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A Titanic mistake? New research sinks the “women and children first” myth.

Another manifestation of Sink Misandry

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).

As Discovery News explains:

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.

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BlackBloc
BlackBloc
10 years ago

MRAs still going at the Titanic thing? Statistics 101 Fail! What is ‘variance from low sampling rate’ for 300$, Alex?

For all the complaints MRAs make about Gender Studies being a fake degree, at least Gender Studies actually used solid math to come at conclusions.

ballgame
10 years ago

Um, David? I appreciate your taking the time to respond and all, but is the shouting really necessary? I mean, especially since you’re ‘shouting’ things that I haven’t disagreed with.

You don’t cite (at least in this post) exactly which MRAs said whatever about the Titanic or the policy of ‘women and children first,’ so I can’t really judge them. I’m well aware that many MRAs say silly and/or hateful things, and for all I know you may be right about their raising this issue in an irrelevant way.

What I can judge, though, is your claims here, which were:

1. The whole ‘women and children first’ was “not really a thing,” and was, in fact, a “myth.”
2. The Titanic was an “exception” and somehow not representative of the prevalence of the ‘women and children first’ approach.

Now, it turns out that both of those claims are false, as demonstrated by the study you yourself have cited. Or at least, claim number 1 is clearly false, while claim number 2 is grossly misleading because it requires ignoring the change of societal approaches over time.

How about this: what if I were to change your claim to something that you and I would both agree to:

‘Women and children first’ was not a myth, but was in fact a fairly common occurrence in maritime disasters up until about a century ago. It seemed to have been ordered about half the time. However, even though many men in that era died to save women and children as a result of those orders, overall women still had lower survival rates than men, no doubt at least partially due to factors which could be reasonably attributed to patriarchal gender expectations (i.e. very restrictive clothing and much more limited permissions or expectations to be physically active and fit).

BASTA!
BASTA!
10 years ago

The odds of even being in a maritime disaster is very small anyway. The MRA’s that use the phrase “votes or boats” want to make the choice for women to get preferential treatment on sinking ships but not equal rights in the rest of the world. No thank you, MRA’s. I prefer to have equal rights, and everyone on a sinking ship should have lifeboats.

… and eat cake. Kendra, lifeboats are a metaphor that applies to all situations when critical resources are scarce and not everyone can be saved, and you are not disarming this metaphor by expressing a wish that things never come to this. Such situations happen, and when they happen, women often get preferential treatment.

BASTA!
BASTA!
10 years ago

The idea that somehow this is a live issue today is beyond silly.

Yeah, so it appears for those few seconds before you remember the women-only food handouts after the Haiti earthquake. Sorry to break the news to you, but it is you, not MRAs, who has seized on that lifeboats myth-or-whatever. It is a metaphor, and might be inaccurate, but it is universally understood precisely because it describes a pattern that pops up every other disaster, every other crisis, every other day on the news.

kirbywarp
kirbywarp
10 years ago

@ballgame:

I think you are a bit confused. The “myth” of WCF (Women and Children First) is not that it existed. Everyone knows that it was an order given during some disasters. What the study shows is that WCF was not the standard response to emergencies, as David points out, and additionally that WCF did not inflate the number of deaths of men over women and children.

To reiterate, nobody is saying that WCF was never an order that was given. What we’re saying is that it was not the standard protocol, and wasn’t an example of misandry (as MRAs love to claim it was). This is the true meaning of your point 1, which you say is false, but is actually true.

kirbywarp
kirbywarp
10 years ago

@BASTA!:

Yeah, the disaster in Haiti was a great example of women getting preferential treatment. How dare they hand out food to a segment of the population that was being forced aside by another in food lines.

… Asshole.

Sagredo
Sagredo
10 years ago

Well, let’s see what we’ve learned:

* The “women and children” order was typically given on about half the shipwrecks sampled before about WWI, not just the Titanic.

* Despite this, adult men were more likely to survive than women and children considered as a group. This might be due to relative physical endurance, or relative period clothing encumerbances. Children, especially, are not as capable of physical survival as adult men. Actually, these factors might justify the order.

