of books specifically on women at sea, let alone about gender. Greater recognition of and acceptance by publishers would enable new scholars to develop their full potential in women’s maritime history.

Fourthly, within current maritime history there is as yet insufficient cross– fertilisation between newer theories such as poststructuralism and psychoanalysis and more traditional historical methods. For example, in 2000 several well researched empirical papers at an Exeter conference on maritime women focused on exceptional women in singular biographies. A more theoretical underpinning which exposed the structured social order that seawomen’s roles revealed, the social circumstances that produced them and the discursive formations in which their histories are cast and recast would have linked the individuals. This could have enabled the creation of better hypotheses about the social interests that gendered exclusion serves. Similarly, a celebratory over-focus on exceptional `heroines and hellions’ of the sea throughout world history” highlights the need for grounded, contextualised studies in which scholarship is not sacrificed in the understandable excitement at finding missing women.

Furthermore, art and text have not yet had close enough encounters. There is potential to gain serious insights into maritime history by using the cultural approaches that can widen the traditional base of evidence. So much evidence about seafarers’ lifestyles, including relations with women and ports, is available in art, cartoons” and literature but is not in written records. Maritime history could also utilise the exciting conceptual work coming from women artists working today in gender-aware ways on the social meanings of the sea.17

Proposals for new conceptual approaches

Building on the gains and tackling the challenges listed above, a lively and profound methodology in women’s maritime historiography can be developed by using some of the following conceptual approaches. Firstly, historians can gain from exploring the (non-gendered) notions of the sea as Other and the ship as ambiguous space, borderland, panopticon and heterotopia. This Foucauldian term means places which are absolutely other with respect to all the arrangements that they reflect; for example, a cemetery is other than a town. Secondly useful feminist poststructural concepts such as metonymy and recentring can be examined. Thirdly, different understandings of working conditions can be gained by comparing today’s industrial relations literature and studies of women cabin crew in civil aviation or modern Royal Naval personnel with earlier seawomen.19 Fourthly, ideas from migration history, travel and tourism studies, plus awareness of excluded social groups, can offer further scope for studies of women as beings imbricated in a range of overlapping social situations.

Already some basic feminist theories are being used at the more gender studies-orientated end of the women’s maritime historiography spectrum, such as Hakim’s theories of horizontal and vertical workforce segregation.20 However, less obvious interdisciplinary approaches could also be considered. They take what is useful from poststructuralism while still remembering the material women who are involved in gender relations.21 Seawomen are not just social constructs but flesh-and-blood workers; not simply victims but also agents in their own history who resisted and creatively challenged inequalities. For example, in the 1920s stewardesses chose to take training in how to handle lifeboats. They thus transcended that passive category `Ladies and Children’ who are allowed to go first in evacuations.

Clearly the term `women on ship’ is a category that must be deconstructed and proper identification made of the fractures and blurrings of its boundaries. Travelling Ayahs, for example, are very different female passengers from indentured contract workers; today’s stewardesses with their Rough Guides and mountain bikes are far from the 1930s floating masseuses. The sea was and is no more of a leveller than is the land. Indeed, it can emphasise and expose class hierarchy. But the common position of women at sea as members of a subordinate class can also to be understood. The general significance of their situation need not be lost through the kinds of deconstruction proposed here.

Similarly women ashore were divided by age, class, mobility, reproductive relations and attitudes to the sea. Their common position, however, was as members of a group deemed unsuitable to sail. The ‘unsuitability’ derived from social needs for reproductive and low-paid ‘female’ labour. This connected with gendered assumptions that the world’s tough oceans and sexualised foreign ports were no place for a lady. It is here that feminist theories about patriarchal relations at work and dual system theory22 can be usefully applied: both capitalism and patriarchy oppress women.

Poststructural concepts Sea as other

Using structuralism’s analytic category of binary oppositions,23 the sea, like the air, can be considered as Other; a `Not-land’; as ‘Away’, or `The portal to Away’; a place to put dreams. The sea’s difference from land is a key binary. The sea connotes what the land is not, yet together they form the world’s surfaces. This creating of meaning through or by opposition enables historians to consider that women (that thing that ‘man’ is not) might go to sea (that site of otherness) expecting to be able to be in another kind of relationship – to their medium, to men and to themselves – than was possible on land. Using this framework, historians might ask such productive questions as: in what ways may women have viewed seagoing as a possible means of transcending gendered norms? What value-laden structures were transported from land? Why, how and to what end? How does the transition of mores from shore and their relocation at sea affect the old shore patterns of gendered hierarchy in different periods?

