To The Lifeboats

Pretty damned ironic, that the Costa Concordia disaster happened almost exactly a hundred years after the Titanic. It’s not all that often these days that a European/American flagged passenger ship becomes a catastrophic loss to their insurance company – although it happens with dispiriting frequency to inter-island ferries in the Philippines and hardly any notice of it taken in Western newspapers. The contrasts and ironies just abound; fortunate that the Costa was so close to land that some passengers were able to swim to safety, and that rescue personnel were at the scene almost before the air-bubbles from the sunken half of the ship even popped to the surface.

There was also some notice taken that the ‘women and children first’ ethos seems to have pretty much gone with Captain Schettino’s nautical career; with a lot of bitter commentary in various corners of the blogosphere about fifty years of feminism having done finished off that particular principle. Hey, ladies – how do you like your equality now, when it comes to the lifeboats on a sinking ship? That seemed to be the question asked with a barely concealed sneer … which I believe rather missed the point. The kind of social convention demonstrated in the sinking of the troopship HMS Birkenhead – where the wives and children were put into the available lifeboats and the soldiers stood in ranks on the sinking ship rather than risk swamping the boats – we traded off that world a long time ago. That kind of honor and gallantry existed in a world where the average woman was less than a second-class citizen. Preference in the lifeboats was about the only advantage that the poor ladies had.

(Actually – and as a diversion, a prominent suffragette at the time of the Titanic sinking was asked pretty much the same question: what would she have done, if as a liberated woman, she were the Captain of the Titanic and it came to loading up the lifeboats? IIRC, her answer was that she wouldn’t have run it full-speed into an iceberg to start with. But enough of history – back to the somewhat current event.)

With regard to feminism and lifeboats and conventional courtesy, I believe that the Victorian convention had been slightly amended over time. Based on practicality and civility in this day and age – if it’s a seat on a crowded bus or a departing lifeboat – a rough rule of thumb is that youth and fitness should yield to age and disability. Pregnancy is a temporary disability, a parent having the care of a small child or two is another one, being on crutches or creaking along in a walker is either permanent or temporary, depending. The practical application of this rule would be that a fit and able woman should feel obliged to give up a seat on the bus to a pregnant woman, a young mother with a toddler – or to the old guy with a cane. A fit and able man shouldn’t be apprehensive – or even hesitate very much – in giving up a seat to the young mother, or the elderly crone with a cane. I am keeping in mind that a lot of mid-twentieth century women took feminism as an excuse to be a nickel-plated bitch, and I am sorry as hell about that. The sensible ones among us never confused conventional good manners with economic and political justice.

Apropos of this principle, I will observe that almost the last of the crew of the Costa to depart the semi-floating hulk were half a dozen young and fit female personnel who were onboard as part of the entertainment staff, and the male fifty-ish purser – who was sidelined at some point in the proceedings with a broken leg. And I would also add that the Italian Coast Guard officer in charge of the rescue operations has gone a good way to redeeming the reputation of Italian sea-farers in general. I’m purely amazed that 4,000 people managed to get away safely, and that more weren’t lost or injured. It’s a testament that at least some of the Costa’s crew stuck to their posts and their duty, and that the Italian Coast Guard was prompt and efficient.

But that all leads to another observation; that it was in general the senior boat crew, and possibly a fair number of the ordinary ones as well – who left the Costa, ahead of passengers. It’s not that we ought to be having conniptions about men leaving the boat ahead of women and children: it’s that the senior cadre of professional seafarers in charge of a ship carrying a large body of paying customers appeared to have no hesitation about leaving those customers – fit and active, male and female, old and young – all in the lurch, on board a ship that gave every evidence of sinking, somewhat like the MTS Oceanos, some twenty years ago. That lack of professional responsibility or plain old personal cowardice seems to me to be a more dispiriting development than quibbling over the merits and demerits of doctrinaire feminism and the perceived decline of good manners.

41 thoughts on “To The Lifeboats”

  1. Survivor passengers have reported that the hallways were unlit after the ships power was shut off. Where were the emergency lights? I have been on many cruise ships and ALL had battery powered emergency lights in the corridors bolted to the walls near the ceiling.

