Costa Concordia disaster: sexist barrage from commanding heights

With the passenger-laden cruise ship Costa Concordia sinking, Captain Gregorio De Falco of the Italian coastguard telephoned the ship’s captain, Francesco Schettino.  Captain Schettino and the ship’s second-in-command had already arrived safely on shore.  Captain De Falco angrily told Captain Schettino:

listen, there are people that are coming down the pilot ladder of the prow {of the sinking cruise ship}.  You go up that pilot ladder, get on that ship and tell me how many people are still on board. And what they need. Is that clear? You need to tell me if there are children, women or people in need of assistance. And tell me the exact number of each of these categories. Is that clear? Listen Schettino, that you saved yourself from the sea, but I am going to … really do something bad to you … I am going to make you pay for this. Go on board, damnit! [1]

Captain De Falco, an Italian official acting in his official capacity, issued an order using the categories “children, women, or people in need of assistance.”  Captain De Falco thus explicitly mentioned women, but not men.  Given the omission of men, the informal criteria for determining “people in need of assistance” probably also discriminated against men.  Captain De Falco’s order provides grounds for bringing a claim of gender discrimination.

Under the Treaty of the European Union, gender discrimination is not permitted.  Article 2 of the Treaty of the European Union states that the European Union is founded on the value of equality and exists as a society in which “non-discrimination … and equality between women and men prevail.”  Moreover, Article 3 of the Treaty of the European Union states that the Union “shall promote … equality between women and men.”  Cruise ships sinking under European Union jurisdiction cannot categorically favor women in evacuating persons from the sinking ship.

The Treaty of the European Union and other political and economic changes have failed to improve men’s social disposability.  The sinking Titanic made clear men’s social disposability in an explicit authoritative order and in the actual results:

When the Titanic went down in April 1912, the Captain’s orders were: ‘Women and children first!’

Although this legendary edict was never part of maritime law, it was adhered to so strictly on the Titanic that men were actually stopped from boarding lifeboats, many of which went to sea only three-quarters full.

There were only a few exceptions to the unvarying tales of heroism: three men in steerage who disobeyed the rule — Italians, coincidentally — were shot.

The chivalry was reflected in survival rates: 74 per cent of the women were saved; 52 per cent of the children; and just 20 per cent of the men.

Authoritative institutions have done nothing to make men less disposable.  In response to the Costa Concordia disaster, a major U.K. newspaper ran a column that simultaneously praised gender equality, shamed men who don’t privilege women, and naturalized men’s privileging of women:

But in our day, with the advent of feminism and the professional woman, chivalry and manners are considered stuffy and old-fashioned.

As the father of three daughters, I do not, with a single fibre of my being, wish to go back to a time when women could not have the vote or get a university degree. Nor do I, surrounded by extremely strong-charactered and intelligent women in my family and among my friends, feel tempted to regard women as the frail sex.

But the fact remains that there is a longing among most men to protect women and children, and chivalry is simply a manifestation of that longing.

And whatever transpires about the reason for the Costa Concordia disaster, the disappearance of a chivalric code is a sorry reflection on society today. [2]

The death of public reason, which best accounts for the above combination of statements, is important news.  In contrast, the passing of knightly combat isn’t news for anyone living in society today.  The presence today of yearning for the chivalric code is astonishing, especially coming from public discourse’s movers and shapers.

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, artist of the Titanic Memorial sculpture

The sinking of public reason has occurred from its most respected, most commanding heights.  Within a week and a half after the Costa Concordia tragedy, Cambridge University issued a press release featuring topical analysis from Cambridge University scholar and teacher, Dr. Lucy Delap, Fellow and Director of Studies in History at St Catharine’s College.  This press release did not contain analysis on how to better implement the Treaty of the European Union’s commitment to non-discrimination and equality between men and women on sinking boats.  Instead, the press release had the title “Shipwrecked: women and children first?”  Well-educated persons in the European Union today should be able to answer that question quickly, cheaply, and simply: “no.”  Instead, this center of educational excellence offered a lengthy and self-consciously complex essay.  Its intellectual quality and apparent pointlessness is well-summarized in its featured pull quote: “‘Women and children first’ was much more contested in the past than today’s news coverage would have us believe.”

Upon careful study of the Cambridge University press release, a critical reader might discern its intellectual intent: to lessen concern for discrimination against men.  The opening paragraph of Dr. Delap’s essay states:

With tragic stories of loss, chaos and fear, shipwrecks have always fascinated onlookers, and been used to convey moral lessons. The Costa Concordia has reignited the potent debates over how one should behave in an emergency shipwreck situation.  It is clear from the media response that the old question of whether ‘women and children’ should go first remains just as significant in 2012 as it seemed in 1912.

