Women Seafarers On A Cruise Ship (Courtesy Safety4Sea)
We just marked International Women's Day. The modern world is supposedly growing more enlightened, and fewer men would maintain that women are inferior, ought to be barred from serving at sea, or should be paid less. And yet women aboard ship worldwide still find themselves in a battle for equal rights. 

I remember the first woman I encountered aboard ship - on a tanker, almost 40 years ago -  and what a shock it seemed! I'd only been sailing for a few years myself, and had never considered that a woman might work at sea. I'm sort of ashamed to admit that it seemed strange and not quite right to me at the time. 

And this feeling was apparently borne out, by the trouble that ensued on board after she joined - and I don't mean the old superstition about a woman on board being a Jonah and bringing the ship bad luck! I mean the jealousy and friction engendered by her presence among the men in the crew. 

Without admitting it, we men all jockeyed for position. Some guys imagined that they might be able to sleep with her; others may have had no nefarious ideas in mind, but they became part of the complex maneuvering all the same. The atmosphere aboard became electric - guys that had been friends became cool, conversation changed whenever she entered a room, and a sense of artificiality prevailed. 

On deck (she was an OS) some guys tried to help her do work she was well able to handle by herself. Others let her strain at jobs that were beyond her strength - when if a man had been in the same position, they would have gladly lent a hand. It seemed everybody had a point of view: she was either a woman, and therefore deserving of extra consideration; or else she was a woman, and therefore incapable of pulling her weight and earning her pay with the rest of us. But I don't remember anyone just accepting her as a crewmember, judging her on her merits as a seafarer, and leaving it at that. 

Many of the guys I worked with laid the trouble squarely on her shoulders: she was here, her presence was causing problems, and this was why women shouldn't sail! But one friend hit the nail on the head: it was the men's attitudes that were the source of all these problems! So far as I can remember, she was blameless - never flirted or played favorites - in  fact, seemed to simply want to be left alone to do her job. We made that tough to do - and I'll admit, I'd hate to work under such circumstances myself.

This article on Safety4Sea   tells us that in spite of the passage of four decades, things haven't changed that much in many ships. That's too bad, and we men should examine our own attitudes and actions to ensure that women on board get a square break - no more, no less - just the same even chance that we'd give any man to do his job and join in shipboard life as an equal.

It has to be admitted that we're all social and sexual creatures, and our attitudes will bleed over into our actions even when we're trying to be prevent it. Race, religious belief, national or political differences, and of course sex, all affect the way we look at others.

But one of the best things I learned at sea was to be tolerant of others. I learned that my preconceived ideas were very often wrong. I learned that if I cooperated with someone (which you often have to do shipboard, if you want to get your own job done), then I'd find out that they had unexpected talents and gifts to respect and admire. A boy from the sheltered American Midwest had his blinkers removed, and learned to see a much wider world. And that came to include women seafarers!

What has your experience been with women on board? Have you had a woman as a superior? Are some flags better than others so far as women go? Or are you a woman seafarer? Please let us know your experience!

Eugenio Ruiz
12/31/2015 08:50:52 am

I´m not only happy to read your article, also I´m graceful because there are so few opinions and reminiscents of seaferars men about the women on board of the merchant ships. Being a retired mate, I´m writing a long work about this subject and I can´t no find so much seafarers men like you explaining what they think or remember about that. Sincerely, Eugenio


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