    Of couse this was a Carnival owned ship and Carnival is very thrifty.

  2. Someone did a study of the survivors of the Titanic and the Lusitania, in light of similar data from other singings. The former were mostly women, children, the old. The former were healthy young men. Apparently the key distinction is whether the ship sinks very fast, or not so fast. When it happens fast, people are in an energized and frantic state, the men simply overpower anyone between them and safety. Where the process is longer and the initial spike of panic subsides, a more rational and planned allocation happens, and the men often choose to stand back and act according to a moral code. In the first few panicked minutes, the moral code is buried under an animal-like survival reaction. Give it a few minutes, and the higher functions reassert themselves. I do not have a link.

  3. I have been following this – and can they salvage the ship? What a mess. Was reading about the captain and if anyone had been paying attention along his career path he gave signs of – shall we say – impulsiveness – along his career over the years.

    This accident reminds me of the Greek ship that sank off South Africa a few years ago – the captain was one of the first off – leaving the passengers to fend for themselves.

    Lex – I just heard that as a percentage more women in steerage survived the Titanic than men in first class – meaning of course there was a lot of chivalry.

  4. This incident is also a reminder that, whatever the emergency plans and behavior of the crew, you are responsible for your own and your family’s safety and should prepare yourself accordingly.

  5. In Cynthia Bass’s novel about the Titanic (“Maiden Voyage”), one leading character, Sumner, is a young teenage boy whose great hope in life is that he will be able to demonstrate the same level of courage as that shown by his namesake, Charles Sumner. He develops a crush on a somewhat older woman, Ivy, who is a prominent suffragette.

    When spaces in the lifeboats are being allocated, Sumner and Ivy each have some decisions to make…

  6. Celia, thank you for this post.
    Clear, concise and reasonable.
    I want to quote each paragraph, the whole thing really, to the abusive mob @couple of posts I have been following (540 comments to this minute @one, 338 – @another).
    Barely concealed? If only – sneer is quite open, wild accusations and Tarzan-like chest-beating galore.
    They already claimed feminism is responsible for degradation of European civilization (to the point of no survival), blamed it for deplorable demographic situation in America, for lowered salary rates for men (since women flooded the job market with supply), for disobedience of women and children to “real” (as opposed to “effeminate”) men…that’s just for starters!

    I’ll link to you, if you don’t mind.

  7. Sure, Tatyana – link away! I think I actually lifted the concept of youth and fitness yielding to age and (various) disabilities from Miss Manners.
    And I honestly don’t think feminism is to be blamed nearly as much as a lack of professionalism. The Greek ship that Bob mentioned was the Oceanos – follow the link for the whole story. Honestly, in the case of a cruise-ship wreck these days, you’d be better off trusting the entertainment staff and the food-service personnel…

  8. Well there’s also the survival of the species to consider, and men shoving children or pregnant women aside has not even the excuse of feminism. Let’s let cowardice do.

    Don’t really like the pregnant = disabled BTW. Perhaps an oversight, or an overwhelming moment of PC?

    To return to more civilized behavior in general doesn’t require that women return to being second class citizens. If that’s accurate or fair. You left out that women were also to be protected in general…etc.

    Codes of honor that were recognized and hallowed for centuries if not millennia are either going to be trashed and replaced by – nothing – or not. Feminism really doesn’t offer us a reason to risk life and limb. Us being men. And the nickel plated bitches were still preferable to the 2d/3d generation PC drones, who follow the indoctrination mindlessly.

    You notice the women lost the wrestling match? Ahhh…

  9. Done, thank you.
    Ocean’ story…Captain Avranas: “When I give the order abandon ship, it doesn’t matter what time I leave. Abandon is for everybody. If some people want to stay, they can stay.”
    How lovely. Clearly, that speaks of feminists’ influence on Greek seamen, who traditionally valued chivalry and sacrifice.

  10. As we know, the captain was one of the first off the Concordia, seriously claiming that he tripped into a lifeboat and couldn’t get out.

