Women and Children First? Down with the Ship?

There’s been a lot of debate going on this week about the behavior of the men–both the crew and the passengers–of the shipwrecked Costa Concordia cruise ship.

Part of the controversy concerns the behavior of the ship’s captain, one Francesco Schettino. Schettino not only wrecked the ship by going too close to the island of Giglio in order to salute an old colleague on shore and show off his boat, he also abandoned his ship instead of being the last one off, as has traditionally been considered the duty of a captain. Amazingly, Schettino has excused his behavior by saying that he didn’t mean to abandon the ship, but that he tripped and fell into a lifeboat and couldn’t get out! Reportedly, when the Italian Coast Guard ordered him back to the ship, he refused to go.

Rich Lowry of The National Review contrasts Schettino’s behavior with that of the captain of the Titanic:

A century ago this spring, as the Titanic entered its death throes and all its lifeboats had been launched, Capt. Edward Smith told his crew: “Men, you have done your full duty. You can do no more. Now it’s every man for himself.” One witness recalled seeing him, probably washed overboard, clutching a child in the water as the Titanic disappeared. A member of the crew always believed it was Captain Smith’s voice he heard from the water after the Titanic was gone, urging him and others on: “Good boys! Good lads!”

But the main point of Lowry’s column is to criticize not just the captain, but all of the male passengers, who trampled over the practice of allowing women and children to get to safety first:

An Australian mother and her young daughter have described being pushed aside by hysterical men as they tried to board lifeboats. If the men of the Titanic had lived to read such a thing, they would have recoiled in shame. The Titanic’s crew surely would have thought the hysterics deserved to be shot on sight — and would have volunteered to perform the service.

Women and children were given priority in theory, but not necessarily in practice. The Australian mother said of the scene, “We just couldn’t believe it — especially the men, they were worse than the women.” Another woman passenger agreed, “There were big men, crew members, pushing their way past us to get into the lifeboats.” Yet another, a grandmother, complained, “I was standing by the lifeboats and men, big men, were banging into me and knocking the girls.”

Guys aboard the Costa Concordia apparently made sure the age of chivalry was good and dead by pushing it over and trampling on it in their heedless rush for the exits. The grounded cruise ship has its heroes, of course, just as the Titanic had its cowards. But the discipline of the Titanic’s crew and the self-enforced chivalric ethic that prevailed among its men largely trumped the natural urge toward panicked self-preservation.

Because of this chivalrous ethic, more men from first class died on the Titanic than women from third class.

Lowry argues that the abandonment of this tradition signifies a degradation of manliness:

The Titanic went down, they say, to the strains of the hymn “Nearer, My God, to Thee,” as the band courageously played on. It lent a final grace note to the tragedy. Today, we don’t do grace notes. We’ve gone from “Women and children, first,” to “Dude, where’s my lifeboat?” As the women of the Costa Concordia can testify, that’s a long way down.

Meanwhile, over at Slate.com, Brian Palmer has given us a bit of history about the tradition of saving women and children first (a fuller history of this practice would make a good Man Knowledge article on AoM, methinks):

In her book Women and Children First: 19th-Century Sea Narratives and American Identity, English professor Robin Miskolcze chronicled the origins of our maritime evacuation priorities. Until the second half of the 18th century, it was widely believed in England and America that God decided who would survive a shipwreck, so no one criticized men for climbing over whoever stood between them and safety. However, as Enlightenment thinkers began to emphasize human agency, and women came to be viewed as the holy protectors of the family, news reports grew critical of men who survived shipwrecks that killed female passengers.

Three disasters solidified the principle of women and children first in Britain and America. When the HMS Birkenhead went down in 1852, the soldiers reportedly stood at attention while the women and children were loaded into life boats. The overwhelming majority of the men died in an act that contemporary writers called “a piece of pure and exalted manhood.” Two years later, there was a mad scramble on the decks of the American ship SS Arctic as it foundered near Newfoundland. The press branded the male survivors cowards for failing to save even a single woman or child. American morality was redeemed in 1857, when the crew and male passengers of the SS Central America loaded women and children onto lifeboats at the expense of their own lives. Media reports glorified the gold-rush men who sacrificed their new wealth and their lives in a final act of chivalry. The image of captain William Lewis Herndon calmly smoking a cigar as he went down with his ship became a symbol of American seagoing bravery.

