So, it's with some interest that I stumbled across this subject yesterday.
Here's an extract from Michael Sturma's South Sea Maidens: Western Fantasy and Sexual Politics in the South Pacific:
that was discussed at NPR. Unfortunately, it appears that the story of her "outing" as a woman may not be as harmless as Sturma believes:
Glynis Ridley, author of The Discovery of Jeanne Baret: A Story of Science, the High Seas, and the First Woman to Circumnavigate the Globe, says Baret would have been the obvious choice to serve as Commerson's assistant on the Etoile's journey, except for one thing.
"A French Royal ordinance forbade women being on French Navy ships," Ridley tells Weekend All Things Considered host Guy Raz. A little theater was necessary.
"The couple formulated a plan for Baret to disguise herself as a young man [and] offer herself as his assistant on the dockside."
After Commerson "accepted" Baret into his service, the couple was able to keep their secret from the crew of over 100 men for some time. Baret's real identity was cruelly revealed, however. The commander of the expedition claims it happened when the Etoile landed on the island of Tahiti.
"Bougainville said that a group of Tahitian men surrounded Baret and immediately identified her as a woman," Ridley says. "Because she was worried about what might happen, she supposedly revealed her true identity so that her countrymen, the French, could save her from what she took to be an imminent sexual assault."
But after poring over the diaries of crew members, Ridley doesn't believe Bougainville's tale.Back to the Sturma explanation of the allure of Tahiti: as we all know, Captain Cook kept visiting the island, and while he was restrained himself, his famous young passenger Joseph Banks didn't:
"That story is peculiar to Bougainville's journal," Ridley says. "In fact, three other members of the crew contradict this story and say that Baret was, in fact, brutally exposed." According to the other journals, Baret was discovered and gang-raped by her crewmates in Papua New Guinea.
There is much more of interest on this topic, but I think I'll have to break it up across a few posts...