What should a presentation on pirates involve?
June 30, 2009 11:39 AM   Subscribe

If you were going to a library for a presentation on pirate women, what would you like to see / hear / do?

I've been asked to do a presentation on female pirates for Talk Like A Pirate Day. I've never done anything like this. Any suggestions on what the presentation should actually involve?

It would be at a nearby public library, aimed at teens but open to anyone, and would last about an hour. Interactive, funny, educational, and gross ideas are all appreciated.
posted by The corpse in the library to Education (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Why they became pirates in the first place.
How they look and dress.
How it was to work in an incredibly male-dominated environment.

Also, I would love to hear about contemporary female pirates. That would rock pretty hard.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 11:49 AM on June 30, 2009

Yeah, "hidden" female pirates vs. out-and-proud female pirates.
posted by kestrel251 at 11:57 AM on June 30, 2009

posted by fistynuts at 11:57 AM on June 30, 2009

Another idea: if you find enough documentation on a female pirate, like Anne Bonny, you could interweave the story of her life (" ... Pirate Lady Anne Bonny ... ") throughout the entire presentation, sorta like having two parallells narratives, one personal and detailed, the other general about female piracy.

And spouse, you have to dress up. No, seriously you have to. And pictures, please.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 11:58 AM on June 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


At a museum I worked at, we used to do a "Pirates" program. What we did was get a volunteer from the audience and say "Okay, we're going to turn you into a pirate. What do you need to be a pirate?" Then we'd solicit ideas from the audience. They would suggest things like "parrot!" "eye patch!" "Hook for a hand!" "spyglass!" etc. We would have all of these props ready in a box and as they were named, we'd put them on the volunteer.

(We had piloted the program by using a drawing on a piece of paper, so we had a good idea what things people usually said).

As we pulled out each object and gave it to the pirate, we'd discuss how that came to be part of the pirate image. For instance:

parrot - the latitudes and regions pirates frequented at some times in history meant they came into contact with exotic animals and sometimes took them on as pets or items for barter. Parrots, monkeys, tropical birds, and other animals are associated with pirates because they are the pets or trade items of people who spend time in the tropics.

eye patch, hook - Pirates are/were desperate people whose crimes are pretty heinous. They had a lot of violent interactions, and didn't have today's medical care. A hand blown apart by a weaponry accident could not be re-attached. An eye lost to a flying splinter would not be replaced with a nice looking glass eye. So these are evidence of a violent life, with frequent illness, and poor medical care.

You get the idea. Now, this program was on pirates in general -- but you could definitely have fun with "image of [female] pirate" vs. "reality of [female] pirate" in a similar way.
posted by Miko at 12:06 PM on June 30, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'd want to hear about families. No, really. Did any female pirates have children that traveled with them? Did they abandon families the same way a a male pirate may have? Would they even bother with a family?

If they were part of a primarily male group, how did they fit in? Were they in charge? Were they just part of the crew? What did it mean if/when they were caught? Were they punished in the same way, harsher because they were women, or with more leniency because they were women?
posted by zizzle at 12:14 PM on June 30, 2009

Have someone dressed accordingly (Miko's suggestion?) and work in this joke as a preface to the educational part:

Normal guy sees a pirate (in a bar).
Normal guy: Whoa, it's a pirate! Hello, Mr. Pirate!
Pirate (wearing patch, hook, and peg-leg): Hello, thar.
Guy: I have to ask. How'd you get the peg-leg?
Pirate: I fell overboard an' a shark bit off me leg.
Guy: Whoa, crazy. And the hook?
Pirate: Ar, we was boarded by soldiers and we commenced to swashbucklin' with 'em, an' a fella lopped off me arm with 'is sword.
Guy: Man, that's crazy. What about the eye-patch?
Pirate: Oh, that, a seagull shat in me eye.
Guy: A bird pooped and put your eye out?
Pirate: No . . . it was me first day with the hook.
posted by resurrexit at 12:15 PM on June 30, 2009

I remember reading something cool about how some female pirates had to pretend to be male pirates, and therefore had special pee-tubes made out of silver so it looked like they were able to urinate off the deck like all the other dudes. So... I'd be interested in the paraphernalia that comes along with female crossdressing in the close quarters of a ship.

