Wasted Lives and Misplaced Chivalry:

Lessons from the sinking of the Titanic

(c) 2012, Davd

This is the weekend of the 100th Anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, an event generally accepted as marking historic change: “The end of the Golden Age”; the shipwreck that led to a requirement for lifeboat space ample for all passengers and crew (Lord, 1963: 61); and perhaps most aptly of all, a reminder that in their times (and likely in ours) conventional success can be lethally contaminated with sloppiness and pride. To steam dam-near full speed ahead in “Iceberg Alley” at night (Lord, 1963: p. 1), and proclaim that “God Himself could not sink this ship” (pp. 18, 25), bespeaks an arrogance that begs for comeuppance. The tragedy is not that the arrogant ship went to the bottom, but that so many innocent men died thereby.

As a man in an age where misandry is a far stronger social and cultural force than misogyny, i naturally notice that the lifeboats were so loaded, that more than 90% of men passengers drowned, 24% of women passengers, and 51% of child passengers… and that there were 1178 places in the boats (Lord, 1963: 61), but only 705 survivors. Even if all the 154 women and children who were lost, had been loaded into the boats, there would have been 250-300 more places for men1.

The loading was slowed by not allowing any men aboard several boats until the officers in charge of them had convinced themselves that no women could be loaded instead; with the result that many boats left the ship far short of full. Lord’s account (1963: 33-49) of the behaviour of some officers in drawing pistols to prevent men from entering the boats, and throwing one teen-aged boy out of a boat to leave him weeping on a coil of rope, (44) indicates excess zeal—misandry, would we call it today?—which doubtless contributed to the death toll.

It seems impossible that among a top-quality ship’s crew, there was too little arithmetical skill to work out that with 1178 boat spaces and a total of 520 women and children on board, at least 600 and probably 650 or more men—nearly twice as many men as survived, (and 100 more men than women plus children)—could safely fit into the boats, without leaving out any women or children.

I have not forgotten the question whether saving all women and children while letting hundreds of men drown (nearly all of them good men, if they were travelling across the Atlantic on a desirable ship in 1912), is decent social policy. Beforehand and separately, it is worth observing that “making all men wait until all women and children are loaded”, plus the delays in loading that enforcing such a rule produced, probably caused about 300 needless deaths.

Now to the matter of making men do most of the dying: Just-less than a year ago, shortly after the 99th anniversary of the sinking, i posted my first ‘blog’, whose title asked, “Have Times Changed the Meaning of Self-Sacrifice?” I was then inclined to believe that times had done-so; and Amneus (1999) would argue that the change began two generations earlier, about the time of the United States Civil War (but not because of that war nor of slavery and its ending.) Around 1860, court practice in divorces—which were then rare—changed from granting custody of minor children to fathers, to granting it to mothers (Amneus, 1999: 13 et passim).  Amneus describes at some length, how this change gave women an incentive to divorce, and began the transition from a society of families to a society in which neither fatherhood nor lifelong marriage predominates any longer. (He also contends, with evidence, that the United States crime and imprisonment rates rose with, and because-of, fatherlessness; cf. “A Voice for Men: Fact Sheet”.)

A table from my year-old post may be worth repeating here, to demonstrate that men indeed did “do most of the dying”:

Saved

Lost

Total

Percent Lost
First Class women

139

4

143

2.80%

Second Class women

78

15

93

16.13%

First+Second Class children

28

1

29

3.45%

Third Class women

98

81

179

45.25%

Third Class children

23

53

76

69.74%

Subtotals

367

153

520

29.42%

All Men [including crew]

339

1348

1687

79.91%

All Women

315

100

415

24.10%

All Children

51

54

105

51.43%

Totals:

705

1502

2207

<–this total = same as p. 25

 [This table is calculated from data given by Lord, 1963, pp. 61, 105]

Since more crewmen than male passengers went into the lifeboats “to man them” (most of the women and children [quite possibly all] were not sailors); the best estimate is that 90% or more of men-passengers died.

