Blessed is he who expects no gratitude, for he shall not be disappointed.
– W.C. Bennett
Back in 1852 the troop ship HMS Birkenhead sank in shark infested waters off the coast of South Africa. There weren’t enough lifeboats to save everyone, and the captain made the extraordinary decision to reserve them for the women and children aboard. The crew followed the captain’s order even though it meant his and many of their own deaths. This incredible example of men sacrificing for others has made what otherwise would have been an obscure shipwreck a famous event in history.
Even a century and a half later, women still understand the meaning of the profound sacrifice made by those brave men:
Men owe us.
A similar event occurred in 1912 when RMS Titanic struck an iceberg. Well over a thousand men stood aside and died so that mostly women (and a lesser percentage of children) could survive. Women understood the meaning of that sacrifice as well:
You got off easy. The women who survived are the ones who had to suffer. We didn’t ask you to do this for us anyway.
And of course:
Men owe us.
One of the videos I saw after the sinking of the Costa Concordia had an overweight American woman with a short haircut complaining:
It certainly wasn’t women and children first!
She said this in the form of an indictment, with the obvious expectation that all listening would see it as proof of an outrageous dereliction by the men on the ship. She and countless other women believe that since some men have volunteered to die in shipwrecks in the past, all men will forever have an obligation to do so. What men in the past did was an incredible act of graciousness; it has been met with an equally incredible lack of grace in return.
I’ve searched the web looking for a copy of the video to share, but unfortunately I couldn’t find it. What I found instead was even more powerful however. Sheila Gregoire wrote a post/syndicated column shortly after the Costa Concordia went down titled: Women and Children First? A Feminist Tragedy (emphasis mine):
In the comments I’ve been reading on the news reports, people seem to agree that children should be given priority, but there’s a heated debate about the women. We’re equal, so why should a man lose a place to a woman? Why should a man have to help a woman when he’s in danger, too?
And, as disgusting as I find that question, it makes sense. In 1912 it was a different world. Personal responsibility was still the main ethos of the day. People took care of their neighbours; they did not wait for government to do it for them. And people had a code of honour that included helping others when you could.
Somehow we have lost that. It is no longer about honour and what we should do for others; it has become what others should do for us.
I assume the irony is lost on her that her response to men having shown incredible selflessness is to be upset that men might at times elect to take care of themselves instead of focusing on people like her. As I have written before, making chivalry mandatory or expected destroys the very concept. It isn’t just feminists who destroyed chivalry, but feminist-lite women who view themselves as traditional.
Even so it wasn’t Sheila’s blog post which really startled me, it was the comments from many of the women who read her blog. Several of the women understood the issue and why men made different choices on that wreck than on certain shipwrecks in the past. But others took an attitude of incredible entitlement, assuming that men in general exist to serve them. Commenter Rachel started by explaining that men owe this to women because women’s lives are worth more than men’s:
Women and children do not go first because they are weaker; they go first because lets face it, you need more women than men to keep the population going (men can make millions of babies in a day, women can only make 1-2 per year at best and our fertility is limited)and children are our future to continue the human race.
She then describes how she rudely bumped into a man in an elevator because she assumed he would understand that she has a special right to exit elevators first, even though of course she is his equal:
That being said, I was just thinking of this topic last night. I was sharing an elevator with a man about my age. When the elevator stopped, I automatically started to get off and he almost ran into me! I am so used to men letting me get off the elevator first, it hadn’t occurred to me that he wouldn’t. Once I righted myself, I got thinking about it and why would he let me off first? I am his equal. I started to think if there was a scientific reason, and I could not come up with one. In fact, I thought maybe the man should go first to let him see if it’s safe (I’ve watched too much late night drama and seen too many people get attacked getting off elevators).
Even though the uppity man in the elevator didn’t know his place, she graciously suggests that there are times when it is acceptable for a man to enter a lifeboat:
The thought process led to thinking about the “women and children first” policy and I do still think that applies, unless the child who is getting on the life boat is only accompanied by his/her father. I think then the dad should be able to get on the life boat with his child(ren).
I want to back up and remind you that before 1852 there was no such expectation that men should stand by and drown in order to save women who in most cases are strangers. The sense of entitlement so many women now have because of acts of incredible selflessness by men in the past is astonishing.
Another commenter named Britiney who writes a blog called Consider the Lillies read Sheila’s post and it reminded her of a time recently when men she didn’t know failed to snap-to and be her personal unpaid valet. It happened when she exercised poor planning while taking her computer in for repair:
Along the same lines and under the heading of “Chivalry is dead” I had to take my computer to the repair shop last week. I took it to the Apple store in our local mall and, not knowing that there was a “secret” entrance close to the store, I lugged it all the way through the parking lot, and then all the way through the mall and then BACK because I decided to take it somewhere else. I don’t know how much it weighs, but by the time I got all the way back to my car I was nearly in tears because it was SO heavy and I was SO frustrated. And here’s my point: I cannot even tell you how many able-bodied young men I passed while I was carrying something that was OBVIOUSLY too heavy for me. When I finally got to my car I called my husband and told him that my boys will NEVER pass someone who needs help and not offer to help them. I was so disgusted that not one single man offered to help me! So so so sad. I can’t influence any of the men who passed me by, but I can certainly influence the 3 young men God has entrusted to my care and if I have ANYTHING to do with it, they WILL put women and children first!!!
This reminded me of a comment Hestia made on a previous post on this topic about a woman who saw a group of servicemen returning from active duty, and was upset that they didn’t volunteer to carry her load for her:
Basically here is a group of largely men who have been sacrificing on behalf of the nation (or so the story goes) who haven’t done enough for this pampered princess. So it seems to go not only with soldiers in particular but men in general when it comes to chivalry.
One thing men need to understand is that in the event that they make the kind of sacrifice women are demanding, not only will it lead to even more entitlement, but many women will still detract from the noble nature of your choice. Commenter Amanda wrote:
Not to undermine your point, but when the Titanic sank, women and children were NOT put first. Sure, they started the evacuations like that, and there were men of honor, but there were also the men who locked the doors to the third class section so that those people wouldn’t take up lifeboat space, and the coward who pushed women and children aside in their haste to get into a boat.
After Sheila challenged her on the historical accuracy of this claim, Amanda replied with:
Well, it’s been a few years since I did all the reading I did on the Titanic, but I was pretty interested as a youngling, and the picture I got from the books was one of polite, subversive cowardice slowly escalating to outright anarchy and panic.
Understand that if you sacrifice yourself for women you don’t know that most women will simply take your act of ultimate selflessness as proof that men owe them. A significant number will also deny the bravery of your dying act.