In that fear-filled, fable-focused discourse of earlier periods, men at sea with women may have experienced seagoing as an encounter with not one, but two, frightening Others: female and not-land. To take a more woman-centred approach, romantics may imagine that lunar-influenced seawomen might feel at one with the tides and nature. But female crew might be exhausted not only by the `factory time’ operating on ship, but frustrated by social strictures, by being positioned as Other and mystically identified with the unruly sea, as opposed to being able to function simply as human subjects. Their material selves might simply have longed for respectful working conditions; to have an ordinary subjective sit-down with a cup of tea – far from the brine – rather than be cast as the categorised objects they did not experience themselves as being.

Ship as ambiguous space Binary logic is so stark that it produces productive ambiguities or areas of overlap between opposed categories such as sea: land; woman: man. Between land and sea there is an ambiguous category, the beach or quayside, and maybe the ship. Ideas from cultural geography and the sociology of space24 about this liminal zone can help historians consider women and gender in ports, on beaches and maybe at sea.

A ship is many things, including a place of overlap between categories, a liminal space, a borderland or ‘badland’ defined by Hetherington as some form of counter-hegemonic site or practice.25 Away from one land, but not yet having reached the other shore, the voyaging ship can be seen as the site where the core and the periphery meet. The core may be seen as land, which connotes the dominant social order. The sea is periphery, connoting space outside the social order. The ship is the border between the two where interplay, transgression and cultural resistance can occur, including in gender relations. It is often a ludic (playful) space, which can explain why some seafaring women describe dealing with men’s attempts at promiscuous sexual relations as a major defensive activity.

While Hetherington warns against celebrating the marginal as necessarily offering counter-hegemonic opportunities, it is possible to consider that a woman in modernity might board a cruise liner to the New World expecting unprecedented freedoms (see Figure 1). The shipboard social order then constrained such ambitions, on the grounds that her moral status required protection, or that her gender made domestic rather than navigational tasks appropriate to her. Heterotopia Ships can also be seen as, in Foucault’s terms, heterotopias26 – `places which are absolutely other with respect to all the arrangements that they reflect’. They are a kind of mirror which enables us to see the place from which we look at ships, a place without a place, a kind of crisis where people are coming from one place, yet are not in the new one. As heterotopia a ship is a `site of contrast whose existence sets up unsettling juxtapositions … social spaces whose social meaning is out of place and unsettling within a geographical relationship of sites’.27 Cemeteries and musicals, as well as ships, have been defined as heterotopias.

This notion of heterotopia can be usefully applied to women’s maritime historiography. For example, it enables oral historians to see where they stand as they hear oral testimony about gendered ships, to denaturalise the taken– for-granted use of gendered sleeping spaces (‘Virgins’ Alley’) by comparison with mixed-sex canteens on inter-war liners. The concept of heterotopia as a combination of materiality, social events and practice is also useful for questioning how the ship became spatially/socially ordered so that it could benignly contain a woman worker as daughter of the ship but also as ‘dragon’ and ‘officers’ groundsheet’. And how then did such women accommodate themselves to a ‘prisoner’s’ limited physical and social access to public/men’s spaces such as the bar, bridge, promenade, cinema and pool?

The panopticon

Related to this notion of surveillance and carceral institutional space is Foucault’s notion of the panopticon, a mechanism for establishing social power. Initially, the panopticon was a model prison designed by the Utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham. Its cells were arranged in a circle and each could be scrutinised from a central watchtower. Prisoners felt themselves to be continually watched, whether they were or not, and so began to internalise self-surveillance. Foucault adopted the system as a way to explain all institutional systems of power.28 On a ship this might mean that although all the crew experienced themselves as watched by the captain on the bridge (watchtower) and the superintendent at the shipping line headquarters, in fact they were not. But the idea that they were being surveyed made the exercise of actual discipline unnecessary. In relation to female crew this suggests that it is possible to explore the many micro-levels at which power relations occurred – including between ‘snitches’ and `bad girls’ – as well as the macrolevel. It is also likely that the women may have experienced the surveillance as even more extreme, and yet ‘natural’ because women in our society are the gazed-upon objects, the sexually surveyed rather than the surveyors.29 The notion of the panopticon may be useful also as a way to understand how the female partner of a seafarer might experience herself as under surveillance by the shipping line, by her absent husband and by the maritime community with its regulation of fidelity.