* Those folks in the opposing tribal-moral community are nasty and smelly, as we all know deep in our guts.

Sound about right?

kirbywarp
kirbywarp
10 years ago

@Sagredo:

*raises hand*

About that third point…

Jay
Jay
10 years ago

@kirby- I mean, I hear you, but there are a heck of a lot of people aside from women who get “pushed aside” in situations such as these. The elderly, children, the sick, the injured, the malnourished, men who are just weaker… etc.

Now, from a humanitarian perspective there are legitimate strategical reasons why aid is often distributed directly to women, but to keep individual women from being “pushed aside” in line… really isn’t one of them. To the extent that it makes it easier for this one disadvantaged group (of many), that is a happy side effect, not the goal.

cloudiah
10 years ago

@BASTA!
How much experience do you have doing disaster relief? Because the people who do have that experience have found that in the immediate aftermath of a catastrophe like the Haitian earthquake, where men often try to outmuscle the women and children who need assistance just as much, what works best to get the most resources distributed fairly is to distribute relief to women, who then use it to take care of others. In other words, in the real world, this works to alleviate suffering for the widest segment of the population, including men. So unless you can prove to us that you know better than the people who do this for a living, it’s pretty clear that you just see every situation in life through your misandry-is-everywhere lenses.

Citation1 and citation2 provided.

kirbywarp
kirbywarp
10 years ago

@Jay:

Now, from a humanitarian perspective there are legitimate strategical reasons why aid is often distributed directly to women, but to keep individual women from being “pushed aside” in line… really isn’t one of them.

It really is. Try the second paragraph, I think you’ll find it enlightening.

cloudiah
10 years ago

@Jay, Again, the people who do this work for a living have found that distributing the resources to women, particularly in the immediate aftermath of a catastrophe, is the most effective way of getting it to their families and dependents, including men, the elderly, children, etc.

cloudiah
10 years ago

Oh dear. Someone should really ration my commas.

Jay
Jay
10 years ago

@kirbywarp- All right, that’s an exception to the rule. Maybe it was an extreme case. I’m not saying it never happens.

But there’s generally a systematic push to distribute aid to women not for their specific benefit, but just because it’s the most effective way to spread aid throughout the populace.

Quackers
Quackers
10 years ago

The Haiti thing again?

yes lets leave the women, who were pushed out of line by physically stronger men to starve because OMG TEH MENZ??!!!

fuck you Basta you selfish sack of shit.

kirbywarp
kirbywarp
10 years ago

@Jay:

BASTA! claimed that the Haiti disaster was an example of women getting preferential treatment just for being women. I pointed out that in the Haiti disaster, women were being pushed out of lines by men. You thought that was absurd. I gave evidence that it was true.

I never disagreed with the fact that there are good reasons to distribute to women preferrentially. What I disagreed with was BASTA!’s characterization of that as women getting food just for being women.

princessbonbon
10 years ago

What I have learned is that Ballgame needs to read actual history-there never was, not at any time, any official policy of any government, shipping line, passenger line, or any other possible authority to have women and children to be first.

Not only that but if you are going to say that it is a thing-as in it is an official or even an unofficial code of all captains, you will need to have a greater than 31% of the total number of ships that they decided to study. Because if it was a thing, it would need to be at least 50% or higher and it was not.

It is a myth-it is a myth that it was always done prior to Titanic because it was not-they could only find five captains making that order. And the first recorded instance of it happening was in 1852. This may be a surprise but humans have been sailing a lot longer than that and at least one or two of those ships they sailed on sank while there were women on board Plus the lifeboat has been around since at least 1790, one would think the invention of an official policy would have appeared soon after.

So you have a great big huge gap of time when someone could have said “well jolly good, let us have women and children first for when the ship starts sinking” with everyone else going “that is a capital idea! The little ladies certainly are not capable of handling themselves in the water!”

And then you have a second great big huge gap of time after the first time it was used for someone to say “We should have a policy of women and children first.” Or to have a captain telling future captains “Son, if your ship ever starts to sink, always let the ladies and children go first.”