    The captain of the Italian Coastguard who had a radio exchange with the Concordia captain after the cruise ship captain was tucked away safely in his lifeboat, was superb. Here is the recording of their conversation, with subtitles, where the Coast Guard captain, who I assume outranks a cruise ship captain, orders him go back on board and take charge.


  11. “IIRC, her answer was that she wouldn’t have run it full-speed into an iceberg to start with.”

    I’m sure her mystical feminist power would have enabled her to captain and steer the vessel better than any man, but, alas, we live in the real world where her sneering incompetence should have been visible to all.

    “doctrinaire feminism”

    Nice trick. I see this one a lot. All communism, feminism etc. that a speaker disagrees with is condemned by a label. The speaker, of course, believes in the pure, true, just form of her “ism.”

    “I am sorry as hell about that.”

    Sorry enough to write about it? I look forward to your essays at the Chicago Boyz in which you denounce and repudiate doctrinaire feminism: man-hating lesbianism (“fish with a bicycle”), “all men are rapists” & “women never lie about rape” claims, “man taxes,” the model of “female oppression” lifted intact from nazism’s model of “aryan oppression” and communism’s “proletarian oppression,” the existence of a green, peaceful, wombyn society before patriarchy, etc. Since the lies of doctrinaire feminism are endless, hateful, and very damaging, this series should make for quite a book when it is complete.

  12. Erisguy, I only write to order when someone pays me – otherwise, I write about what interests or amuses me. If you want to see some of my past essays touching peripherally on capital F feminism, as opposed to the small f variety, I encourge you to check out nine years of posts on – there’s a couple of them which touch on the matter. Enjoy.

  13. Speaking of amusing: when I see someone comprising an index of criminal ills of feminism starts it with man-hating lesbianism (“fish with a bicycle”)”, another famous phrase jumps to mind. “Sour grapes”.
    Or “Boy, she is just not into you.”

  14. Jonathan, 3:29 yesterday: “This incident is also a reminder that, whatever the emergency plans and behavior of the crew, you are responsible for your own and your family’s safety and should prepare yourself accordingly.”

    With respect, Jonathan, how do you suggest this be done? Bring your own rowboat on board with you? What if you’re travelling by plane? We can only be responsible for our own safety when we have not abidicated that right to others, as we do when we board a plane or a boat.

    I think the Italian cruise industry, and indeed, the cruise industry worldwide will not just be saddened, but be angered by this tragedy. Let’s hope the Italians smarten up on their character qualifications for captains. (I thought the Coast Guard captain was outstanding, though.)

  15. …how do you suggest this be done?

    Be alert and don’t assume the system will save you if something bad happens. Be ready to act independently if necessary. Carry a flashlight. Pay attention to the exits. Don’t be passive.

    I don’t agree that you abdicate responsibility for your safety when you travel by boat or plane. You still have options even if the official rules don’t acknowledge them.

  16. ” . . . fortunate that the Costa was so close to land that some passengers were able to swim to safety . . . “

    Well, there may have also been some unfortunate consequences of being so close to land.

    Such as, for example, being “so close to land.”


  17. Bobby B – Yes, and made the worse because the captain didn’t steer so close to land by mistake, but to wave a greeting to a friend. (“Here’s me on my big ship!”) Then, when the rocks tore a hole in the hull, he was first into a lifeboat, having somehow “tripped” into it. I thought the Coast Guard captain was outstanding.

    Eight hundred passengers and the captain was first into the lifeboat. Sgt Mom’s last sentence of her original post sums it up.

  18. Robin Goodfellow … thanks for the video. Unbelievable. And those orders for people to return to their cabins or stay in the lounge must have come from the Captain, when he could spare a moment from deciding which lifeboat would be easiest to board.

    If the cruise line is a publicly-listed company, it’s finished … right from the captain’s sheer stupidity in taking a huge ship off course, over a rocky coast, to wave at a friend, through the ineptitude of the handling of the subsequent events, and the captain boarding a lifeboat before the passengers. (And then refusing an order to reboard his ship!!)

  19. how do you suggest this be done?

    Be alert and don’t assume the system will save you if something bad happens. Be ready to act independently if necessary. Carry a flashlight. Pay attention to the exits. Don’t be passive.

