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This graphic is the top (unstickied) post on the Men’s Rights subreddit at the moment. Like that Warren Farrell quote I wrote about last week, it’s yet another example of a familiar claim made by misogynistic Men’s Righsers — that men are world’s true heroes, sacrificing themselves for the good of women too lazy or cowardly or whatever to stand up for themselves.
At first glance, the graphic seems to have a certain logic to it: Far more men than women did die on the titanic; that’s a fact. All of the firefighters who died on 9/11 were men; that is also, as far as I can tell, a fact.
Does this justify the graphic maker’s conclusion that “men simply are caring people.” Well, no. You can’t actually draw conclusions about all 3.5 billion men and boys on planet earth from two examples.
But there’s a lot more wrong with the graphic-maker’s argument than that, as a closer look at these two examples can show.
Let’s start with the 9/11 firefighters, because it’s a bit more straightforward. First, I want to point out a little bit of hanky panky the graphic maker is playing with the numbers. Yes, it is true that all of the firefighters who died in and around the towers that day were male. But they weren’t the only first responders to die; if you also include police officers, you will find at least one woman’s name in the list.
That said, yes, virtually all of the first responders who died were men, including every single firefighter who died. And they died heroes, there’s no question about that.
But this isn’t because there were hundreds of female firefighters standing back eating bon bons and letting the men do the dirty and dangerous work for them. Firefighting is a heavily male-dominated profession, and like a lot of male-dominated professions it has not exactly been welcoming to women, who have faced discrimination and harassment (sexual and otherwise) when they’ve tried to enter the “boys club.”
But there’s an even bigger elephant in the room: while virtually all of the first-responders who died on 9/11 were men, all of the terrorists who hijacked the planes that day were also men.
So if you’re going to use this incident to claim that “men simply are caring people,” wouldn’t you also have to conclude that “men simply are terrorists?”
Or perhaps you might want to reconsider using an incident like this to draw conclusions about an entire gender.
When MRAs — taking their cue from Warren Farrell — complain about men being forced or pressured into the “protecter role,” most of the time they are protecting women from the actions of other men.
Yep, men are more likely to run into burning buildings to save women than women are to save men. But men are far more likely to murder their intimate partners (or their exes) than women are.
Even the Titanic, perhaps the MRAs favorite example of “male disposability,” is in fact yet another case in which some men sacrificed themselves to save women from the actions of other men.
First of all, let me point out another little bit of trickery that the graphic-maker is playing with the numbers here. While it is true that a much higher percentage of women on board the Titanic survived than men, looking at the raw numbers is misleading, because there were also several times as many men as women on the ship in the first place. And that class made an enormous difference in terms of survival as well, though their were certainly many upper-class men who went down with the ship. (Like, for example, my great-grandfather Jacques Futrelle, the mystery writer.)
And it’s also worth pointing out that the “women and children first” policy that seems to have been followed, to a degree, on the Titanic wasn’t actually typical, as I’ve pointed out before; indeed, one study of 15,000 victims of major maritime disasters found that more women and children died than men.
But the plain fact is that chivalry didn’t kill the men on the Titanic. This was a preventable disaster, one that was, quite literally, man-made.
The White Star Line chose to equip their ship with an inadequate number of lifeboats. The captain of the ship chose to plow ahead in conditions of virtually no visibility through a section of the North Atlantic that he knew from reports that day was filled with icebergs.
And of course the captain, and the decision makers at the White Star line were all men.
So if you want men as a group to get credit for kindness because some men willingly gave up their seats on the lifeboats for women, it would seem only fair to have to give all men blame for the recklessness and hubris of the ship captain and those White Star line executives who decided that the ship didn’t really need lifeboats enough for everyone on board.
Human beings, whatever their gender, are fascinating and varied creatures, who respond differently to challenges in different settings. There are countless examples of men — and women — rising to the challenges that history has put before them and finding reserves of heroism that they didn’t even know they had. And there are countless examples of men — and women — acting in craven and awful and evil ways.
No gender has a monopoly on kindness or cruelty.
Also, fuck the captain of the Titanic. What an asshole.