In both articles there is a lot of debate going on in the comments between those who think the lack of duty and chivalry shown by the captain and the passengers evidence our societal decline and the unfortunate results of the blurring of gender roles, and those who argue that if women wish to be treated equally in all other areas of life, then these shows of special treatment should be abandoned as well. One commenter on The National Review article posted this poem which was written by Clark McAdams after the Titanic sunk, showing that this debate is nothing new:

“Votes for women!”
Was the cry,
Reaching upward to the Sky.
Crashing glass
And flashing eye-
“Votes for Women!”
Was the cry.
“Boats for women!”
Was the Cry.
When the brave
Were come to die.
When the end
Was drawing nigh-
“Boats for women!”
Was the cry.

So what say you?

Read more:

Dude, Where’s My Lifeboat?” (@National Review)

Abandoning Ship: An Etiquette Guide” (@Slate)

Hat tip to Daniel K. and Mary R. for these links.

{ 127 comments… read them below or add one }

talon1 January 22, 2012 at 9:34 am

Men are not men anymore,women are not women. Men are sheep that let women heard them. No one cares about the old ways, Because of the thought of losing your life over someone elses, man women or child. thats the way this generation feels. I would personaly give up my seat to a woman or child. It may still not be your time to die,and if it is go to your grave knowing you did the right thing.

Rachel January 22, 2012 at 3:22 pm

I personally don’t think it’s necessary to refer to anyone as “dikes” or “bitches” in order to make your point. Nor is it necessary say that “a lot of the guys arguing for chivalry would be found as cowards.” Keep in mind that you are assessing people you do not know based on a few lines of commentary. This site is about the art of “manliness” and chivalry and gentlemanly conduct is part of “manliness.” A gentleman doesn’t call another man a coward unless he has evidence of such. A gentleman doesn’t call people of either gender “bitches.” And a gentleman doesn’t using insulting language to refer to sexual orientation. I’m not a gentleman – I happen to be a woman – but even I can spot these failings. Whilst bemoaning the loss of character of the modern man, you might pause for a moment and assess your own posts to be sure that you are behaving in such a way as to be a good example and not a discredit to the manly sex. As far as the accusation of cowardice, the ship didn’t sink – it tipped. Able-bodied swimmers weren’t necessarily in danger even if they couldn’t get to a lifeboat; cruise ship passengers understand the “abandon ship” order. From a survivor: “I felt like the disaster itself was manageable,” Smith added, referring to the grounding and tilting of the ship, “but I felt like the crew was going to kill us.” I feel that the tragic loss of life was entirely avoidable if the crew had acted capably, but it’s a stretch to say that a lot of the men who posted here would have been revealed as cowards. It was a frightening situation, to be sure, but I think a good number of people on board that vessel managed to keep their heads and get themselves to safety. Why assume that most guys posted here would have conducted themselves with less courage that the majority of the passengers who survived?

Waylander January 22, 2012 at 11:28 pm

Rachel, from reading your post above I would not say you are a women, but a gentle lady – the oft forgotten female equivalent of address to a gentleman.

Now, stepping avoid from simple flattery: I had the misfortune this summer to be part of the 22/7 terrorist attack on Oslo. A less than pleasant experience despite me having the luck to be some distance away from the site itself, but one that left a lingering impression of how people behave and act in truly desperate situations. It is not similar to a sinking ship, but I still feel the situations are close enough to warrant a bit of comparison. The aftermath of the explosion was more or less dotted with confusion, injuries, and general panic. Yet within this people still took care of each other, administered first aid and phoned in emergencies. Reading the article above with that experience in mind two things stand out to me:

1. The old adage of “women and children first” has now been replaced with “the weak and unable first”, whether that be the children, the old, or the injured. I think this is rightfully so, for in this modern age where we find both strong women and men fighting to be recognised it is necessary to establish a new baseline based on the old, chivalric ideals. When it comes down to it, I believe the stories of young men and women doing their best to help those unable to help themselves represent this modern paradigm shift accurately. It keeps to the old traditions and values, but in a modern and more appropriate manner. This should have been remembered by the men and women of the Costa Concordia, especially by her crew (which I assume was composed of both genders). It is frankly disgraceful that those who can do, did not. I’m not simply saying that as a man, but as a person.