    I don’t agree that you abdicate responsibility for your safety when you travel by boat or plane. You still have options even if the official rules don’t acknowledge them.

    Jonathan – an excellent book on emergencies and psychology was 102 Minutes – the story of those who survived the twin towers and those who didn’t.

    There were a handful of people who survived above the impact points, simply because they wouldn’t go with the conventional thinking that the stairways were demolished and impossible to traverse.

    They found a way.

    There were numerous stories of people making the wrong decisions by “group think” – following others – starting with a whole floor – upon seeing the impact at the first tower – being told by building security that everything was fine at their building and to go back to their desks…

  20. Now we came to an interesting question.
    On one hand, during a disaster an able person (man or woman, does not matter) should be obliged “to yield to age and disability”, quoting Sgt M+Miss Manners rule – help those weaker then him/herself first, then take care of himself.
    On the other hand, one’s first responsibility, as Jonathan said, lies with him/herself and his/her family.

    So, what is the priority? Your opinion?

  21. Tatyana – according to the old Anglo Saxon rule there would be no dilemma – the head of the family would insure his family is on the lifeboat – then attend to others.

    But – if you have been on a Brooklyn bus or subway lately I think that rule is about dead.

    Of course our society is the courser for it. It is amazing that there weren’t more people drowned when that ship capsized –

  22. David – your link to Lord Jim reminded me of Bruce Ismay who survived the Titanic – and spent the rest of his life with controversy.

    The remark by someone – about being safer with the ships entertainment staff (and cruise director?) rather than the captain and officers was funny – and at least in a couple of instances – this and the Oceanos – was sadly true.

    I would wonder how the captains could live with themselves but sadly there is a large segment of humanity that would has no problem with this.

    But with these illustrations of the emptiness of the human soul there are examples of bravery in the same disasters – so perhaps one could think of these disasters as a process of separating the good from the bad –

    I’ll have to look up the fate of the Oceanos captain.

  23. There is always a first. First time I am disappointed in Mark Steyn.
    “The feminists wanted a gender-neutral society. Now they’ve got it. So what are you complaining about?”
    Cheap shot and misleading, too.
    Sgt.M already answered it in the post, so I’ll not repeat her argument.
    I’ll just say to those big babies what my grandma used to tell me when I was 5 and not knowing better followed some other kids in some mischief. She used to say:”You have your own head. Would you jump from a bridge if someone told you? No? Then stop pointing fingers.”

  24. Verity – good take on things –

    The take homne quote:
    “We are beyond social norms these days. A woman can be a soldier. A man can be a woman. A 7-year-old cross-dressing boy can join the Girl Scouts in Colorado because he “identifies” as a girl. It all adds to life’s rich tapestry, no doubt. But I can’t help wondering, when the ship hits the fan, how many of us will still be willing to identify as a man.”

  25. Tatyana – I can remember – in the 70s – opening a door for a woman and being sharply rebuked.

    That was the norm with women in my age group.

    So the same women now expect deference when the ship is sinking? ;-)

    I am not saying I agree with the conclusion but can understand in part how we got here –

  26. So, Bill, let’s imagine hypothetical choice: a “head of the family”, say – an able-bodied woman with a 14yo boy is getting through the crowd on a deck trying to get them on board of the lifeboat. An old woman with a cane is on her way. According to your “old Anglo-Saxon rule” she should push the old woman away and get her son in?

  27. Tatyana – I am not saying I have abandoned my principles but in the case of society at large I can see how we got there.

    From Steyn’s article:

    “In fact, “women and children first” can be dated very precisely. On Feb. 26, 1852, HMS Birkenhead was wrecked off the coast of Cape Town while transporting British troops to South Africa. There were, as on the Titanic, insufficient lifeboats. The women and children were escorted to the ship’s cutter. The men mustered on deck. They were ordered not to dive in the water lest they risk endangering the ladies and their young charges by swamping the boats. So they stood stiffly at their posts as the ship disappeared beneath the waves. As Kipling wrote:
    “We’re most of us liars, we’re ‘arf of us thieves, an’ the rest of us rank as can be…..
    But once in a while we can finish in style (which I ‘ope it won’t ‘appen to me).”

