I hate the term "women and children". My first reaction is; is that one category or two?


For your additional reading:


I had this conversation recently, but focussed on First Class vs. Third Class survivors, and still had these handy.


Oh, god, I JUST did a post about something like this, here. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0449908208/qid=1139878530/sr=2-1/ref=pd_bbs_b_2_1/104-0768369-3059112?s=books&v=glance&n=283155

"There were 2,224 people on board the Titanic. One thousand six hundred and ninety of them were men. Only five hundred and thirty four of them were women or children. Of those women and children, one hundred and sixty one died, some of them in the crew. Half the women in third class died. The men in the crew outnumbered the women in the crew by more than four to one. Women were allowed to be maids, nurses, governesses. These were not well-paying jobs. Male crew jobs were. A once in a lifetime accident cost men their lives, but elsewhere men went to work, went home, got paid well, and faced no oceans, or at least no dangers for which they were not richly compensated. Meanwhile they talked about chivalry, and how they deserved higher pay, better perks, because they treated women so well.

The problem is, ocean liners going down aren't exactly a common thing. Few men are required to give up their lives for women. In the Edwardian world, the excuses made looked even more hypocrtical. Only rich white women made out under that system."

Women and children first never happened to poor women, women of color, or even that often. Having your chair pulled out for you was no substitute for having the vote and freedom.


often chivalry was applied to the benefit of upper class women but not at all to the peasantry

Not "often". Chivalry and courtly love only applied to women of the nobility (not merely 'upper class'--this was long before the mercantile class). A man who felt base urges was supposed to go slake them on the peasant women, who were thought to be dumb beasts anyway. The modern version of this is kindness to ladies and no rules for 'tramps.'


>>>Sex as a proxy for determining who is strong and who is weak is woefully inadequate.<<<

I agree entirely. What should have been done was to require all passengers to submit to a comprehensive pre-boarding battery of psychological and physical strength testing so a pre-voyage predetermination could be made as to who would have first dibs on life rafts. Each person should have been given a colored chit corresponding to his or her predetermined fitness level: green for athletic, blue for fit, orange for average, yellow for weak, red for lame or incontinent. If, once boarded, one believes a change in fitness status has taken place (e.g., stomach ache, hydrophobia, rug burns, etc) one could complete a Change of Status Request Form (COSRF Form #101). The request should be reviewed by on onboard committee within six (6) hours of the making of such request and the applicant would be noticed with the decision within eight (8) hours. No requests for status change would be considered after an all-board emergency had been declared by the captain or within seven (7) hours of disembark regardless of the emergency status. COSRF F#1 would only be applicable to reductions in status, and no reductions would be considered past two levels of one’s current level. If any passenger believed that a fellow passenger’s pre-voyage predetermination status was designated insufficiently low (that is, they are suspected of being fitter than their designation) that aggrieved passenger may, with the co-petitioning of six other (non-family) similarly aggrieved passengers request (using Form PFEOFS #201) that the onboard status committee elevate the subject passenger’s status. Clear and convincing evidence of psychological and/or physical abilities above and beyond those deemed appropriate for the current level status must be presented to the committee before such a petition would be granted. No appreciations of status would be considered past two levels above one’s current level. In any event, no such petition may be filed after an all-board emergency has been declared by the captain, but petitions already docketed must be heard prior to the emergency signal being withdrawn by the captain, or of the ship’s sinking, whichever shall occur first.

If such a system proved somehow unworkable for any reason, I would suggest that, in a pinch, the passengers revert to women and children first, however inadequate.


In today's global merchant marine, no such meme exists. The Titanic sinking and those ships which sank before her were woefully under-equipped in terms of primary lifesaving gear. There was an established "rule" at the time of Titanic's sinking which directed "women and children first" and, if reports are accurate, nearly became "women and children only".

Today, given the different lifesaving craft (carried in sufficient numbers to accommodate all souls plus 10 percent) gives emphasis to getting everyone off with no exclusions and no preference, although I suspect parents with children would be pushed to the head of any queue. Additionally, even if the ship sinks, when it reaches a certain depth, all inflatable rafts are released and arrive on the surface.

In Titanic's day (1912) women were still very much 2nd class citizens. They could not vote in Britain and in only a few of the United States. The mindset, if I've interpreted it correctly, is that married women were still very much "property" and marriageable women were "up for auction". I think THF has it correct that women were considered a "weaker" or "fairer" sex and were deserved of exceptional protection along with children.