2. Coming from a nation with a long seafaring tradition (most of it spent pillaging others, but let’s ignore that for now :P ) it has always been a case of leading by example, and a captain does this by staying at the helm until everyone else has left. The nature of his duty is such that if he is called upon to do so, he must by necessity be prepared to lay down his life. It is both a great honour to captain one of the great sea-going vessels of today, and a great burden. It would seem the captain of the Costa Concordia failed admirably in the line of duty twice: once by falling into a lifeboat and failing to return to his post, even more so the second time when he refused to board his vessel again when given opportunity to do so (of course, this is assuming the report is correct).

John K January 24, 2012 at 12:32 am

“When the HMS Birkenhead went down in 1852, the soldiers reportedly stood at attention while the women and children were loaded into life boats. The overwhelming majority of the men died in an act that contemporary writers called “a piece of pure and exalted manhood.”

Thanks for sharing that. Incredibly inspiring.

Barbara S January 29, 2012 at 12:22 am

Especially since the ship’s going over was the captain’s fault in the 1st place, he is a great coward and no example to his crew.

Faith Helsby February 6, 2012 at 12:15 pm

I measure 1.6 m, I can’t lift more than 10 kilos. I am a woman and I know that my muscular capacities and general body strength are less than that of at least 95% of the men around me. I know that if something heavy falls on me I will be less able to lift it off myself and will come out the worst for this. If a man tries to agress me, I like most women will be less able to defend myself than another man. It seems natural that the stronger and more able defend and assist the weaker. I have to also say that men who don’t have a natural tendence to protect those around them (even other men) have missed out on something very important and weaken even more our unstable ‘civilisation’.

Brian February 28, 2012 at 4:30 pm

No man owes anything to any woman or child at any time! You wanted “equality,” you wanted “choice,” there it is in full splendor! Long live free men who will not be slaves! Sink the feminists and church ladies, and their pet males!

Chris Field March 17, 2012 at 10:37 pm

I was unfortunate to be onboard the Costa Concordia during the “accident”. I lined up to get onto the lifeboats but did not push or trample any children or women. However, I did refuse to let any women leapfrog past me in the line to the lifeboat. Women have demanded equality for years and now believe that they can even serve in a frontline military unit. Congratulations to the females, but now they are treated equally they should not think they can pick and choose their equality when it suits them best. As for men “barging into women”, it’s amazing what a panicked mob is capable of. Most of the men that pushed over women and children were probably pushed forward by the crowd of hysterical and cowardly women behind him.

El March 22, 2012 at 4:27 pm

the whole “argument” that women want equality and therefore deserve to die over a man is pure sexist nonsense from men who have hated feminists for so long want to punish them any way they can.

Women and children first existed for a reason. The behavior of the men aboard the Concordia is just an example of how far we’ve fallen as humans.

El March 22, 2012 at 4:40 pm

Also, women still aren’t treated like equals anyways so the whole argument is invalid. Women and children first. Don’t like it? Then don’t get on a boat.

Christopher April 9, 2012 at 1:28 pm

EI, the burden of proof lies with you. Explain to me why the life of a Woman is more important than the life of a Man.

It should be Children first, after that it’s fair game.

Nan April 10, 2012 at 2:27 am

Equality and the rabid screaming of “feminism has ruined the world” is a load of codswallop. Children, elderly and the disabled first – all of whom should be passengers, the crew (male and female) should be the last to disembark a sinking vessel. If pushing or shoving by the able bodied occurs – male or female – they should be made to stand aside until they calm down. Anyone who pushes someone aside (again male or female) is a coward. The Titantic was a different age, I don’t need someone to stand aside for me but if someone pushes me whilst I wait patiently expect me to also call them a coward.

