Researchers from Uppsala University in Sweden recently set out to test the unwritten rule of the sea that, during maritime disasters, women and children are first in the lifeboats.

What they found was that, factoring out a big disaster like the Titanic, sailors don't much care about gender these days.  Women are no more likely than men to survive any wreck where at least 100 people were on board. And they don't care about anyone else; the Captain and crew generally survive at a significantly higher rate than passengers. 

Is chivalry dead?  Chivalry, as I noted in Medieval Masculinity And The History Of Celibacy, is an artificial social construct, just like wearing corsets and penniers was during the early days of America. It's not an essence of gender and it only ever lived among people who chose to do it to show how awesome they are and then among people who romanticize it.  And, as everyone in the humanities can attest, chivalry in modern times is dead because women want it dead. The numbers show it, even in shipwrecks.  The gender gap in survival narrowed after World War I. Want a better chance than men to survive a sinking ship in 2012, ladies?  What's next, you want to give up your right to vote also? 

Modern sailors are not knocking women out of the way and getting on lifeboats during today's shipwrecks because they are less chivalrous, they do it because they are less sexist.   The researchers allude to it when they note that even when sailors were apparently chivalrous, they were probably only doing it because they were told to, not because of their beliefs(1).  In other words, the modern economists behind the paper attribute the appearance of chivalry primarily to men being easily ordered around.  In modern times you can't just order men to be sexist so easily, they care about women too much, so they will get on the boat themselves.

Sure, you're smiling now.  If the boat goes down, you are swimming home. Credit: Shutterstock

True equality is competition on a level playing field. Some women get that.  Take, for example, this anonymous journalism intern at an (unnamed) newspaper in Australia.  She wrote:
Men were also continuously and unnecessarily sexist, waiting for me to walk through doors and leave the elevator before them.
What does that quote tell you?  Well, if you read the whole piece it probably tells you that someone who went into journalism to advocate transgender issues went into journalism for all of the wrong reasons - i.e., they will fit right in with most modern journalists - but just in that quote you can see she doesn't need anyone to wrestle a lifeboat and help her into it, she can just float away on her own sanctimony.

Modern sailors get that.  In the old days, there would be some kind of elevator stand-off in the news while the sailors waited for her to get off first(2). Not now, sexism is passé and they would let doors slam in her face too.  

Modern sailors are taking a stand against sexism and being thoughtful - by saving themselves first.(3)

Not convinced that it is sexism progress and instead want to frame the numbers as being smelly mean men who are wrong and also less chivalrous?  You should read the New York Times instead.

Citation: Mikael Elindera and Oscar Erixson, 'Gender, social norms, and survival in maritime disasters',  PNAS July 30, 2012 doi: 10.1073/pnas.1207156109


(1) First to dispute that Swedish economists know anything at all about the rules of the sea, written or unwritten, are actual sailors.  Even during World War II, after Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor, no sailor willingly let Japanese sailors in the water die.  Sure, they bombed their boats to smithereens, but once they were in the drink, they got picked up.  It sounds nonsensical to humanities people, but that is why they don't understand society.

(2) H/T for that joke to Meg Clement.  She found a way to make 'heteronormative' funny on Twitter too.

(3) H/T for that joke to Alex Berezow.  This may be the first piece I have ever written where people contributed jokes intercontinentally.