Feminist poststructuralist theories

Feminism and poststructuralism have a troubled and productive relationship, particularly around Lacan and Foucault, from which the following few points are developed to show some of the long-lived but not immutable psychic meanings of the ship and the sea.

The ship is a site of enduring masculine superstition, a vehicle traditionally called ‘she’, on which real ‘shes’ cause consternation. Even royalty cannot transcend this; in Shakespeare’s Pericles the queen is termed `the Devil’s ballast’. Jettisoning her is the way to end stormy trouble, an action that would be inconceivable in a train or aeroplane. A ship is traditionally a place where women should be but where the figure of woman can be. By contrast, shore is the borderland by which she can legitimately wait for her male partner particularly if she does so supportively: knitting, staying faithful, producing ‘his’ babies, managing ‘his’ household’. She can gaze upon this sea without being accused of impertinence in her looking. But the sea is not a domain in which she has a rightful place as participant worker. By contrast, ‘woman’ as passenger is less problematic because she can be seen as being passively conducted, under the aegis of the technically competent ‘man’; she is acted upon by this seafaring actor. He is in charge.


Luce Irigaray” argues that only by metonymy (using a part or element to represent the whole) do women exist as a possibility for men. Therefore it can be seen that the figure of woman is permitted a place in maritime his/story as several kinds of element. The main four are: the figurehead whose naked breast can calm a savage sea; in literature and art as a male seafarer’s sentimentalised finer, other, shore-based self, the waiting Jill to his adventuring Jack; as a metonym for lofty sentiments such as Liberty. Occasionally, but more often in port, the figure ‘woman’ is allowed on ship as object which satisfies men’s desire: as fleshy receptacle. She is not, of course, an autonomous human being with her own subjectivity.

This raises a key question: if male systems of thinking cannot conceive of a human being who includes all that is feminine, that is, if the feminine is outside the identity `human being’, how does this affect heterosexual relations, including marriages? Also, how does the seafaring woman, among her male colleagues, constitute herself as a person of value? And what are the spatial and temporal differences? For example, how is it different on huge modern Royal Naval vessels where women have been trained alongside men and on small eighteenth-century whalers? Irigaray contends that women are the sex that isn’t one, according to Freud and Lacan’s acounts.31 If women in general are so written out, how much is this intensified on a ship? How does it then work in that place where women are but should not be, except as the figure woman? What survival strategies does the seawoman then use and what are the costs of constantly working against the grain?


Women in waterside communities might usefully be studied using the radical notion of recentring the periphery. It has been used in postcolonial race and gender-aware studies to challenge old notions which have valorised white male technocratic centres of power: for example, Westminster at the expense of Hebridean community politics; the aeroplane’s cockpit, not the airport canteen. Enloe32 argues that army support staff, where women play a major part, have a relegated status. Front-line staff, by contrast, are seen as primary. However, a feminist recentring, using different values, could see support as essential. It could reverse the hierarchical social ordering. Similarly, land women in service roles in the maritime industry – such as marine store dealers, sailmakers, sex industry workers, landladies, seamstresses, nurses, laundresses and seafarers’ wives – could be equally repositioned as not secondary but essential to enabling the continuance of a seafaring nation.