Richard April 10, 2012 at 7:26 am

I can’t say exactly what I’d do in such a dreadful situation, but I think “children first” is the most sensible approach (seeing as children have potential for the rest of their lives).

I think the women first idea is outdated and mirrors the “assumption of motherhood” found in family law courts across the world. The idea that mothers will be better parents than fathers. If anything this can be countered by saying men as “protectors” or breadwinners would better provide for a child were one partner to die (perhaps having greater financial security/shelter provision). I’m not saying either one is right just that its foolish to “presume” without the whole facts.

Also the justification for the rule that women are the procreators and so are more valuable in terms of evolutionary theory really has little standing. Not all women want kids, some may even be infertile; so should fertile, child-wanting men take priority over them? Its ridiculous either way you look at it. And the cowardice argument, surely that could be applied to many of the women who took priority over men, or is cowardice a male-only trait?

I’m not sure on the idea of chivalry, and whether its truly linkable to manliness. I think in the modern age and in line with women’s (well earned) equality, “respect” and politeness to BOTH genders is the new “chivalry”, not unquestioned natural privilege for one gender. I personally would hold a door open for either men or women, especially those struggling.

I’ll leave you with one interesting conundrum, are gay men expected to be chivalrous towards men or women?

John July 26, 2012 at 2:51 am

I’ve read a few comments on here that say that the men who’ve pushed past women and children were cowards and that this is proof of how we’ve fallen as a society.
To that I say this:

There were women who also pushed past and they aren’t called cowards. Anyone in a situation like that might react in a number of ways but to only pick out the men and only call them cowards is complete sexism.

And the comment that men are using feminisim as an excuse not to put them first in itself is sexist. So bascially you’re saying men are here to serve women. No, feminism isn’t about equality (at least not these days), it’s about fighting for women and anything for men should be ignored.

And to the comments that things aren’t equal to women these days so so flawed and incorrect. Things have changed.
To all those women who called the men in this situation cowards (and don’t say anything about the women): You are a sexist, you probally think men caused all the evil things in the world completely ignoring all those evil women who’ve killed, etc. I bet you never brought up the men’s point, ie why do men have to pay on dates, be chivalrist, etc. You only look at the things expected of women in the past yet don’t look at the things that were expected of men. Men had to work in the coal mines, steel industry, etc to feed their families while women got to stay at home (even the ones who didn’t have any kids) and all the money and food that were provided men had to work for. If men plotted against women why the hell were so many more things expected of men (and STILL are, women get to choose to stay at home or work, men still are expected to work, to take care of the woman WHY?!)

Men were expected to take care of women and women were expected to take care of men. Feminists stated this is an ideal from the so-called patriachal society and they said this isn’t equality. Things are still expected of men but to say that a woman should take care of men, feminists, call it sexism.

It should only be “children first” nothing more nothing less. Men and women SHOULD be equal and this is equality.

Peter August 14, 2012 at 12:44 pm

Its FUNNY in 2012 Woman are equals, and with that Men have the same equality, so instead of just standing next to a life boat get it in and make it go. You think just because your body has a vagina your entitled to be first. Screw that welcome to 2012, welcome to life, no body wants to lose it, and chivalry is not dead, but someone dying is hardly chivalry, Fittest survive and with a new generation of men finally being equal to woman, woman need to get off the soap box and accept being equal, that means an equal number of deaths from woman and men on boats.

Matt November 18, 2012 at 2:02 am

Hey it’s equal rights.

You see chivarly is indeed a nobel concept but only works when reciprocated by submissive women who acknowledge the protective role of a man.

But today we have equal rights and feminism, a spitefully obnoxious ideology of hypocrisy and female entitlement. Let them go down with the ship. Save the chidren, their innocence has not yet been tainted by this vile ideology, so they don’t deserve to die.

The best way to find out if someone really wants equality is to give it to them.

Carol December 13, 2012 at 8:55 am

I was living in Italy at the time of the Concordia debacle. It didn’t surprise me much, having become closely acquainted with Italian culture. Pushing others out of the way and needing to be first is quite the norm. That’s the way Italians drive cars and walk on the street. Italian culture has a very strong sense of family but almost no sense of community. Their homes will be immaculately kept on the inside, while garbage piles up around the outside. I am sure it was shocking for the foreigners on board the boat to see the less romantic side of Italian social norms, but there is is….