Also I'm pretty sure Ann Bonny had another female pirate as a lover and overthrew the male captain of the ship. There were a couple screenplays going around town about it.

Sorry for lack of specifics.
posted by np312 at 12:22 PM on June 30, 2009

Guy (in a monkey suit, maybe; who knows?) walks into a bar, sees a pirate sitting there in full regalia. Sits down and orders rum (what else?). Looks the pirate up and down.

Guy: So you're a pirate, hunh?
Pirate: Yar.
Guy: Where are your buccaneers?
Pirate: Under me buckin' hat.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 12:24 PM on June 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

I took a course on the history of Atlantic piracy last semester, and we had a unit on female pirates. Basically, there's a lot of research in the area, and it's a popular subject among feminist historians, but there's not a whole lot of concrete information. Women tended to be involved with the shore-based aspects of piracy, such as fencing stolen goods and hiding wanted pirates, rather than going to sea themselves. Oftentimes, for superstitious or practical reasons, pirates would explicitly ban women from their ships in their charter documents.

The two most prominent female pirates would be Anne Bonny and Mary Read. We also touched on Granuile/Grace O'Malley and a couple of Norwegian pirates.

By far the coolest, however, were the pirates of Asia. The whole "no women at sea" idea is Western, so male sailors, including pirates, would bring their wives and children on board with them. The woman to focus on is Cheng I Sao. She was married to a pirate commander, and when he died at the beginning of the 19th century, she married their adopted son and took over his fleet. Through maneuvering, she was able to put together a coalition consisting of five fleets, around 400 ships, and over 70,000 pirates. She terrorized the Asian seas for a while, negotiated cushy surrender and pardon terms with the Chinese government, and spent her old age running a brothel on shore. By many estimates, she was the most powerful pirate in history. Definitely an interesting figure.
posted by bassooner at 12:38 PM on June 30, 2009 [2 favorites]

Definitely talk in detail about the stories of famous female pirates. Female pirates were relatively rare (particularly in the West), and so it's really impossible to make general statements about them. Most of the detailed stories we have about female pirates are about a few really exceptional women, and all of them led fascinating lives.

(Gráinne Ní Mháille is one you should mention. I grew up hearing stories about her, and I always thought her defiant meeting with Queen Elizabeth I was incredibly awesome.)
posted by ubersturm at 1:02 PM on June 30, 2009

Great big pictures if possible. I would want to look them in the eye, size them up, compare myself to them, wonder if I'm pirate material. Were they especially big and strong? Skinny or fat? Young or old? How tall were they? What was their hair like? What did they really wear? Were they covered in scars and scabs and lice and fleas or did they manage to keep themselves healthy and clean on a shitty little ship in the middle of the ocean with no spare water but lots of rats and fleas? Unless they were fairly modern pirates, you obviously won't have photos, but maybe poster-sized enlargements of decent illustrations? Also, how did they get into the business? What did they know how to do?

For the guys, just work this story into it somehow:
During this time Mary kept herself occupied in a vicious duel with another pirate, far burlier than herself. The two were set ashore and fired off their pistols but both bullets didn't find their target. It was then the two fiercely engaged in a battle of blades with the burly man easily out powering Mary. However this was not the end of Mary. She had more brains than brawn and waited for her opponent to falter in his attack. When he stumbled she immediately took the opportunity to rip open her shirt exposing her bare breasts. In what must have been a moment of shock the man stopped everything and she swung her own blade and killed him with one instantaneous blow.
posted by pracowity at 1:34 PM on June 30, 2009

This was a good source for general piracy history. If I recall, there were some mentions of female pirates.
posted by Miko at 1:58 PM on June 30, 2009

Someone I was in a seminar with did a thesis on female pirates of the early modern/Elizabethan age. If you want to try to track it down, tell the Newberry Library that you're looking for a paper from the 2003 Newberry Library Undergraduate Seminar on Elizabeth I that was about female pirates; I believe they have a copy of everyone's work. The paper might be interesting in itself, but more importantly, it will have a thorough bibliography that should be useful to you.
posted by fiercecupcake at 2:25 PM on June 30, 2009

Response by poster: One quick clarification: I know the facts about female pirates. I'm just wondering what a presentation should involve. I'm at a loss for how to make it interesting, and what kinds of hand-on, get-them-involved stuff I could do.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:49 PM on June 30, 2009

theres a funny song on the TMBG's here come the 123s about pirate women.
posted by beccaj at 3:20 PM on June 30, 2009