Modern industrial relations

Studies of seafaring today, and of current industrial relations practices in all modes of transport, can be applied to maritime history to illuminate women seafarers’ historical situations and struggles.33 Such an approach is particularly relevant to women because of the major change since the 1970s in awareness of specifically female employment issues such as sexual harassment, poor promotion opportunities, and relations of reproduction to production. In retrospectively applying such awarenesses it is possible to highlight the taken– for-granted in seawomen’s history, for example the lack of women in authoritative roles such as harbourmaster/mistress, shipping line executive and commodore, or male passengers’ assumption that women attendants are sexual game.34 The increased number of women captaining ships, owning fishing vessels, and working in war zones at sea now35 implicitly poses questions such as `What workplace conditions including training today enable women to act with the independence that former women seafarers had not?’ `What gendered difficulties, such as masculine exclusivity, still exist and how are they dealt with?’ `What social changes in women’s roles over time have enabled masculine toleration – even respect – of women’s presence?’ `What does this suggest might have been achieved earlier, so that fewer generations of women were marginalised by sea life? For example, women hospitality workers and their unions now challenge this odd feature of transit: men’s focus on women attendants as sexual targets. This enables today’s historians to wonder not only how women tackled it a hundred years ago, but also what produced such a phenomenon. And what were its mutations, for example, on brief Bermudan booze cruises during the Prohibitionist 1920s or on long trooping voyages to South Africa in 1900; in post-monsoon-season trips without wives to imperial India in the 1870s and part-cargo vessel journeys to Buenos Aires during white slavery fears in the 1920s?

To apply modern industrial relations theories to earlier women working in coastal zones as barrel makers and shipyard labourers may be to raise questions about labour divisions. For example, as so many women worked in jobs such as boatbuilding where promotion and flexibility were allowed in time of war, the artificiality of the horizontal segregation is demonstrated. The question must be asked: if the skill was within their compass in wartime, how could it suddenly disappear in peacetime? Who said it should be denied and why? Female smugglers act as examples of women being allowed/seizing transgressive windows of opportunity when their abilities such as the ability to conceal goods under petticoats, or to access ‘fencing’ networks, were more valued than their adherence to traditional roles – at least in specific situations.

Migration history

Scholarly, rather than celebratory, maritime history has tended not to look at passengers, except studies of people under sail. The use of migration history and particularly feminist studies of migration” and colonialism/ postcolonialism can end the methodological disconnection of the histories of passengers from those of sea workers. Particular aspects of migration history that are valuable to women’s maritime historiography include a focus on the gendered notions around the assisted emigration of ‘surplus’ women,37 studies of their surveillance in transit,38 and their encounters on arrival in colonial ports. There is scope for asking how the notion of blurred boundaries in relation to imperial metropolis/far colony and passenger/worker can enable reconsideration of shipping’s part in the colonial project. Bringing the lens of race into this classed and gendered work can further assist in understanding women on ships as a subaltern group, with a place that is linked with the status of groups made subaltern by virtue of their ethnicity. Additionally, the application of discourse theories to voyage narratives, and the understanding of sea passages as metaphors for psychic transformation and class transition, can be useful.

Women ashore had a role in migration that merits study: in passenger– chaperoning roles as matrons, conductresses, charity workers and hostel workers and in the formal, more distant role of clerks, shipboard etiquette advisers and suppliers of appropriate cruise wardrobes. The fine gradations of women’s subaltern status could be exposed through examination of subject– object relations and, above all, of agency. Who makes the rules?

Classism, ageism and racism

Finally, how do the lenses of classism, ageism and racism, especially when applied together, enable us better to see women’s position on ships? For example, understanding that seafaring unions sought to exclude young and non-white men illuminates that protectionist motives – as much as misogyny were behind organised labour’s hostility to female workers. Bourdieu’s notions of distinction and cultural capital,39 applied to the coded class chasms on ships, can help explore the signs that led seawomen to know their social station. For example, the norms and transgressions of shipmate dating could be explored: when might a liner’s deck officer date a lowly laundress rather than the nurse or candy girls deemed to be of his rank? What enabled shore rank to be displaced by sea rank and how could seawomen achieve social mobility?


Where can the history of women and the sea go? To what revealing lands can this expeditionary ship, the SS Seeker after Gendered History, sail? What useful exploratory tools from many disciplines will be carried in the ship’s toolchest? Which daring seekers will wield those tools, and to what effect? What is this metaphorical ship’s figurehead? What can the crew learn in the land of what-has-been? And what can they bring back, leaving the land enriched and not unhappily plundered?