    If the soldiers hadn’t been ordered to stand at attention would the result have been the same? The desire for survival is very strong.

    Not everyone was chivalrous even in the age of chivalry.

    …and you asked, “”i>So, Bill, let’s imagine hypothetical choice: a “head of the family”, say – an able-bodied woman with a 14yo boy is getting through the crowd on a deck trying to get them on board of the lifeboat. An old woman with a cane is on her way. According to your “old Anglo-Saxon rule” she should push the old woman away and get her son in?

    You are just being silly here. By implication the “head of the household” would be a man. A woman wouldn’t have been expected to do what a man was expected to do in that instance…

  28. Really, Bill? A head of household is always a man? And I am being “silly” because – what – I am a woman? What’s so silly in my hypothetical? You didn’t answer the question in it – what a head of household to do in this situation? It is a practical implementation of what have been postulated in this thread. So, in your opinion, what the parent in that situation should do? Btw, don’t be so sure about the principle being “Anglo-Saxon”.

    I have read Steyn article, there is no need to excerpt it for me. Besides, I didn’t ask “how we get here”, so don’t answer the question I didn’t ask. You claimed that being rebuked in your youth for opening the door for women now absolves you from duty of saving them (as being physically weaker than you) on a sinking ship. In my view, that speaks more about you than about those women.

    I agree that chivalry was not that wide-spread in the “age of chivalry”. (which, by the way, as the word implies, didn’t start in mid-XIXc., but in at the time of feudalism, knights and vassals, troubadours and kings.)It has for centuries been practiced almost exclusively by very thin upper layer of European societies. So all this talk about “tradition” and men as sentinels of it, being destroyed by vicious feminists furies just does not hold water.

  29. Tatyana – of course the “head of the household” is not always a man. I had a good friend from London (since passed) who grew up during the London Blitz – she and 4 of her sisters had to be raised by her mother.

    At the age of 14 she had to go to work to help support the family.

    Chances are she and her family would not have been on a cruise ship.

    If you want to discuss the larger effects of “feminism” (and depending on who hears that word can conjour up different meanings) its effects have been mixed.

    I am sure that you would agree with me ;-)

    Women who demanded to be allowed to take exams for a fire department – and discovered they couldn’t pass the rigorous physical training – then demanded that the standards be reduced – not so good. One can point to various jobs where this has happened (the military???)

    On the other hand my niece – just got an MBA and not even 30 – is working for a large retail corporation. I doubt before the 70s this would have happened. Of course the old joke about “assuming” a woman is a nurse and not a doctor – came about because of feminism.

    And that part is all to the good.

    As to the cruise ship perhaps the standard of “women and children first” was always an ideal – never fully practiced but praised when it had to occur (as the Kipling poem alluded).

    The idea was that women and children were weaker and thus had to be protected. Whether they were the “head of the household” or not. Since feminism has fought that ideal the standard – never strong to begin with – has been that much further eroded. But I do not believe – as you mentioned – it has contributed to the “decline of western civilization”.

  30. Tatyana, you are being quarrelsome and if you must quarrel please do it somewhere else and not here. I am making this comment based on your behavior in a number of recent comment threads. You may notice that some of the regular commenters here avoid engaging with you, and I suggest that this is because they have learned from experience that interactions with you often turn unpleasant. Please stop picking verbal fights or go elsewhere.

    Apologies to Celia for intruding on her thread.

  31. Bill,
    I have just finished Possession by A.S.Byatt (highly recommend, btw – and not only to fans of Victoriana and English poetry); a big chunk of the book is devoted to mocking of feminists in academia, both in UK and America, in the 1980s. It is hilarious and rightly so. Extremes are equally appalling – either an extreme feminism or extreme male domination that stops fair competition on merit.

    Of course, Bill, I agree re: excesses and re: solid achievements of feminism. The whole point of this post and thread, however, is that it is irrelevant as an excuse for personal cowardice, dereliction of duty or simply bad manners (of both sexes and everyone in between).

    Returning to my question: I see there is nobody to offer their take. I’ll risk my own, then. In situation of mass disaster people would first follow the call of their instinct, then any societal/cultural structure rules built on top of that. The most noble man on duty would follow his responsibilities only if his family is not near by – in which case his first urge will be to help them, and only afterwards take care of strangers: be it at the trenches of the front, or storming the last civilian train leaving an occupied zone, or evacuating passengers on a sinking ship. Same goes for women – and goes double for a mama bear when her cubs are in danger. [I can absolutely guarantee you that; I know myself capable of pushing any old crone on a wheelchair out of my way if its’ necessary for saving my son’s life].

  32. Tatyana – we are pretty much in agreement. I would venture to say that the captain of the Titanic – Edward Smith – would in all likelihood see to his family first – but then see them off and help the other passengers. But if he had an adult son the son would have most likely stayed with his father.

    On Feminism – the bad part of it was for those in the 70s insisting that there is absolutely no difference in behavior between men and women – that any differences are due to culture. I think that is nonsense – Are there some men with feminine characteristics and some women with masculine?

    That too goes without saying but taken as a whole, men and women are fundamentally different.

    It doesn’t mean that one is better than the other; they are supposed to complement each other (at least that was the Designer’s Intention ;-) )

    It would be a rather boring world if it were otherwise….

  33. “Tatyana – I can remember – in the 70s – opening a door for a woman and being sharply rebuked.”

    So can I. And the woman was a stranger carrying an armload of books at the time. And this kind of incident was far from rare.

    Women, you’re on your own. If I’m trying to evacuate from a sinking ship or a burning aircraft, and you can’t keep up (due to that pair of strappy heels that you just love, or similar), you’ll have my footprints on your back. Only then, when it is too late, will you understand that you’re not equal.

  34. You got me thinking, and it came out in terms of one of my favorite authors. If I may, allow me to quote from Robert A. Heinlein’s “Notebooks of Lazarus Long”:

    All societies are based on rules to protect pregnant women and young children. All else is surplusage, excrescence, adornment, luxury or folly which can–and must–be dumped in emergency to preserve this prime function. As racial survival is the only universal morality, no other basic is possible. Attempts to formulate a “perfect society” on any foundation other than “women and children first!” is not only witless, it is automatically genocidal. Nevertheless, starry-eyed idealists (all of them male) have tried endlessly–and no doubt will keep on trying.

    I believe from the context of the book [and all his writings], that the word “racial” refers to Human Race, and not skin color or ethnicity. The parenthetical phrase in the last sentence has been overtaken by events in our society.

    From the same source, there is another quote:

    The two highest achievements of the human mind are the twin concepts of “loyalty” and “duty.” Whenever these twin concepts fall into disrepute–get out of there fast. You may possibly save yourself, but it is too late to save that society. It is doomed.

    Somehow, I think that both speak to the example in point, and the wider society.

    Men and women are not automatically interchangeable parts out of an assembly line bin. They individually have differing abilities, different inclinations, different weaknesses. Any social scheme that denies this is flying in the face of reality. Reality always wins.

    Acknowledging that reality is not making anyone subservient to anyone else. I have 3 daughters and a son. I do not want any of them to be disadvantaged by gender, so long as they can actually do what they are trying to do.

    People react in crisis the way that they are trained. That training can be military or social. The social mores and manners so decried by the extreme feminists are part of a social ritual that bonds the participants. If you are trained to react to help those in need, to show courtesy and friendliness to one’s own people, to honor age and experience and to protect those in need of such protection, to do what your society regards as your duty; when a crisis comes you are more likely to act in a fashion that will not disgrace yourself or harm your people. This is not a bad thing, other than to those who have motivations other than making things work according to how the society has evolved.

    Another quote:

    A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects!

    Note it says human being, with no reference to gender. And it says “should” and not “must”. People have different abilities. Between myself, my wife, and my children; we have our own checklist of which of the list above we can do. The only total questionmark is the last. Because no one knows how they are going to face the end until it comes. If we encourage everyone to play to their strengths, and if we build enough social capital between each other so that each thinks not solely of themselves; I think we come out better than the one size fits all that the Left and the extreme feminists would impose on us.


    Subotai Bahadur

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