Here purple prose (“tragic stories of loss, chaos, and fear,” “fascinated onlookers,” “reignited the potent debates,” “emergency [sic] shipwreck situation”) leads to a remarkably impotent sentence.  It begins with “It is clear from the media response….”  That intellectual leadership leads into the following insight: “the old question of whether ‘women and children’ should go first remains just as significant in 2012 as it seemed in 1912.”  Can you think of anything that has changed over the past century in regard to seeking equality between women and men?  If you can’t think of anything, see the text of the Treaty of the European Union quoted above.

While the press release’s opening paragraph suggests authorial obtuseness, further in the essay Dr. DeLap appears appears to be a highly sophisticated teacher.  The second paragraph opens:

The world’s press has dwelt on the lack of precedence of women and children aboard the 21st century sinking ship, with particular emphasis on the failures of professionalism and chivalry shown by the Italian captain, and his crew. Tales are circulating of burly crew members pushing pregnant women and children out of the way, and the failure of captain and crew to ensure that all were rescued before departing from the ship themselves.

The first sentence above obscures the sexism inherent in “women and children first.”  The obscuring tactic is to conflate “failures of professionalism” and “chivalry.”  Professionalism is related to chivalry only for knights.  Other European Union professionals should do their jobs, even in difficult circumstances.  Moreover, they are expected to do their jobs in accordance with European Union law forbidding gender discrimination.  Put differently, every man’s job description does not include putting all women first in life-threatening circumstances.  Public pressure on men to put women first is oppressive sexism that intellectual leaders should robustly denounce.  The second paragraph’s second sentence is also highly sophisticated.  It seems to be informed by press reports such as these:

Fights broke out to get into the lifeboats, men refused to prioritise women, expectant mothers and children as they pushed themselves forward to escape. Crew ignored their passengers – leaving ‘chefs and waiters’ to help out. …

As she waited for a flight home from Rome, grandmother Sandra Rogers, 62, told the Daily Mail: ‘There was no “women and children first” policy. There were big men, crew members, pushing their way past us to get into the lifeboats. It was disgusting.’ …

{Ms Rogers said,}  ‘I was standing by the lifeboats and men, big men, were banging into me and knocking the girls. It was awful. There was a total lack of organisation. There was no one telling people where to go.’

‘And when we finally got into a lifeboat, people, grown men, were trying to jump into the boat. I thought, if they land in here we are going to capsize.’ (Daily Mail)

Dr. DeLap apparently condensed such reports to “burly crew members pushing pregnant women and children out of the way.”  Privileging women (who are not always pregnant) relative to men (many of whom are not burly and most of whom aren’t crew members) is gender discrimination.  DeLap presents such discrimination in the most emotionally appealing form.

Dr. DeLap’s essay moves on to discuss historical examples of women wanting to stay on sinking boats.  Of course!  “Women and children first” is another example of the oppression of women:

In many famous shipwrecks, women had to be removed by force. Their own choices were often to remain with their male relatives, or in the perceived safety of the ship. In some cases they were simply locked up in their cabins, as their hysteria was perceived to be dangerous. … Victorian women, then, were to be contained; the rule giving them precedence was partly for the relief and safety of the men on board ship. As it was practiced, ‘women and children first’ often resulted in women being treated as objects rather than being given special protection.

That’s incredible intellectual work.  It’s also quite tiresome.  I can’t motivate myself to read any more of it.

For better quality thinking than Dr. DeLap’s Cambridge University press release, look at the comments on the Daily Mail‘s article reporting on the experiences of the Costa Concordia’s passengers.  The top-rated comment, from Patricia Dolan, reasons:

Children first, sure, but in our age of equality, why women first? A bit victorian isnt it? When women can sue (and get millions) for the most trivially perceived inequality – why should women then get a free ticket to be saved at men’s expense? Seems a bit unfair. For instance, who is more likely to be able save themselves in such circumstances? A man of 60 who can’t swim, or a young fit woman of 25 who can swim? Surely it should be the weakest saved first. Women can’t have it both ways. They can’t want to be seen as equal to men when it comes to the nice stuff. But return to helpless little women when its the nasty stuff. To paraphrase, ‘equality is not just for Christmas.’

Ms. Dolan’s response has generated thus far 4683 “up” marks.  Social elites’ contempt for men’s welfare generates justified anger among ordinary men.  Such anger doesn’t bode well for public support for higher education.

The Titanic Memorial in Washington, DC,  provides true insight into what has changed from 1912 to 2012.  The Titanic Memorial has inscribed on its front:

APRIL 15 1912

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, a prominent figure in high society, designed the sculpture.  Noted architect Henry Bacon, who designed the Lincoln Memorial, also designed the base structure (exedra) for the Titanic Memorial.  Helen Herron Taft, the widow of William Howard Taft, who was the U.S. President at the time of the Titanic’s sinking and who died in 1930 while serving as Chief Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, formally unveiled the sculpture in 1931.  The sculpture was located in a central, waterfront position in Washington, DC.  The sentiment that the Titanic Memorial represented was thus publicly prominent.

