Examples of Women cross-dressing as Arya Stark did for part of her story

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Dame of Mercia
Posts: 119
Joined: Sun Aug 27, 2017 9:43 am

Tue May 26, 2020 4:07 pm

Girls or Women dressing as males like Arya Stark

This first post will be a (longish) introduction in general terms. My next post will give 5 real life examples of women/girls who have dressed as men/boys for various reasons, it could be family honour, it could be for safety, perhaps they were doing a job which at the time was not deemed a suitable job for a female, there could be many reasons.

A book on my 'to read' list is The Underground Girls of Kabul by a Swedish journalist, Jenny Nordberg, about a custom in Afghanistan (a very masculine dominated society) where sometimes (usually in a family where there are only daughters though I think this may not be exclusive to such) a prepubescent girl will dress as a boy and pass herself off as one so that she can go out into the community to undertake tasks that are generally confined to the male gender. Sometimes the community may be aware of the person's real sex but the practice is tolerated. Such girls are expected to start dressing as girls again when or a little before they hit puberty. Some do not mind re-adapting to the traditional feminine role though some find it hard to give up the freedom they had when passing as a boy.

The person who mentioned the content of the book (which as I say I haven't read myself yet) said the book also refers to Burrnesha who were "sworn virgins" who dressed as men and had to promise not to marry or bear children who lived in the Balkans. In a very patriarchal society Wikipedia says it went on in Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro In and to a lesser degree in other parts of the Balkans. At one time women were not allowed to inherit property in these areas and if a woman became a Burrnesha it provided a method to keep property in a family. That was not an exclusive reason for the practice. As this is really a 'clif notes' version of the subject I suggest if anyone wants more information they consult Wikipedia on the subject. The Jenny Nordberg book says the practice of becoming a Burrnesha is very much on the decline these days.

Besides being prone to succumbing to a sword, sorcery and sandal epic I'm also a sucker for mystery stories with a historical setting. I've read some of Shirley McKay's "Hew Cullan" mysteries and in the background notes to her "Calendar of Crime" book in regard to Yule she mentions that circa the early Reformation people (at paragraph 7 if anyone cares to follow the link provided) that folk still sang and danced carols and people still dressed up, women guising in men’s clothes, and crying ‘Zwil, Zwil, Zwil!’ in loud and lewd company..." https://hewcullanmysteries.com/yule/ Cross-dressing occurs sometimes in the English pantomime tradition (which has moved a long way from the Latin meaning of the 'pantomimus') where there is often a Pantomime Dame who is a man in drag (don't think of Ru Paul type drag - the pantomime dame is supposed to be very obviously a man for humour) and often the 'principal boy' is a female. In the days when female everyday wear was long dresses (no mini-skirts or tunics with skin tight leggings for everyday wear) a young woman dressed as a male in a shortish top and tights provided an avenue for a pair of shapely legs to be shown.

In the French play The Marriage of Figaro the scamp of a page-boy Cherubin is traditionally played by an actress. Apparently when the play was first performed in the 18th century, the writer of the play, Pierre Beaumarchais, felt that none of the boy actors in the original company could convey the subtleties and nuances of Cherubin's character satisfactorily and therefore a young woman was cast in the role and since then over the years the characters has nearly always been played by a female.

But Dame, do I hear you cry, you have only dealt with the theme in general terms? If you say so you may be correct. This piece is already getting somewhat long so I will leave this as a rathe long introduction to the subject and give a list of 5 cases of females who cross-dressed in real life. I know there are of course far more than just 5 and if folk find the thread of interest I may come back and post more cases later but I wanted to keep things manageable.

Dame of Mercia
Posts: 119
Joined: Sun Aug 27, 2017 9:43 am

Tue May 26, 2020 6:28 pm

Second part.

Five real life examples of women/girls who dressed as men/boys. Well, one may be more folklore/rumour. Hope you find this worth perusing.

Possibly one of the least successful ladies who tried to pass herself off as a male was Ethel Neave or Le Neve, the lady friend of Dr Crippen (a homeopathic doctor). The story is quite a well-known one. Dr Crippen's wife disappeared (he said she had left him) and some of her friends were suspicious that something bad might have happened to her. The police interviewed the doctor and according to one true crime podcast I heard it sounded as though the police were inclined to believe him when he said he didn't know where his wife was. However he didn't help himself by 'doing a bunk'; Miss Neave his lady friend vanished at the same time.