Chelsea January 8, 2013 at 3:15 pm

Christopher, John, Peter, Matt… If your mother and sister (assuming you have one) and your daughter (assuming you have one) were on a boat with men who were physically stronger and able to dominate over your loved ones, you’re telling me it’s fair game?

Your whiny and disgusting ideology is exactly why I will be raising my sons to be leaders and examples among the lost and spineless masses of boys who incorrectly label themselves as men.

www.agprofessional.com June 6, 2013 at 1:01 pm

What if you could actually see where your users
were going, what links they were clicking and what they may be buying.

The singularity of the book with sound effects and music
that make the artist money are extremely difficult for a website or
application can be used to automate practically any repetitive
task. Even for expert users, like himself,” it proclaimed. If you will not show that your work is to copy the code snippets of certain products that might be restricted to just anyone.

Emil June 23, 2013 at 12:35 pm

Women wanted equality,they can have it.Chivalry is nothing but male enslavement.

Alan July 30, 2013 at 11:53 am

I’ve just stumbled on this article after watching the Concordia documentary on BBC. I have to say, I was discussed at the lack of professionalism coming from the crew & captain. Reading some of theses comments, regarding woman should look after there selfs was… Well, as a man! I’m offended. Today’s society has really been watered down. Our generations are becoming weaker & weaker sadly. It should be a matter of common sence & the decency to put others weaker than your self first !! To meny people out for them selfs.

ND August 16, 2013 at 2:15 pm

I was brought up to be a gentleman to open doors for women and pull out chairs blah blah blah. What did I get in return not that I was expecting anything in return I was looked at as some of these women walked in like what is my problem or like it was my duty to do so other times I was talked down to by these same women and told they can open their own doors. So I say the he’ll with them. They ate right open your own doors and pull your own chairs they are not better then me but you know what I did not get? A thank you! Where are the ladies? Exactly, my point when there are more ladies in the world maybe I will consider being a gentleman. Maybe, all of you that consider a man’s life less worthy then that of a woman’s. I say and maybe you that are so quick to Judge men to include the White Knights in defense of the so called damsels I’m distress. Maybe, you should all consider when women to include you feminist realize that Chivalry is a Privilege not a Right which you expect from all men then maybe modern men will consider acting once again like Gentleman. I totally agree children first and if it is a female that I know or female family member yes I would step aside for them and any other woman I choose to. I would be doing it as a courtesy not because it is expected of me or society dictates I should. Again like a drivers license or Captain’s license a privilege not a RIGHT! I could what if as well what if some of the men on that ship are the legal guardian of their own kids? So again they are expected and should sacrifice themselves because the woman with kids is a woman? What about his kids and his family? You white knights and entitled females better get a grip in reality and realize that all that nonsense is in the past.
You can thank the woman’s movement and their followers and again the White Knights that support them because they although they consider themselves men are really like Ken dolls smooth between the legs just like the so called damsels they defend.

George July 16, 2014 at 2:57 am

The poem sums it up perfectly, it’s all perfectly well shouting for feminism and rights until the shit hits the fan and all traces of your ‘plight’ go out the window. There is literally no need for Women to be let on first, it should be children and disabled then everyone else. I can only assume that the men on here that oppose the equality of men are part of an archaic brainwashed generation of men and once that generation dies off this matter won’t be an issie any more. Just because a woman is weaker than a man why does he have to Give up his life for her? seems crazy logic. And if you were to use the point about women being the child bearers then I say why apply the women first rule to older women who cannot bear children? also this isn’t an issue in a world where were overpopulated. If anything let more women die so we people wont have more children.

And finally to ‘chelsea’ above, I’m sure you’ll be happy with your decision when your’ boy’s die in a disaster or protecting a woman in a fight and get killed.

online high school September 11, 2014 at 1:11 pm

Do you mind if I quote a couple of your articles as long as I provide credit and sources
back to your weblog? My website is in the very same
area of interest as yours and my visitors would genuinely benefit from some of
the information you provide here. Please let me know if this alright with you.
Appreciate it!

north face outlet sale September 24, 2014 at 1:39 am
A. December 5, 2014 at 9:23 pm

There are two possible approaches here that are equally consistent, but that derive their consistency from different grounds.