Why did women receive preference in loading the lifeboats? The most-cited reason, i believe, is the precedent set during the sinking of the H. M. S. Birkenhead in 1852 (Wikipedia, 2011). In 1912, as in 1852, most “respectable” women led sheltered lives. One can frame preference for places in lifeboats as an aspect of that sheltering2; and one can see in the demography of earlier centuries, a reason so to shelter women and children.

Looking back 100-200 years from 1912, the people on the Titanic saw a demographically different world from that of the 20th Century3. Ralph Tomlinson, a prominent demographer, dedicated a textbook he wrote,

To the man … I would most like to have given another thirty years of life: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. One of five children, two of whom survived to maturity, he was the father of five children, two of whom survived… After surviving [at least two life-threatening illnesses], he succumbed at the age of thirty-five years to an illness which was a mystery to the medicine of his time—thus exemplifying in his own life, the demographic conditions of most of human existence.

(Approximate, from memory)

Mozart was born in 1756 and died in 1791. In those “demographic conditions of most of human existence”, women were endangered by pregnancy and especially childbirth; and sometimes, if food was scarce or inadequate, by lactation. Children often failed to live to maturity.

It was in the 20th Century that life, and especially reproduction, came to be seen as not-so-precarious; it was in the 20th Century that the phrase “population explosion” first became applied to humankind. In 2012, we see around us a perspective on human fertility that the people of 1912 would probably have found shocking. Most of them would have seen widespread abortion as collective suicide, for example; and imaginably, they might even have foreseen the promiscuity—especially female promiscuity—that has been the consequence of widespread cheap contraception and easy divorce.

The 19th-Century protection of women and children was relative to risks of death before old age that most 20th Century women and children never met in peacetime—especially not those living in Europe and North America. It was a protection which, though with kindly rather than restrictive intentions, limited most women’s horizons. A sort of balance existed as between men’s prerogatives and women’s. In 1912, that mentality persisted.

Today, with women “liberated” from the restrictive protection of a century ago, outnumbering young men in university matriculation and graduation, and out-earning young men in large cities, the prerogative of first access to survival in a shipwreck “has little or nothing left to balance”. Its continuation rather calls-to-mind a caste system, with men beneath women. The conduct of the Titanic’s crew (Lord, 1963: 33-49) was often more consistent with a caste-system than with merely assuring that space was available to save all the women and children4. (Men’s rights advocates can look back with perplexed dismay at those officers who condemned other men for taking lifeboat space, even threatening to shoot them with pistols! while some boats left less than half full.)

So if the equivalent of a Titanic sinking, with [the analogue of] lifeboats adequate to save only fifty-some percent, were to happen—who should have priority? The commonest suggestion i have read in the year since my first blog was written, has been “youngest first”. That does make a lot of sense: The younger you are, the more years of life-expectation you have to save.

The youngest of all will be children; and as i read over those Titanic statistics again, i was again dismayed to read that more than twice as great a percentage of children as of women, drowned. Didn’t anyone notice that the best reason to save women before men, especially looking at what was then recent history, was that they gave birth at some personal risk, to children?5 The second-best reason was that they nurture children, as men also do6. The children who should be saved first by the apparent moral consensus of my recent reading, will have parents; and if the parents be not abusive—as most are not—then the parents should be loaded with their children. Families together reads to me like another good rule.

In the 1960s, when the United States drafted young men to fight in Vietnam, fathers were left with their families.

Rules for allocating scarce lifeboat space, or any other requisite-for-survival, should seldom need to be applied. The best thing to do is provide ample lifeboat space. Walter Lord (1963: 61) seems to state that this has been done since the Titanic went down; and if it has been, thoroughly, then except where many boats cannot be got off the sinking ship because of the nature of the shipwreck, there is no need for any social-type to go first. “There’s room for all, folks, climb in carefully and help each other over the gunwale,” is the refrain to sing-out when there are enough boats.