This article has argued that women’s maritime historiography has the potential to drastically expand understanding of women’s relations with the sea, ship, maritime labour force, transport and tourism industries. Three major gains – putting the sociological and labour into sea history, including accounts of women at sea, and allowing that the coastal zone has a connection with the sea – have provided the necessary conditions. There is now a rich history of the many individual women who went to sea in breeches or skirts, in pursuit of whales, pleasure, gold doubloons or a New Life. From these under-problematised tales of free-spirited cabin girls and gallant whaling wives can be built a more analytical history of the gendered structures and the discourses that mediated women’s and men’s sea-related lives. Researchers wielding more sophisticated tools can start to see what produced such women, and how they and the stories about them produced ways of seeing sea-focused women.

The obstacles to further historiographical progress, such as lack of access, inappropriate supervision, poor support by the publishing industry and limited cross-fertilisation, need attention. One of their effects is visible in this article. It has conformed to the stylistic norms of this genre in order to be accessible to ‘malestream’ readers rather than being written in the cultural studies and women’s studies styles that the author would prefer, for example, using the pronoun ‘I’, exposing agency and writing in the active voice. However, such obstacles will surely be practically surmountable in time, even if their psychic roots prove more recalcitrant.

Excitingly, historians of women’s connections with the sea still have many subject areas to explore, and many stimulating conceptual tools to use in the process, such as notions of heterotopia, the panopticon and otherness, as well as retrospectively applied industrial relations theories. That range of rewarding possibilities can be further assisted in blooming to its full glory if comparisons with other transport modes can be made too. As the York conference `Transporting Gender’ revealed in October 2000, gender-aware and women’s historians of rail, road and air have much to offer each other, such as understandings of barriers to mobility, differential access to transport technology and mobilising female staff’s sexuality to market services. The will for intermodal collaboration is also in place. Strikingly, those studying the area include men as well as women; gender-aware transport historiography is not a solely female enclave. That is welcome.

The study of women’s maritime history, and gender in maritime history, will be productive of a much more inclusive maritime historiography practice. Future histories of the sea can be fruitfully based on fuller awareness of all the groups and factors that produce life at sea and in port, and of peoples’ accounts of such lives. Such alert sensitivity can transcend the former absences and exclusions to create a multiplicity of accounts that positively delight in difference, and relish the reciprocal richness that full and respectful inclusivity can create.


I would like the thank my anonymous referees, and Sarah Palmer, Mimi Sheller and John Urry for commenting on drafts of this text; the wider community of women, feminist and gender scholars who enabled me to conceive it in this form; and Margaret Walsh for her supportive editing.


1 See also J. Stanley, `Putting gender into seafaring: representing women in public maritime history’, in H. Kean, P. Martin and S. Martin (eds), Seeing History: Public History Now (2000), pp. 81-104; `Vibrant, not wooden: an overview of women’s maritime historiography’, forthcoming (c. 2003).

2 See Stanley, `Vibrant, not wooden’.

3 This general approach was expressed from 1968 onwards in works such as J. Lemisch, `Jack Tar in the streets: merchant seamen in the politics of revolutionary America’, William and Mary Quarterly, 25, 1 (1968), pp. 371-407, and P. Fricke, The Social Structure of Crews (Cardiff, 1974), and further developed by R. Omer and G. Panting (eds), Working Men who got Wet (St Johns, Nfld, 1980), and later writers such as Lane, Rediker and Sager.

4 D. Frost (ed.), Ethnic Labour and British Imperial Trade: a history of ethnic seafarers in the UK (1995); L. Tabili, ‘”A maritime race”: masculinity and the racial division of labor in British merchant ships, 1900-39’, in M. S. Creighton and L. Norling (eds), Iron Men,

Wooden Women: gender and seafaring in the Atlantic world, 1700-1920 (Baltimore MD and London, 1996), pp. 169-88.

5 Articles include D. Dugaw, “Rambling female sailors”: the rise and fall of the seafaring heroine’, International Journal of Maritime History 4, 2 (1992), pp. 179-94; S. Maenpaa, ‘A woman at sea: women on the sailing ships of Gustaf Erikson, 1913-39′, Nautica Fennica, the Maritime Museum of Finland annual report (Helsinki, 1995), pp. 23-33; J. Stanley, `Black women on white ships’, Black and Asian Studies Association Newsletter, September 2000, pp. 10-13; `The swashbuckler, the landlubbing wimp, and the woman in between: myself as pirate(ss)’, in P. Polkey (ed.), Women’s Lives into Print: the theory, practice and writing of feminist auto/biography (1999), pp. 216-28; `Finding a flowering of typists at sea: evidence from a new Cunard deposit’, Business Archives 76 (1998), pp. 29-40.