#1 : All human lives are a priori inherently equally valuable. We cannot prioritize.
In cases of emergency (sinking ships, burning buildings etc.) we do not group those lives according to any arbitrary characteristic, be it sex, OR AGE, OR DISABILITY, or nationality, or what have you, by which to set a “scale of preference”. No such preferences are morally permissible, as PEOPLE whom we associate with this or that characteristic are not so through any personal merit. There are no moral grounds to prefer a female life to a male life (OR VICE-VERSA), a young life to an old life (OR VICE-VERSA), a disabled life to an able-bodied life (OR VICE-VERSA), a Monegasque life to a Mozambican life (OR VICE-VERSA). Any attempt to establish such grounds of preference would end up in a utilitarian perspective, however angled, and this perspective rejects that. So, in absence of ANY grounds for preferential treatment for ANYONE, whoever comes first gets saved first, and we do not kick anyone out of line to prefer somebody else first (with a possible exception of those who aggress others to get before them – that is, by aggression that goes beyond a “reasonable” level of “elbowing” due to confusion and panic). If an individual CHOOSES to donate their slot to another person, that is fine and well, but it is a GIFT, not an obligation.

In practice, this approach results in the survival of the strongest, unless a sufficient number of individuals freely choose to favor the weaker ones. In the current cultural climate that has become generalized all across the Western world, that it quite unlikely, as being self-centered is viewed not only as socially and morally acceptable, but as IMPERATIVE. In other words, most people feel they are violating some unspoken tenets of common ethics if they FREELY put somebody else before themselves without expecting a reciprocal favor; this “common modern ethics” essentially does away with the notion of GIFT, a transaction that is by definition NOT reciprocal. As a result, the “new” egocentrism is not only not a vice anymore, it is not even “netural” – it has been erected to a positive VIRTUE. Some people see a positive value in this change of climate; others find it despicable, dangerous, and ultimately fatal for the society.

#2: All human lives are a priori inherently valuable, but in cases of emergency we are morally obligated to prioritize – even if our system of grouping will be imperfect – to give a leg-up to the weak (or perceived such) and to expose to greater risks those who are more constitutionally able to bear them.

The system is imperfect. It has an uncomfortable utilitarian streak to it (although it does not necessarily mean that, by deciding to prioritize, we claim one life is “more worthy” than another in absolute – rather, “more needy to be given particular consideration”). It does mean that some older able-bodied children will be saved before physically fragile (but not disabled) young adults. It does mean that some stronger and more physically resilient women will be saved before weaker men. But these are exceptional circumstances where, IF we group people, it WILL be imperfect and we WILL have to go by approximations and large categories, as we cannot perform on-spot tests of physical fitness. So we will vaguely group together the disabled, the children, the elderly, women and men according to their approximate features. Women, as a group, distinct enough from men as a group due to their physical inferiority, will be saved before those men. Not necessarily before some other groups (children, the elderly, the disabled), but before men, yes, because if we adopt it as morally imperative that there BE an order of preference in the first place (i.e. an approach that counters #1), then it goes all the way according to the criterion established. One cannot argue for such a criterion (relative weakness = a need for greater or preferential protection) when it comes to the general differences between the able-bodied and the disabled, or the physical constitutions of children and adults, but then do away with it when it comes to the general differences between the physical constitutions of men and women and the relative differences resulting from it (and, I repeat, in all three cases it will be IMPERFECT with some people unjustly favored or postponed, as such large groupings are approximate and imperfect, but they are the best you can do in a case of an emergency) – it is inconsistent. If you believe that relative weakness IS a legitimate claim for group classifications and subsequent preferential treatment in cases of emergency, then you believe it ALL THE WAY THROUGH, not only until the point where it is personally comfortable for you (such as allowing a generalized age-based or disability-based relative weakness a pass, but not allowing an equally real generalized sex-based relative weakness a pass).