So if you are going to claim it was always done, frequently done, or even done half the time, you have to do better than 31%.

kirbywarp
kirbywarp
10 years ago

@princessbonbon:

Especially 31% of an extremely limited sample.

princessbonbon
10 years ago

I stopped counting the sunk ships after I hit about 80 on the Wiki list. They limited it immensely.

pecunium
10 years ago

Baseball: I have to ask… did you read the study?

I did.

It says things like,

Since the sinking of the Titanic, there has been a widespread belief that the social norm of ‘women and children first’ gives women a survival advantage over men in maritime disasters, and that captains and crew give priority to passengers. We analyze a database of 18 maritime disasters spanning three centuries, covering the fate of over 15,000 individuals of more than 30 nationalities. Our results provide a new picture of maritime disasters. Women have a distinct survival disadvantage compared to men. Captains and crew survive at a significantly higher rate than passengers. We also find that the captain has the power to enforce normative behavior, that the gender gap in survival rates has declined, that women have a larger disadvantage in British shipwrecks, and that there seems to be no association between duration of a disaster and the impact of social norms. Taken together, our findings show that behavior in life-and-death situation is best captured by the expression ‘Every man for himself’.

Or:

The finding
that women have a survival disadvantage compared to men, and that crew members have a
survival advantage over passengers, holds even with the inclusion of data from the Titanic and
the Lusitania.
We find some evidence that the survival rate of women is higher when the captain
orders WCF,</b? compared to when no such order has been given.
Since the WCF order was
given only on 5 ships, including the Titanic and the Lusitania
,

And:

Based on our analysis, it becomes evident that the sinking of the Titanic was
exceptional in many ways and that what happened on the Titanic seems to have spurred
misconceptions about human behavior in disasters.

I realise it’s 82 pages, but the majority of that is the tables; the conclusions (which you so blithely misrepresented) are in the first 14 pages.

Those conclusions, of course; on the entire idea of “women and children first” being a norm is what’s being discussed. You go on to claim the stated exceptional nature of the Titanic should be treated as the norm.

Which isn’t mere misrepresentation, it’s an example of, “The Big Lie.”

Table 2 reports tests of each of the 6 hypotheses conducted in separate regressions, as
well as together in one regression. We find that the survival rate of women is 16.7 percentage
points lower than, or about half of (17.8% vs. 34.5%), that of men. The results also show that
crew members are 18.7 percentage points more likely to survive than passengers. The finding
that women have a survival disadvantage compared to men, and that crew members have a
survival advantage over passengers, holds even with the inclusion of data from the Titanic and
the Lusitania.

Overall, for 18 shipwrecks, even with the anomalous nature of the Titanic, and Lusitania (which you give a bob-and-a-weave head nod to, as you try to make us think they were somehow the norm) men survived at twice the rate of women.

This, you say, proves that men were sacrificing themselves to save women.

Which is you, telling a lie.

Uh, except that, in the era in which it occurred, it wasn’t the exception, Flib. Prior to the end of World War I, captains were just as likely to issue the ‘women and children first’ order as they were not to issue it.

No, they weren’t. And in the cases where it did happen it was things like the Birkenhead, which was a troopship, and the colonel in charge of the troops issued the order.

So even those situations aren’t quite as you make it seem. It wasn’t that, “men” accepted it. It was that a single man, with the ability to enforce his will, made it happen.

Most notably, we find that it
seems as if it is the policy of the captain, rather than the moral sentiments of men, that
determines if women are given preferential treatment in shipwrecks.

Not social norms, individual decisions.

Moreover, it has been since WW1 that women’s rates of overall survival have increased, after the “norm” was in decline. Which means… something.

pecunium
10 years ago

Yay… the blockquotes worked.

Kirby/princess bonbon: I don’t have a real problem with the limits of the sample size, because the data, in the level of detail needed to do a functional regression was hard to find. I think, in the contraints they had, they did a pretty good job of finding representative wrecks. Certainly they seem to have done a fair bit of combing the primary sources for evidence of behaviors in the examples.

It’s interesting that Baseball want’s to lmit the validity of the samples to “before X date” so he can say it was 50/50, while ignoring that after his imaginary time of WCF, the rates of survival for women went up (children still get the short end of the stick).

