The Titanic sank 100 years ago today, and Men’s Rights Activists are still pissed off about it.
They’re not really pissed off that it sank. They’re pissed off that the men on board were more likely to go down with the ship than the women. You know, that whole “women and children first” thing.
Some MRAs were so pissed off about this that they were planning to march on Washington on this very day in an attempt, as they put it, to “Sink Misandry.”
You don’t know how much I would have loved to see this, a dozen angry dudes marching in circles on the National Mall carrying signs protesting the sinking of the Titanic and demanding that in all future sinkings of the Titanic that women and men be equally likely to drown in the cold waters of the North Atlantic. For that would be justice at last!
But, alas, due to unspecified logistical problems this march was cancelled some months back, and so misandry remains unsunk.
Or does it?
For you see, it turns out that the whole “women and children first” thing was not really a thing. Oh, on The Titanic it was. But women unfortunate enough to be passengers on sinking ships that weren’t the Titanic (or the HMS Birkenhead, which sunk off the coast of South Africa in 1852) weren’t able to push ahead to the front of the line. That, at least, is the conclusion of a new Swedish study (link is to a pdf of it).
The chivalrous code “women and children first” appears to have sunk with the Titanic 100 years ago.
Long believed to be the golden standard of conduct in a shipwreck, the noble edict is in fact “a myth that has been nourished by the Titanic disaster,” economist Mikael Elinder of Uppsala University, Sweden, told Discovery News.
Elinder and colleague Oscar Erixson analyzed a database of 18 peace-time shipwrecks over the period 1852–2011 in a new study into survival advantages at sea disasters.
Looking at the fate of over 15,000 people of more than 30 nationalities, the researchers found that more women and children die than men in maritime disasters, while captains and crew have a greater chance of survival than any passengers.
Being a woman was an advantage on only two ships: on the Birkenhead in 1852 and on the Titanic in 1912.
The notion of “women and children first” may have captured the popular imagination, but it’s never been an official policy for ship evacuations. It wouldn’t be fair, nor would it be an efficient way to get as many people as possible to safety.
Nor was “women and children” strictly enforced even on the Titanic. True, my great-grandfather, the mystery writer Jacques Futrelle, was one of those who went down with the ship, while his wife and my great-grandmother, writer Lily May Futrelle made it off safely (in the last lifeboat). But there were many men who survived, and many women who died.
If you want to get mad about the sinking of the Titanic all those years ago, get mad at the White Star Line for not bothering to equip the ship with lifeboats enough for everyone on it. Blame the captain, for ordering the ship to continue plowing ahead on a dark, foggy night into an area of the Atlantic where numerous icebergs had just been sighted by a number of other ships. Blame the crew for botching the evacuation – for the strange lack of urgency after the ship hit the iceberg, for the lifeboats leaving the sinking ship with half as many passengers as they could fit.
Much like the iceberg that sank the Titanic, Elinder and Erixson’s research has poked a giant hole in the “women and children first” myth. Of course, MRAs aren’t interested in historical accuracy. They’re looking for excuses to demonize women and feminists. So I imagine we’ll be hearing about the Titanic from them for years to come.
Here’s another tragic sinking, of yet another ship without a sufficient number of lifeboats:
EDIT: I added a couple of relevant links and fixed a somewhat egregious typo.