By now, everyone has heard that the Costa Concordia, the 26th-largest cruise ship (formerly) afloat, ran aground off the Italian coast. Details are sketchy, and it will be some time before we get the full picture, but a few things are known about this mishap, nearly 100 years after the RMS Titanic went down in the Atlantic.
Some things have changed since 1912 – other things have not.
What is known is that there was a lot of chaos as the ship was being evacuated – chaos caused in no small part because the senior leadership failed to provide direction. It is in high-stress situations that one learns one’s measure, and being on a 115,000 ton piece of machinery filling with cold water with a few thousand people is one such situation.
While nobody was visibly in charge, there was a generalized expectation that women and children should be the first on the lifeboats. Equally apparent is that not all the men were keen to follow the script. The foreign press was filled with outrage that some men (invariably described as that subset of men known as husbands), were unwilling to be separated from their families in what looked like a life-and-death situation.
We’ve all heard the shaming language: those men were cowards, doncha’ know? Both women and, to a lesser extent, men, were piling on these guys. It’s not enough that they were protecting their families: they apparently had a duty to die for the benefit of women and children they don’t even know once their own families were safe.
Most of us know that there are no feminists in a burning building. We can now add “or on a sinking ship” to that. Even in 2012.
The sinking of the RMS Titanic almost exactly a century ago invites comparison. Sure, there are great differences, such as the body count, the availability of rapid rescue, and the actions of the crew, but some things remain, like insufficient deployable lifeboats and the all-important, “Women and children first!”
The good news is threefold: 1) the ship ran aground and did not actually sink, so the magnitude of the disaster appeared far greater while it was happening than it turned out to be, 2) the number of deaths was a fraction of what it might have been under slightly different circumstances, and 3) a lot of people who responded to the reports berated the people who said the men had a duty to stay on board until the women and children were all safe.
It is those comments that struck me most. The MRM is getting more vocal, and a lot of guys are now saying, “You wanted equality. This is what it looks like.” And they are saying it aloud and in public. Even a few women chimed in, saying that men have no obligation to die for women if women want equality. (Somehow I suspect there wasn’t much, “I am woman, hear me roar, watch me drown” on the Costa Concordia itself, but hey, it’s a start.)
Needless to say, there were a few hamster wheels in hyper-drive, as feminists tried to have it both ways. I even saw the “77-cents-on-the-dollar” argument thrown out, as if being more productive somehow makes your life worth less. But now many people know the “77 cents” argument is bogus, so every time somebody brings it up it has fewer defenders and it gets shot down with facts, so even more people learn the truth about it.
Quite a few commenters still stuck with the idea that men should stand aside while able-bodied women are rescued first, because women were less physically capable and aggressive and more prone to freezing up under extreme stress. A few guys pointed out that people who could not function under stress did not belong in all sorts of places, like boardrooms and battalions.
Ouch. That’s gotta’ hurt.
On the other hand, if they truly are our equals, let them queue up for the lifeboats like everyone else. When they do that, they can make themselves some new shirts with this message:
I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for that to happen.