So, if I were an MRA sort, this study tells me I had it better, in a shipwreck, when it was “women and children first” than I did when that “stopped”.

BASTA!
BASTA!
10 years ago

How much experience do you have doing disaster relief? Because the people who do have that experience have found that in the immediate aftermath of a catastrophe like the Haitian earthquake, where men often try to outmuscle the women and children who need assistance just as much, what works best to get the most resources distributed fairly is to distribute relief to women, who then use it to take care of others.

This is “women are morally superior” bullcrap an I am not buying any of it. To put it mildly, those “people who do have that experience” also have gender-political views that color both their perceptions and their reporting of their experience. That, and it is some men, not all men, who “try to outmuscle the women and children”. If Kendra can wish that there be always enough lifeboats, ta da, problem solved, then I can also wish that there be always enough resources to implement case-by-case treatment of the muscling-type transgressions, ta da, problem solved.

In other words, in the real world, this works to alleviate suffering for the widest segment of the population, including men.

Excluding single men who don’t have women to bring them food.

BASTA! claimed that the Haiti disaster was an example of women getting preferential treatment just for being women. I pointed out that in the Haiti disaster, women were being pushed out of lines by men. You thought that was absurd. I gave evidence that it was true.

This is your “evidence”:

The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) implemented the new distribution plan at 16 sites in the capital, Port-au-Prince, after workers reported that young men were often swarming aid trucks and pushing ahead of women in lineups.

United Nations, yes. Precisely what I had in mind when I wrote above that those people had gender-political views coloring their perception and reporting.

pecunium
10 years ago

Basta: This is “women are morally superior” bullcrap an I am not buying any of it. To put it mildly, those “people who do have that experience” also have gender-political views that color both their perceptions and their reporting of their experience. That, and it is some men, not all men, who “try to outmuscle the women and children”. If Kendra can wish that there be always enough lifeboats, ta da, problem solved, then I can also wish that there be always enough resources to implement case-by-case treatment of the muscling-type transgressions, ta da, problem solved.

It’s not, it doesn’t matter that it’s only some men, and it’s not possible to have that many resources.

Disaster relief isn’t like a ship sinking. You can’t figure it out in advance. How many vehicles, an of what size and types, does one need to evacuate Galveston in the event of a hurricane? How much food, for how long, over how wide an area will you need when a swarm of tornadoes plows through Houston?

What will the infrastructrual system failures be when the New Madrid Fault finally releases?

How much money will it cost? How many nations will be providing food? Shelter? Medical aid? How long will it need to be provided?

It’s not a case of, “moral superiority”. It’s a case of a lot of things, and it’s a case of observed behavior. Somalia, Rwanda, Haiti, Aceh even Katrina, all of them show groups engaging in resource hoarding, in behaviors to deny others access to things which were, in fact, enough to go around. A lot of it is probably a scarcity mentality. When the next/final supply of aid is coming is unclear, so those groups decide to sequester the present aid to themselves.

And it’s no comfort to the people who starve that “only a few” are doing it. Because those few are able to take enough to kill them.

So, if you want to pretend your “gender-political views” are so important that people die… then you are evil person, willing to put your agenda of pretending that there aren’t patterns of behavior in front of the real needs of people who are suffering.

To which I say, most cordially, fuck that shit.

You asked for evidence, based on nothing more than your prejudicial views that they are “anti-male” you reject the experience of UNWFP members, who were there because your political opinion is they hate men. That’s “gender-political views” being allowed to make decisions. You aren’t looking at the evidence. You aren’t examining the reports. You are dismissing it out of hand because you think the reporters are bad people.

Which is exactly what you say they did.

To which I say, again most cordially, fuck that shit. You want to say the are letting their “gender-political view” shape the decisions, fine. Show me. Not your bleeding opinion, but research. Well built models, or solid observational science that shows handing food out to women preferentially actually leads to fewer people being fed than handing it out to whomever can shove to the front of the line.

Because that’s the crux of the argument. Which way saves more people.

You want to argue your posistion, feel free. But you have to show your work, so shit; or get off the pot.

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