Radio transmission had been introduced to transatlantic ships near that time and some of the staff onboard one ship crossing the Atlantic noticed that there was something distinctly feminine (I think a delicacy and a something about the shape of the waist and hips) about a youth who was travelling in the company of another male passenger. (Dr Crippen and his missing wife were American citizens though they had been living in London, England, prior to her disappearance). Messages (given that it was the early part of the 20th century they may have been telegraph messages) were sent back to London that two possible suspects were travelling on the ship. The fugitives of course used assumed names. By this time some digging had taken place under Dr Crippen's London home and some human remains had been found though these didn't include Mrs Cora Crippen's head. There was flesh with a scar in a place where Mrs Crippen was known to have a scar so given the flight of the doctor and his young lady and the scar on the remains, it looked as if a strong case could be built for murder. Some police left London on a ship that travelled faster than that used by Dr Crippen and Ethel and were waiting for them when their ship docked in America. The pair were brought back to England and charged with murder. Dr Crippen was found guilty and hanged on 23rd November 2010. Ethel was acquitted and a few years later married someone else and seems to have lived quietly after that. There is still some mystery about the case. Dr Crippen always protested his innocence though I feel he didn't help himself by running away. Somebody examined the remains found under the house a few years ago and believed that they were male. Whether it has been proven conclusively that they were male I don't know but there is still an air of mystery. These days I am more sceptically minded than conspiracy minded so I don't go along with a suggestion someone has made that the remains were planted by the police.

Example 2, some years ago (either 1990s or early 2000s) I saw a film called The Battle of Little Jo on TV which told the (based on a true) story of Josephine Monagan who was disowned by her family after giving birth to a child without being married (from memory her sister took over looking after the child). Jo travelled west and after having been attacked by two men she decided she would disguise herself as a man and wear male garb for safety. She lived as a man for the rest of her life working with horses and passing to all intents and purposes as something like a cowboy and it was not discovered that she was in fact female until after she died in 1903. I suppose the truth was found out when her body was prepared for burial. I'll provide a link to an article about Jo in case anyone might like to read more on the subject. https://cowgirlmagazine.com/little-joe/

A woman who passed as a man whose case is quite well-known now was Dr "James" Barry. She trained as a doctor (dressed as a man) and continued to pass herself off as a man for the rest of her life. She had considerable success as an army doctor. There is some belief that there may have been a few people who guessed Dr Barry's secret. As with Jo Monagan, her secret became known when the body was prepared for burial when female genetalia and stretch marks denoting the person having undergone pregnancy were noted. Here is a link to a feature about Dr Barry should anyone wish to know more. https://www.history.com/news/the-extrao ... ames-barry

My fourth example I must confess is more of a 'might be true' than a story which can definitely be stated to be true as it is based to some extent on rumour and conjecture. There was a noblewoman called Katherine Fanshawe (nee Ferrers) born in 1634 who died aged just 26. The legend version is that Katherine took to dressing in male attire and acting as a female highwayman to supplement her decling family fortune but was shot while taking part in one such robbery and died of her wounds. The legend version grew in public knowledge thanks to a 1944 novel by Magdalen King Hall and a 1945 film starring Margaret Lockwood as the eponymous 'wicked lady' though in the book and film (which was re-made in 1983 starring Faye Dunaway) the heroine is called Barbara not Katherine. I sometimes wondered if GRRM had seen the 1945 'Wicked Lady' because there is a scene where Barbara and her friend Caroline go to have their fortunes told and the fortune teller doesn't want to telll Barbara's fortune because she can tell that Barbara is a bad lot. It's not by any manner of means identical to the book or show versions of young Cersei and friend going to see Maggy the Frog (and so-and-so that she may be Barbara doesn't push Caroline into a well) but there is an overall similarity

. Well we are never 100% sure that book Cersei kills Melara but it is implied. Again I provide a link, this time to a blog post, about the legend of the wicked lady and there is also an entry in Wikipedia under "Katherine Ferrers".

https://hauntedpalaceblog.wordpress.com ... tion-fact/

It is said that the first woman to circumnavigate the globe was one Jeanne Baret who joined Louis Bourgainville's expedition between 1766 and 1769. She enlisted dressed as a man in the guise of valet to the naturalist for the expedition, one Philbert Commercon. There may have been a relationship between Jeanne and Commercon. It is said that Bourgainville reported that she was an expert botanist. Jeanne's gender may have been suspected before but she was 'outed' as a woman in Tahiti. After the expedition's arrival in Mauritius Jeanne and Commercon stayed behind on the island as guests of Commercon's friend Pierre Poivre, another botanist. After Commercon's death it seems that Jeanne earned her living running a tavern, going on to marry a non-commissioned officer, Jean Dubernat. The Dubernats eventually wounded up back in France. Jeanne died at Saint-Aulaye in France on 5th August 1807. She was 67.