6 J. Druett, Hen Frigates: wives of merchant captains under sail (New York, 1998); id., Petticoat Whalers: whaling wives at sea, 1820-1920 (Auckland, 1991); id., She Captains, Heroines and Hellions of the Sea (New York: 1999); J. Stanley (ed.), Bold in her Breeches: women pirates across the ages (1995); S. J. Stark, Female Tars: women aboard ship in the age of sail (Annapolis MD, 1996). These books were preceded by two important works: B. Greenhill and A. Giffard, Women under Sail (Newton Abbot, n.d. but c. 1971); L. Grant De Pauw, Seafaring Women (Boston MA, 1982).

7 Creighton and Norling, Iron Men.

8 Several maritime conferences have recently focused on ports, for example the French Commission on Maritime History in May 2001 and the Association for the History of the Northern Seas, Liverpool, in August 2001. Significant publications on port communities include J. Fingard, Jack in Port (Toronto, 1982); Hamburg Frauenarbeitkreis, Nicht nur ein Galionsfigur (Hamburg, 1989); P. Ayers, The Liverpool Docklands: life and work in Athol Street (Liverpool, 1986); Second Chance to Learn Women’s History Group, Liverpool, Women on the docks (Liverpool, 1987); M. L. Clifford and J. C. Clifford, Women who kept the Lights: an illustrated history of female lighthouse keepers (Williamsburg VA, 1993); and most editions of Lighthouse Digest (1998-2001).

9 See Ayers, Liverpool Docklands; S. Haggerty, `Trade, Gender and the Consumer Revolution in Liverpool, 1760-18 10′, paper given at conference on `Petty Trade and Captains of Commerce: Retailing and Distribution, 1500-2000′, Wolverhampton (2000).

10 L. Norling, Captain Ahab had a Wife: New England women and the whale fishery, 1720-1870 (Chapel Hill NC, 2000), p. 2.

11 This has partly been discussed in Norling, Ahab; in a not particularly sea-related way in E. Foreman Crane, Ebb Tide in New England (Boston MA, 1998), and very effectively in the novel by S. J Naslund, Ahab’s Wife, or The Star-gazer (2000). For a focus on women of the northern seas see M. Liisa Hinkkanen and D. Kirby, The Baltic and the North Seas (2000).

12 P. Ayers, `The making of men: masculinities in inter-war Liverpool’, in M. Walsh (ed.), Working out Gender (Aldershot, 1999), pp. 66-83; V. Burton, “`Whoring, drinking sailors”: reflections on masculinity from the labour history of nineteenth-century British shipping’, in Walsh, Gender, pp. 84-101; V. Burton, `The myth of Bachelor Jack: masculinity, patriarchy and seafaring labour’, in C. Howell and R. Twomey (eds), Jack Tar in History: essays in maritime life (Fredericton NB, 1991), pp. 187-98.

13 See Stanley, `Putting gender’, pp. 88, 95. 14 Ibid.

15 See, for example, Drue tt, She Captains.

16 C. McCreery, `True blue and black, brown and fair: prints of British sailors and their women during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars’, British Journal of Eighteenth Century Studies 23, 2 (2000), pp. 135-52.

17 For example, J. Grant’s video installation Full Fathom Five and C. Bristow’s textile art speak of women’s complex situation as daughters of seamen.

18 ‘M. Foucault, other spaces: the principles of heterotopia’, Lotus 48 (1986), pp. 9-17.

19 See sociological work on cabin crew, primarily that by A. R. Hochschild, The Managed Heart: the commercialization of human feeling (Berkeley CA, 1983); A. J. Mills `Cockpits, hangars, boys and galleys: corporate masculinities and the development of British Airways,’ Gender, Work and Organisation 5, 3 (1998), pp. 172-88; id., `Strategy, sexuality and the stratosphere: airlines and the gendering of organization’, in E. D. Lyon and L. Morris (eds), Gender Relations in Public and Private: changing research perspectives (1996), pp. 77-94.