I'd love to hear about Grace O'Malley, the Irish Pirate Queen! Plenty of songs and poems about her, too...
posted by Tapioca at 3:36 PM on June 30, 2009

I should think that anyone of either sex who's interested in pirates would be doubly interested in female pirates?
If you've got the facts already....is there a desire to make an equality of the sexes point?
You could have a "pirate olympics" - knots, fake-sword fighting, walking the plank or on a slackline, balancing a stuffed parrot on the shoulder, whatever. With the possible exception of climbing a rope on upper body strength alone, it's a chance to prove "anything ye can doo, aye can do bettarrrgh!"

I think you should have a good explanation handy for the superstitions (and practical considerations) about women aboard ship - I'd certainly want to know why anyone signing up to live for several years on something the size of a schoolbus would voluntarily choose to make sure there weren't any women on board.
posted by bartleby at 4:28 PM on June 30, 2009

Histories/Bios are probably the meat of your presentation, but you might chop it up with some smaller asides:

I would keep handy a list of possible discussion questions. Stuff like, Why do you think pirates are so fashionable? (ie: jolly roger leggings, etc), What do you think the toughest thing about living on a ship would be?

Mention that there are still pirates today (in case they don't hear/read the news), and that pirates are the mascots of counter/subculture (ie: The Pirate Bay).

I would also keep some colouring sheets handy for if smaller ones or shy ones come in. However, most 'activities' might not jive with the ever-hip teenagers ;)
posted by tamarack at 5:12 PM on June 30, 2009

Yeah, visual aids. You can probably blow-up pictures from books to poster-size for relatively little money at the local copy shop. I'd have a bunch of those on the walls - big cool pix that relate to what you're talking about - ships, weapons, personalities, maps...

I'd be interested in the paraphernalia that comes along with female crossdressing in the close quarters of a ship.

One fun thing to try might be to ask for volunteers from the women attending to act out what "passing" as a man might be like. Maybe have some male clothes and fake mustaches/beards and spirit gum to let them use, and then have fun figuring out how they'd act "male" to fool the rest of their shipmates? That could be really funny and loosen the atmosphere, while giving them a direct, visceral sense of the tension women passing as male pirates must have felt much of the time.

(Btw, on the information front, I was disappointed in the "Women Pirates and Pirates' Women" chapter in David Cordingly's otherwise very good Under the Black Flag because there was almost no information about how pirates treated the women they encountered/captured. Kinda off-the-subject, but it still might be interesting to include that kind of thing as an antidote to over-romanticization of pirates).
posted by mediareport at 8:06 PM on June 30, 2009

I'd be interested in the paraphernalia that comes along with female crossdressing in the close quarters of a ship.

If it resembles the cross-dressing by women merchant sailors at all, it was surprisingly un-difficult to cross-dress. Basically binding your breasts, if necessary, was all that was required beyond a haircut and change of clothes. People almost never fully undressed, even for sleeping, and certainly not for washing, so no one saw you naked. And since many of the crew were pre-adolescent or adolescent boys anyway, not having whiskers didn't make you stand out.
posted by Miko at 9:41 PM on June 30, 2009

Tangible stuff. Swords. Pistols. Muskets. Grappling irons. Gold. Jewels. Parrots. Rats. Get them to hold these things and make mental associations between them and the people you're discussing.

Also: pirates are criminals, thieves, murderers. Make this clear. They're not nice. We're talking about women who kill people and steal their stuff, and live with a bunch of guys who also kill people and steal their stuff.
posted by pracowity at 12:57 AM on July 1, 2009

Echoing what pracowity said about what sociopathic assholes pirates are/were. Given that angle, it might be interesting to also touch on other women criminal/outlaws, including famous ones like Bonnie Parker, Lizzie Borden, etc. Are we more/less likely to romanticize them as criminals because their gender is the less usual? Do they serve as ideals of toughness or self-determination, even though they're committing terrible crimes? What does it say about us that we remember and sometimes lionize them while the women who peaceful lives during their times are mostly anonymous? All those could be interesting questions with a group of teenagers.
posted by Miko at 11:14 AM on July 1, 2009

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