But things do sometimes go wrong, and social policy should be neither anachronistic nor gender-biased. Men today, if asked to sacrifice their lives for strange women, are likely to respect them even less, and some readers are probably thinking of the Costa Concordia. Those who are sacrificed can respect no one, from death; nor can they contribute to the general good.

The beginnings of misandry that were ignored in 1912 have grown since, and to apply the Biblical metaphor of a tree, have borne bad fruit: Fatherlessness, crime, promiscuity, “STDs”, drug abuse, rampant abortion, and the de-motivation of millions of capable men. Many of the rest stem from fatherlessness (Amneus, 1999; AvFM Fact Sheet). It might do us all good to work beyond the rules suggested here, and in the process, to see yet again how very good an idea it is to have more than enough lifeboat spaces, and their analogues in other safety measures—and to value and encourage the merits of men.

Imagine what the men who drowned in that sinking might have done, had they lived out a normal span.

Now, consider whether they would have achieved and served more, better, in those times or these—and why? My reading tells me that forcing men to sacrifice themselves via “divorce theft” has taught many other men not to marry, that the privileges “Baby Boomer” women finagled for themselves are causing greater losses not only for men, but also for younger women. “Forcing men to sacrifice themselves” is an oxymoron; in reality, forced “self-sacrifice” is confiscation, and was when done at gunpoint as the Titanic sank.

The best way forward from the motivational quicksand that is misandry, is one which men and women can walk together in full candid honesty, and mutual respect, and mutual consent. We should give to the work of finding that way, as much effort and determination as, in retrospect, the builders of the Titanic should have given to assuring more than enough lifeboat space.

References:

Amneus, Daniel, 1999. The Case for Father Custody. Alhambra, California: Primrose Press.

A Voice for Men: Fact Sheet

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 2012. Special website section on the Titanic.

Lord, Walter 1955. A Night to Remember. NY: Holt. Bantam Paperback 1963, is cited as to pages.

Pears Cyclopaedia, 84th ed., 1975-6.

Wikipedia entries, retrieved April 12, 2011: “RMS Titanic”, “ Timeline of the sinking of RMS Titanic,“Women and children first (saying)”.

Notes:

1. The number of places in all boats exceeded the number of survivors by 473. One might allow for a few of those who got into the boats, dying of the cold—though since the Carpathia arrived less than two hours after Titanic sank and took some four hours loading the survivors, there should have been very few if any such deaths. 250-300 is a conservative estimate of the number of men who were lost but could have been saved, even if all women and children had taken seats in the boats. Not to try and separate crewmen from men-passengers, which Lord’s text makes difficult-to-impossible; the number of men saved should have been nearly double what it was, even without addressing the issue of gender bias in loading lifeboats.

The number 300 allows for about 25 unfilled seats in the boats, which might have resulted from difficulties in loading them from the (slowly) sinking ship.

2. cf. Amneus, 1999: 11: “Wives are the safest people in society, safer than single women and far safer than men…”

3. Looking further back, even more-so

4. As the table indicates, more children were lost than were saved, while over ¾ of the women were saved even counting “steerage”. Part of the reason for this may be ambiguity in the “child” categorization—at least one adolescent boy was forced out of a lifeboat after getting in.

5. The past tense is no accident. Today, with survival rates by age what they are, the preservation of all possible women is not what it would have been demographically, in Mozart’s time.

6. Men do not lactate; but babies these days are breastfed for a year or less on average; and it is more fathers than mothers who encourage older children to grow up.

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About Davd

Davd (PhD, 1966) has been a professor, a single father keeping a small commercial herb garden so as to have flexible time for his sons, and editor of _Ecoforestry_. He is a practicing Christian, and in particular an advocate of ecoforestry, self-sufficiency horticulture, and men of all faiths living together "in peace and brotherhood" for the fellowship, the efficiency, and the goodwill that sharing work so often brings.
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