20 Maenpaa, ‘A woman at sea’.

21 Arguments about the uses of poststructuralism in women’s historiography generally are usefully summarised in, for example, J. Purvis, `From women worthies to poststructuralism? Debate and controversy in women’s history in Britain’, in J. Purvis (ed.), Women’s History in Britain, 1850-1945: an introduction (1995), pp. 1-22.

22 Sylvia Walby, Patriarchy at Work (Cambridge, 1986). See H. Hartmann’s classic statement on dual systems theory: `The unhappy marriage of Marxism and feminism: towards a more progressive union’, in L. Sargent (ed.), Women in Revolution: the unhappy marriage of Marxism and feminism (1981).

23 F. de Saussure, Course in General Linguistics, ed. C. Bally and A. Sechehaye (New York, 1966).

24 Cultural geography argues that the social is spatialised; space shapes societies and outlooks. See, for example, R. Shields, “`The system of pleasure”: liminality and the carnivalesque in Brighton’, Theory, Culture and Society 7 (1990), p. 39-72; D. Massey, Spatial Divisions of Labour (1984).

25 K. Hetherington, The Badlands of Modernity: heterotopia and social ordering (1997), p. vii. 26 ‘M. Foucault’, pp. 9-17.

27 Hetherington, Badlands of Modernity, p. 8, referring also to M. Foucault, `Of other spaces’, Diacritics 16, 1 (1986), pp. 22-7, and `Space, knowledge and power’, in P. Rabinow (ed.), The Foucault Reader (Harmondsworth, 1986), pp. 239-56. For a critique of this use of heterotopia see B. Genocchio, `Discourse, discontinuity, difference: the question of “Other” spaces’, in S. Watson and K. Gibson (eds), Postmodern Cities and Spaces (Oxford, 1995), pp. 35-46.

28 M. Foucault, Discipline and Punish: the birth of the prison (1977).

29 The foundational work about women and the gaze, deriving from Lacan, is L. Mulvey, `Visual pleasure and narrative cinema’, Screen 16 (1975), pp. 6-18.

30 L. Irigaray, This Sex which is not One, trans. C. Porter with C. Burke (Ithaca NY, 1985). 31 R. Appignanesi and C. Garratt, Introducing Postmodernism (Cambridge, 1999).

32 C. Enloe, Does Khaki become you? The militarisation of women’s lives (1983).

33 See material from the International Transport Workers’ Federation women’s department and M. Zhao’s Women Seafarers in the EC: a preliminary report based on German and UK case studies (Cardiff, 1998).

34 J. Stanley, oral testimony. ITWF material evidences complaints about this assumption, which is fostered by sexist advertising.

35 For a brief summary of women’s work in non-traditional roles see J. Stanley, `Women at the helm’, Maritime Heritage, No. 3 (1998); also Druett, She Captains. For studies of fishing women today see L. L. Fields, The Entangling Net: Alaska’s commercial fishing women tell their stories (Urbana IL and Chicago, 1997); V. Jensen, Saltwater Women at Work (Vancouver, 1995).

36 C. Midgely (ed.), Gender and Imperialism (1998).

37 J. Bush, Edwardian Ladies and Imperial Power (2000); Midgely, Gender.

38 D. Oxley, Convict Maids: the forced migration of women to Australia (Cambridge, 1996); H. Woolcock, Rights of Passage: emigration to Australia in the nineteenth century (1986). 39 See P. Bourdieu, Distinction: a social critique of the judgement of taste (1986). For a mod

ern take on women and class using his notions of cultural capital see B. Skeggs, Formations of Class and Gender (Thousand Oaks CA, 1999).

Jo Stanley is a writer and lecturer whose interests include the structural constraints on women’s mobility and the sea as metaphor in the classed and gendered imaginary. Her books included Bold in her Breeches: women pirates across the ages (1995).

Jo Stanley Institute of Cultural Research, University of Lancaster

Address for correspondence

Flat 3, 25 St Paul’s Road, Bradford, West Yorkshire BD8 MU, UK. E-mail

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