The story of the Titanic (I mean the real ship, not the movie with Leonardo DiCaprio) has all the elements to be truly gripping: Dreams and drama, sacrifice and selfishness, foolish decisions and panic versus true heroism. I see some people with an agenda simplify it this way:
On the Titanic, 1357 men selflessly stood aside so that 380 of the 546 women and children could be saved first. This happened in a patriarchal society. Since feminism entered the world, men are not willing to sacrifice any more. If we returned to the Christian values of that society and those gender roles, men will be sacrificial again.
I read it that way in South Africa’s JOY magazine/ JUIG a month or three ago. It seems the article writer is taking a page from Doug Phillips’ handbook. Doug started the Christian Boys’ & Men’s Titanic Society, which stand “to the enduring legacy of those men who died that women and children might live.” And John Piper tweeted recently:
When the Titanic sank 20% of the men and 74% of the women survived. That profound virtue was not nurtured by egalitarianism.
The profound tragedy that the Titanic sank in the first place was not nurtured by egalitarianism either. Nor was the shortage of lifeboats.
The Titanic sank because of risk-taking. Wiser crew members would have been very careful in iceberg territory. As a rule, men are bigger risk takers (on average) than women. Companies with more/ an equal amount of ladies running it than gentlemen, tend to perform better over the long run. If there were woman staffers with an equal say over whether the Titanic should take the risk, would they perhaps have stopped the folly of driving full speed in iceberg waters? It is highly likely that they would have.
Similarly, not having enough life boats was an enormous risk. With what I know of female thinking, in my experience they are mostly thinking ahead not only of what they themselves need now, but also of what their children may need later today or next year. Every woman I know would choose, if it was up to them, to have enough life boats on a ship, just for in case. If the Titanic decision makers included women equally, that huge ship would have had enough life boats. I cannot prove this, but I am sure of it.
A planned lifeboat drill would have occurred some hours before the Titanic sank, but Captain Smith (male) cancelled it. More lives would probably have been saved if it happened. The same things I previously said about women and risk taking apply here.
Okay, male employees of the company that built the Titanic caused this crisis. How will the staff respond? How will the passengers respond? What did not happen, is that 1357 men (the amount of males who died on the Titanic) all stepped aside to let 380 women and children (the amount that was saved) step on to lifeboats first. Rather than that, a few crew members made decisions for everyone. These crew members were heroes, but not because they let women and children go first. They were heroes because they organized the process of getting to a lifeboat, while not getting on themselves.
Most first class men had no trouble boarding lifeboats. Passengers was not sure yet that the ship will sink, and that – instead of heroism – was the probable reason why some of them chose to stay behind.
When they realized the urgency, men wanted to get on the boats, but they were prevented on port side by the crew. According to the statistics compiled by John R. Henderson from earlier sources, men on starboard side were most likely not prevented from getting onto lifeboats, and many got in before women and children. According to 2nd class passenger Lawrence Beesly who was rescued from the sea, many men stampeded to port side, because they heard a (false) rumor that men were allowed into lifeboats on that side equally. (That was the opposite of the truth.)
Henderson cannot find supporting evidence that men from second class gave up their seats to women from steerage either, but claim “if it was true, they were more gallant by far than the men from First Class.”
Several women gave their lives willingly – Women who stayed with their husbands; a mother and father who, with their toddler, could not bear to go without knowing their baby is safe (the baby and sitter got on a lifeboat, without their knowing it); Edith Evans who gave her seat to another woman because the other one has children at home; etc. Some wives chose to stay with their husbands, but were forcefully torn from their arms and thrown into lifeboats.
Something is wrong with a ” Christian Boys’ & Men’s Titanic Society ” that honors “men who died that women and children might live” – if they do not honor the women who did the same. Is a man who stampedes to port side for a seat but dies anyway as worthy as, for example, Rosalie Ida Straus, who chose to stay with her husband, or Edith Evans, who gave up her seat for another woman? I do not think so.
Patriarchy is, of course, a form of classism. Classism is among the reasons* 62% of first class passengers survived, and only 25% of steerage passengers. The first 6 lifeboats to be launched (out of 18 launched) contained only first class passengers, and 2 more primarily first. Some steerage passengers testified to passageways being blocked by armed guards when they tried to get to the lifeboats, others of not being waked (it was as easy as sounding an alarm, but the crew did not sound the alarm to wake them), or even of being told by stewards to go back as there was no danger. “First class first” is not evidence of the great Christian value system that some Titanic fans would like us to believe.
All in all, Titanic does not tell us what happen if each man can make decisions for his wife and children (the contention behind modern-day “Christian” patriarchy as Doug Phillips advocates). It tells what happens if a few men makes life-and death mistakes like not staying out of iceberg territory and carrying only half the amount of lifeboats they should, then their ilk makes classist decisions (blocking men and helping women; helping first class first and allegedly blocking passageways for steerage passengers) on behalf of others, they panic and let down boats half-empty, while heroes (male and female) give up seats for others, and ordinary people (male and female, rich and poor) scramble for seats (or stay asleep because nobody told them of the crisis) within the unequal system of allocation.
In a an egalitarian society, who knows what may have happened? I think the Titanic may have avoided the icebergs, and I am sure they would have carried enough lifeboats. I know egalitarians won’t have blocked off the way for those in steerage.
*It was among the reasons, but the distance that steerage was from the decks with lifeboats was also among the reasons. Doug Phillips, in an article on the Men and Boys Titanic Society website, claim “there is no credible evidence that first class passengers were given priority seating rights. To the contrary, there are numerous accounts of first class passengers giving up their seats and assisting third class passengers into lifeboats.”
One problem with his statement is that the part after “on the contrary …” does nothing to disprove priority seating rights. It merely shows some first class (in more ways than one) heroes gave up “their seats” the classist crew gave them as a priority. Another problem is the simple and verifiable fact that the 1st 6 lifeboats loaded out of 18 contained only first class passengers, which is credible evidence of priority seating rights.