The approach #2 stems from an ethics of obligation. It is not “egalitarian”, but an expression of a morality which believes that relative strength comports an obligation towards the relatively weak (as a generalized principle: not only physical strength and not only in life-death situations). It is also an ethics of that which used to be a commonly accepted (Christian in origin) concept of love: love as that disposition of mind and will that consciously puts another who is relatively weak before oneself, even in absence of legal duress, and without excepting anything in return. Most people of my generation and the one currently in formation, men and women alike, seem almost constitutionally incapable of that disposition of mind and will – and I insist on calling it such, as it is not a mere sentiment, love is not to be confused with affection – so I have mostly learnt of it from the older generations. That transformation seems to be at the core of the shifting concept of strength as an obligation to a concept of strength as merely a competitive advantage with little restraints attached to it.

Most people seem to be seem to be stuck in the middle. Either they actually favor #1, but are too intellectually dishonest to proclaim it loud and clear, as it would require openly stating that they also DO NOT allow for a preference towards the disabled or the children, and that is still a taboo to say in polite company, so they discuss the issue by mudding the waters and trying to claim both points of view at the same time; or they think they favor #2, but are not willing to accept the final consequences of that position, which ARE “sexist” almost as much as they are “ageist”, so they end up claiming both points of view, each to a point where it is personally comfortable.

If you are in favor of #2, and accept a moral obligation to put the relatively weaker before you, it does not matter who the women (the children, the elderly, etc.) in question are. That obligation is by definition not bound by particulars (as opposed to a GIFT), but only by a general category, in a situation where, as we said, one cannot perform an on-spot fitness test to differentiate more precisely between the “applicants” for the boat.
Saying that there is no such obligation BECAUSE women “wanted equality” is a nonsense, it goes down to particulars and to the wrongs ones: the chances are that the concrete women favored are not going to be THE VERY ONES who either “wanted equality” and who have personally participated in the duplicity of feminist-inspired legislation. And even if women wanted “equality” in spite of their relative weakness, it would STILL be morally imperative to prefer them, regardless of what THEY want (or say they want), if you truly adhere to an obligation-based morality – if it means physically coercing a member of the weaker category who wants to be “equal” into that boat before one starts saving the stronger category, then THAT is what is morally imperative to do. In such a morality, there is a place even for going against another person’s expressed wishes, in extreme situations and if it is for their benefit. Most women would not object and would not force you to coerce them into that boat – and you may argue that it is duplicitous for some of them to accept “inequality” only when it suits them, while unwilling to extend analogous treatment to others weaker than them in other contexts – but if you adhere to that kind of morality, those are irrelevant considerations, as your duty is not bound by the “propriety” of their attitudes, but by their relative weakness.

If you are in favor of #1, then the few paragraphs above are irrelevant, but please be consistent within your perspective: a life of a child is not to be preferred to a life of an adult either. You cannot have it both ways, either you DO common generalized groupings, imperfect as they are, but do it all the way through – or you consistently do not do them AT ALL and are perfectly morally free to access that boat before a 2-year old and before a fragile nanny. I am willing to accept you as an intellectually honest interlocutor whatever your perspective, as long as it is consistent.

A. December 5, 2014 at 11:34 pm

A couple of additional general observations, off-topic, in reference to a comment above (however outdated) by a certain ND:

If we set aside those acts that have become generalized as common courtesy (that is, tacitly obliging for BOTH sexes, such as holding doors for the person behind you), traditional chivalry is properly a gift, not a duty. That understanding seems not to be an idiosyncrasy on my part, but rather a common attitude shared by most women as well: I do not know a single woman who professes or seems to truly believe that ALL men have a universal duty towards ALL women to run open doors for them or to pull out chairs for them, and I certainly do not know a single woman who professes or seems to believe that in a mixed company eating out it is uniquely the men that ought to split the bill. What I HAVE encountered online quite a bit is in a misunderstanding (or a willful misconstruction) by a part of men as to what is the nature or the limits of women’s “pretensions” as far as chivalry is concerned.