I also believe that two other factors were present in that day and age:
1. Men, believing that sacrificing their own lives constituted an act of honor and heroism, would view waiting until women and children had been evacuated from the sinking vessel as an act of heroism. Many, particularly within the "senior" classes, would not expect women to engage in heroic acts of any kind. Indeed, such acts would be frowned upon. Certainly Charles Lightoller, Titanic 2nd Officer was reportedly issuing instructions which would tend to support that belief.
2. There was a pervasive belief among well-educated Britons that the survival of race and caste was dependent upon maintaining a healthy supply of women in that class. While I doubt, in the confusion of abandoning a sinking ship, that was foremost on anybody's mind, it was certainly a part of the ethos of Edwardian Britain. This would extend to mothers with children. Of course Britain found out how untrue that was when, in 1918, a huge chunk of the male British aristocracy didn't return from the Great War and forced the daughters of the upper class to look to the merchant class for husbands.

I think today we might have a difficult time imagining how the people of Edwardian thought around this question. THF, you have it quite right that today acts of heroism are just as likely to be performed by a woman as a result of eliminated barriers.


The vast majority of the casualties on the Titantic were from the lower class, the breakdown of survivors was as follows:
First class: 203 (62%) saved, 122 (38%) lost
Second class 118 (41%) saved, 167 (59%) lost
Steerage class 178 (25%) saved, 528 (75%) lost
Crew 212 (24%) saved, 673 (76%) lost

Fifty-three children died, and all but one of those (Lorraine Allison from First Class, a statistical aberration) was from Third Class. Only 27 steerage children lived, out of 79 aboard.

There's a table here:

A lot of contradictory info; this one says that no children from 1st or 2nd class were lost, so I dunno. Survivors are put at somewhere between 709 to 712 people.


Oh, another interesting thing is that there were two different policies in effect on either side of the boat. On one side, the fella directing the filling of the boats put men in when no more women were available to get in the boats. On the other side, the women/children first was far more strictly enforced. You even see this in the movie, where the reprobate fiance goes to the other side of the ship and hops into a boat.

The Happy Feminist

I think you are correct, Mythago. I tempered my comment about chivalry only because I am not sure whethert the Titanic might have been an exception to the general rule that chivalry (certainly in the medieval sense) only applied to high born women.


"I very much approve the notion that the stronger should allow the weaker to go first..."

Okay, as long as it's "first," and not "instead of themselves."

"The problem, of course, is to determine who is strong and who is weak. Traditionally, it was assumed that 'women' were automatically among the weak who had to be protected. This assumption, however, is problematic for two reasons: (1) women are not necessarily 'the weak' and (2) 'women and children first' is sometimes used to justify women's subordinate status in society."

You're right to point out that this attitude infantilizes women and has effects that reach beyond disaster scenarios. But now I'll do my job (the reason I think I was invited to this blog in the first place) and point out things from a friendly MRA perspective.

I have no problem with lending a helping hand to those who need it, such as the elderly, wheelchair-bound, and infants. Where I have a huge problem -- as does, I believe, the person who wrote you -- is when I am told that it's the man's "job" to risk his life to save the woman's life, that his death would be less tragic than hers. A good deal of "traditionalist" women wet their pants at the film TITANIC, fantasizing about the prospect that men were literally handing over their lives so that women (even women who were strangers) could board the rafts. One even wrote, "I bet that if that were to happen today, a lot of men would ask, 'Why? Why should I die?'"

She's damn right that's what men would say, and they'd be absolutely correct to do so. Is it now a character flaw to want to save your own neck? The woman who flees the sinking ship is called courageous; the man who does the same is a cowardly cad, a poor excuse for a man who doesn't realize his "role."

"Everyone, male or female, should be taught the virtues of self-sacrifice in emergency situations. I have every intention in any emergency situation to see to the safety of my husband (who has a severe disability) before I see to my own safety."

That's very big of you. We will never know how we will act in such a situation unless it actually occurs, but it's good that you have that selfless attitude. We all should.

"The men of the Titanic would not have had to sacrifice themselves if there had been enough lifeboats."

Yup. The aspect almost no one talks about with regard to the Titanic and similar disasters is that the liferafts had such a lesser occupancy than the GD ship itself. That's an outrage. If you have 2,500 people on a boat, you should have room for about 5,000 in the lifeboats. Impractical? So is drowning.

"I have heard people argue that 'women and children first' is a perk women will have to give up if we want equality."

You provided an example, but one can't assume that ALL of us who think that "women and children first" is an anti-male idea are somehow against equality. It's not a spiteful position we have; it's just following equality all the way through. I'd hazard a guess and say the fellow who wrote you feels the same way. Equality isn't the enemy, but rather SELECTIVE equality: "I'm your equal until the dinner check comes or unless terrorists take over our building."

"I simply don't see 'women and children first' as a formulation that works anymore. On the other hand, we shouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater: so for now, I am hoping that the ideal of the strong protecting the weak will work in whatever situations I and my fellow human beings find ourselves in."

We're all in this together. If everyone on this blog were in a burning building, sure, I like to think that I'd help out as many people as I could, but I also like to think that all of those people -- irrespective of gender -- will try to do the same for me.

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