As originally conceived, Pirates of the Caribbean is a ride with a decidedly masculine bent. All the pirates we encounter are male. The only females in the entire experience are subordinated to stereotypical roles: running from rapist pirates, preening at the auction (HOPING for rape? this is pretty sexist), or standing roped together at the auction seemingly hoping to be picked (are these spinsters with apparently no previous experience with men?) Obviously, we can’t forget the banner above the auction: “take a wench for a bride.” Women are commodities, fetishized and otherwise forgotten in this ride. Oh, and we forgot the woman in the windowsill, urging Carlos not to be “chee-kin”… let’s add racist to the mix.
As deplorable as the sketch of women in the ride is, however, it gets still worse (from today’s perspective). The pirate ship was always part of the attraction, and long before it was home to Captain Barbossa, it was home to an anonymous captain urging his crew to attack the fort. The ship’s name was usually obscured by fog, but it *is* there on the back of the ship: The Wicked Wench.
Another wench. And the wenches don’t stop there. The original boats in this attraction (as it was created in Anaheim) all bore female names, stenciled in paint to the back of each boat. Over the years, there has been some alteration to include some men. Here’s the current list of names (from Disneyland):
- Calico Jack
- Capt. Mainwaring
- Francis Verney
- Cap. Kidd
If you think about it, that means the audience has been feminized. The pirates are the men, and we are the women. This places us in the same situation as the women seen on the ride: we watch the men, admire them, fear them, (desire them?), or simply pity them.
The 2006 alterations to the ride (in both Anaheim and Orlando) added Jack Sparrow to several locations in the attraction. But “Captain Jack” is not like the other pirates. For one thing, he stays apart from them; we first see him hiding from the pirates at the well, then we see him hiding in a barrel, and finally we see him alone in the treasure room. Clearly, he’s not one of “them.” He’s on his own.
This opens up the possibility that Jack is not masculinized in the same way as the other pirates. To invoke the obvious sexist commentary, he hides “like a girl” from the other pirates rather than confront them, or fight them. Indeed, his first appearance is as an escapee from a lingerie shop, so he’s surrounded by bras and underwear. This implies sexual activity, perhaps, but might also point to an association with women.
The character in the movies has been like that, too. He swishes when he walks, and seems in general to be of an unknown sexual orientation at times (though he does claim some female lovers from the past). He also, notoriously, wears eye liner.