For those women who “expect” chivalry, it is confined to specific contexts, i.e. to intimate relationships or to those relationships aspiring to become such. You may philosophically disagree with it, but at the end of the day where it exists, it is a personal discriminating grounds between men potentially significant in a woman’s life (and as such it is morally exactly the same as other discriminating grounds, such as personal grooming, adherence to certain worldviews and philosophies, observing norms of a particular etiquette) and it turns into a CONTRACT: a woman may be only willing to bind herself to such a man who is willing to observe particular conventions, while having no pretentions whatsoever as far as other men in her life are concerned. And it goes both ways, as they say: a man may be only willing to bind himself to such a woman who is willing to observe particular conventions, reciprocal OR NOT to those to which he has agreed. A contract, to be valid, does not necessitate a perfect reciprocity: I may expect A, B, and C of my spouse, while my spouse may expect D and E of me. In principle, there is nothing morally wrong even with contracts where one side gives everything and the other merely agrees to accept it while offering nothing in return, as long as such an “uneven” contract is freely choosen by both parties – although in practice you would be hard pressed to find it.

One may not reasonably SIMULTANEOUSLY claim to respect the freedom of contract AND to oppose chivalry in general. Rather, one may choose not to offer it as a gift oneself and not to contract it with another person as a framework for their relationship, but I do not see how one can have a principled problem with OTHER people choosing either (or both) as THEIR standard of behavior for THEMSELVES or in THEIR relationship. Which, at the end of the day, brings me to my profound inability to understand those men who go at great lenghts and invest considerable personal energies “fighting” chivalry – if one does not want to adopt it, one simply does not extend it as a gift, and where necessary, one communicates it clearly (and politely) to those women potentially becoming his significant others. The same goes for those women who do not want to observe traditional conventions incumbent upon women (such as particular care of their grooming and outfit, physical fitness, expressions of “mothering” behavior where considered appropriate and other markers of specifically feminine behavior in relation whether to men in general or to one’s significant other in particular) – one simply does not observe them, and communicates one’s intention not to, where necessary; why go at great lengths to “combat femininity” as such and even shame those women who CHOOSE to observe those conventions? I suppose I will never understand either of the two, belligerent men and women raging against those among their sex who willingly upkeep those conventions. There is nothing morally wrong with the men you refer to as “white knights”, nor with women who wish to behave in a traditionally feminine way. To the contrary, many would argue that it is precisely those subsets of male and female population that make ideal husbands and wives. The morally relevant consideration is that such roles be not FORCED upon people’s throats, but that men and women may freely choose them or reject them. There is no LEGAL obligation for a man to be chivalrous, and as far as societal pressure is concerned, it goes in multiple directions simultaneously and there is no one way of behaving that is going to make a man (or a woman) respectable and acceptable in EVERYBODY’s eyes. That is a fact of life to take into consideration and a risk one has to take, whatever his choices. Yes, some people will look down upon you for not observing what they believe to be proper rules of conduct, but rarely will a perfect stranger confront you over it (and you are also not morally obligated to take part in that confrontation by justifying yourself or by counter-attacking him for his values), so most of the time that disapproval remains in the privacy of his mind. I sincerely fail to see a purported big-scale pressure and duress for men to be universally traditionally chivalrous towards women, and I say that having interacted with groups and individuals from socioeconomically varied backgrounds, spanning over three continents, in five languages. In my experience, for whatever it is worth, representative or not, there IS NO such thing as a universal female “claim” for chivalry towards them QUA women by ALL men. Most women’s aesthetic and behavioral sensibilities are genuinely pleased when treated in such a way, but they do not complain if they are not, nor do they think men have wronged them by not extending that gift t them. Just like most men are genuinely pleased when they can enjoy a sight and a company of a beautiful woman, well-mannered in a traditionally feminine way, but do not believe that there is such a thing as a universal obligation for all women to cultivate their exterior or micromanage their speech and behavior in such a way so as to please aesthetic sensibilities of men they meet or with whom they associate.

Different things appeal to the sensibilities of the two sexes, but an attitude that those are positive obligations, rather than GIFTS and legitimate CHOICES, in my humble experience, seems to be an exception, not the rule – for both sexes’ “pretentions” alike.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: