When I saw the cover of a homeschooling (Christian) catalog, I knew I was in for a doozy. The cover features two cute white children on the deck of the Titanic with the words “Women and Children First!” above them.
I wasn’t disappointed when I opened to the first page. “What makes the story of the R.M.S. Titanic so important is the men who lived out the expression ‘women and children first.’ From first class gentlemen to 16-year-old cabin boys, from boiler room workers to Wallace Hartley and his musicians–all perished for women and children.” [emphasis mine]
While many men gave their lives for women and children, to bestow this honor to every person on the ship with a penis, would be incorrect. First, let’s look at the numbers.
Indeed, 693 males out of the 885 male crew, died. (And for those of you playing at home, there were 23 women part of the crew and 20 of them survived. Why were those crazy bitches working anyway? Shouldn’t they have been home with their kids?!) Meanwhile, 118 of the 175 first class male passengers died. When I think of the men who gave up their seats for the ladies, I usually think of this as being a *choice* of the first class men. I mean, how can you put women and children first when you’re stuck in the boiler room? And let’s not forget the male passengers in 3rd class. 387 of them died. Did they die for women and children? How can you be chivalrous when you are locked down in steerage?
Perhaps you would be surprised to know that women and children died that day. Who were these women and children you may ask? I draw your attention to the number of 3rd class children and 3rd class women who died. 52 children and 89 women died. 52 children! But you know, we could talk all day about numbers and I’m not particularly interested in playing the Oppression Olympics. What I am interested in, however, is how we characterized these deaths.
If male crew and passengers died for women and children, who did the 89 women and 52 children die for? When we celebrate chivalry, we ignore the sacrifices of people of all genders and ages.
But this just isn’t about the Titanic. We can ignore the sacrifices of present day women and children too! Later, the author explains, “…Christians need to understand the choice before them. It makes no sense to speak of women and children first in one breath, and place our daughters in harm’s way in military combat in another.” 113 service women have died in Iraq and Afghanistan–women aren’t even allowed the fight in “combat” in the US army. Moreover, these women were not fighting for men, other women, or children. Like their male counterparts, they were fighting for the objectives of the USA and its allies.
However, maybe the author is onto something. War profoundly affects not only our service people, but civilians as well. Women and children are profoundly affected by war. But instead of using war to support our ideas of masculinity and femininity, we need to realize that the decision to go to war is not putting women and children first. It’s putting them last. And who is going to “celebrate” their sacrifice?
Our author asserts, “How do we reconcile ‘women and children first’ with the spirit of feminism? We do not.” Ironically, we can do a lot of reconciling with feminism and putting women and children first. However, this may put you in an awkward position. Putting women and children first sometimes means giving women access to abortion. It may mean not going to war. It means acknowledging that the majority of people in poverty are women and children. It means acknowledging that women and children who are in your country illegally need to be treated–you guessed it—as women and children first.
The idea of putting “women and children first” is a transformative one. However, it means that we need to take a hard look about how we talk about masculinity and femininity, the rich and the poor and who deserves what and why.