Link to the Wikipedia article about Jeanne Baret.


This is by no means an exclusive list of women who passed as men one way or another. Have any of you any examples of women who had to disguise themselves as men either for a time or in the long term?

Edited: 29th May 2020 - I had double posted my entry originally. My laptop is quite slow and it's possible I pressed Control v for paste twice.
Last edited by Dame of Mercia on Fri May 29, 2020 7:44 am, edited 1 time in total.

Ten Bears
Posts: 9
Joined: Fri Nov 17, 2017 9:43 pm

Wed May 27, 2020 4:46 pm

• A well-known example (here in the U.S.) of a woman dressing as a man was Deborah Sampson, a Massachusetts woman who disguised herself as a man to join the Continental Army and fight in the American Revolutionary War. It didn’t hurt that she was taller than most men of her era.

A popular folk song was written about her to immortalize her exploits.

• If fictionalized historical figures are included,
in S2 of the Showtime series “The Borgias,” actress Jemima West played “Vitoria,” a girl who disguised herself as a boy in order to be able to become an apprentice to a sculptor. She was very convincing in the role, and had some good scenes with Jeremy Irons as the Pope and Lotte Verbeak (sp?) as his mistress.

Here’s a picture of Jemima West as Vitoria.

https://66.media.tumblr.com/c0fae16da61 ... wl_250.jpg

Dame of Mercia
Posts: 119
Joined: Sun Aug 27, 2017 9:43 am

Fri Jun 05, 2020 7:56 am

Source material


Real life Arya Stark 2nd continuation

A somewhat sinister case of a woman who dressed as a man was that of Viktoria Fodi, a cross-dressing serial killer from Hungary. It seems that she was initially very pretty but was abused by her father and then later by a farmer for whom she went to work - though the farmer did marry her. Fast forward a few years and she ran away from the farm taking an infant daughter with her. She had by this time developed a glandular condition which had made her become more muscular and perhaps appear somewhat masculine. Somewhere along the line she bought some male clothes (she had taken some money with her when she ran away) and dressed herself in those and managed to find work in a village passing herself off as a widower. She was hard working and held her own as a worker and it appears her secret was not suspected. The way of life in the village was such that people were willing to look after the child so a widower could work. Viktoria used to smoke a pipe and her nickname was "Smoking Peter".

It seemed that Peter was popular among the ladies. At some time in the 1920s* it was noticed that there were a lot of male suicides occuring in that village. Village gossip had picked up on the fact that a lot of the recently widowed women had been friendly with Peter before their husbands' demise but there wasn't really the evidence to prove anything.

One of the widows confided in a new love interest of hers that she had paid Peter to kill her husband. Later the widow's interest in her new love waned and the cast-off man told those involved in law enforcement what the widow had confided in him. Law enforcement rounded up Peter and the widow - they tricked the widow that Peter had told them what had happened and the widow spilled the beans that she had lured her late husband into a barn, Peter who had been hiding there surprised the man and coshed him enough to knock him out but seemingly not to leave any suspicious marks and hung him by the neck over a beam in the barn to make it look as if he had committed suicide by hanging. Further investigations revealed that Peter/Viktoria was responsible for 6 provable cases of murder and suspected of another 12. When Peter refused to wash and other prisoners complained about the smell a forced disrobing took place and of course it was discovered that Peter was female. Viktoria then revealed her true identity and her husband was summoned (about 22 years had gone by since she left him) and until he heard her speak her husband couldn't believe the person before him was his wife.

In 1933 Viktoria was condemned to be hanged but her sentence was commuted and she died in prison in 1940.

* The source material did mention the 1920s but then said that Viktoria was condemned in 1933 so maybe her arrest was in the early 1930s rather than the 1920s though it's feasible the 'suicides' had started in the 1920s I suppose. I only uses one source for this story - I've tried to post a couple of times but though I have logged in I keep getting a message that I need to log in.

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