By 1969, the public position of the Titanic Memorial had changed greatly.  The Great Lakes Titanic Society’s website explains that the Titanic Memorial was removed from its central location in Washington, DC:

The memorial was re-erected without ceremony in 1968 on the south Washington waterfront outside Fort McNair in Washington Channel Park at Fourth and P Streets, SW.

That was, and remains, an obscure, poor neighborhood.

The social disposibility of men has changed little from 1912 to 2012.   Tendentious and mind-numbing recitations of class and gender history, contempt for men’s welfare, and misandry have increased greatly.

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Read more:


[1] From the Guardian’s translation of the call transcript.  Above I’ve replaced “(expletive)” with the expletive reported in another news account.

[2] Wilson, A. N.  “Whatever happened to women and children first?“, Daily Mail Online, last updated 18 Jan. 2012.  In considering the Costa Concordia disaster and response, major newspapers didn’t debate the question, “Whatever happened to the text and values of the Treaty of the European Union?”  That latter question may prompt much anguish in the near future.

9 thoughts on “Costa Concordia disaster: sexist barrage from commanding heights”

  1. In life threatening emergencies such as the sinking of the Concordia, it is not sexist that women and children should be served first in an emergency, neither is it a matter of chivalry, it is a matter of public decency and honor.
    To even entertain the thought, that strong able bodied males should precede women and children in rescue during a life threatening emergency, is an evil, and disgraceful concept, and well worthy of contempt. It should be naturally considered as contemptuous by all males, everywhere in the world.
    To Hell with any law, or opinion, which places the welfare of strong able bodied males ahead of women and children in any emergency situation, and especially one like this.
    Disagreement with what I have said, makes you, if you are a man, a gutless, weak, no class bastard, or a brainless feminist. In either case your opinion is not worthy of consideration. Neither is your worthless existence.
    Captain De Falco should be honored, not criticized, while captain Schettinno should be publicly flogged and executed for his negligence, dereliction of duty, and disgraceful display of cowardice…
    Raymond Greene…Vet. U.S. and Royal Australian Army.

    1. I commend the Italian culture that made captain dE fALCO SPEAK OUT his mind with grea t concern for the welfare of others.He is a hero–Sua
      Italians stick to your expletives!

    2. you have an interesting sense of honor, and I admire you for it, however given the choice I will fight for my own survival above all others, a statue may be nice but if I’m dead I won’t be able to appreciate it and while you may find it gutless I find it to be the height of humanity to care about yourself first and obey the survival instict we all have

  2. No Raymond Green,who says men are more able bodied automatically? Perhaps you, having an army background, but I suspect the average office worker isn’t that much more able just because he is male. I think it makes perfect sense that the men thought of themselves first, that is the way he world works now. Feminists just want to have their cake and eat it… too bad for them.

  3. This article lost sight of the big picture, which is to prevent as many people from drowning as possible. Women and children first does not mean men are disposable. Women and children first is just the simplest way of getting the physically weakest loaded into the lifeboats first. When a ship is sinking, there is no time to perform a physical exam on each passenger to determine the optimal order for loading them into the lifeboats. Since men are on average physically stronger than women and children, it makes sense to have women and children go in the lifeboats first. Men who are physically handicapped or who can’t swim should go in the lifeboats before other men. The crew has the most training and they are most familiar with the ship, so they should obviously be the last people to go in the lifeboats.

    1. You’re deluded with gender stereotypes and ideology of male disposability. You claim “men on average are physically stronger than women.” The specific issue is ability to survive when thrown into the cold waters of the Atlantic. Women on average have a higher body fat composition than men. The relative survival advantages of women and men is far from clear. Moreover, it’s neither necessary nor ethical to establish a sex priority for getting into lifeboats. A reasonable alternative is to have the crew choose who to put into the lifeboat based on passenger preferences, passenger characteristics, and optimal life boat passenger configuration in the particular circumstances of the sinking.

  4. I had a similar discussion with my son a few years ago. I just missed a commuter plane crash, which occurred about ten minutes after my passing the local airport. Some commuters that were at the scene of the crash got out of their cars to get some passengers out of the now-burning plane.
    My son asked me what I would have done. I replied that, as it was a burning airplane, I would probably not have risked my life. I told him that if I did become part of the cadre that rescued people, there would be media-applause and that is about it. If I died, then the media would spend spend a week or so on the ‘so-sad’ and then it would all be forgotten, however, who then would be the husband to my wife, the father to my 11 year old son and daughter?
    I revisited that question with my son just recently. I asked him if he would have preferred remembering me as a dead hero, or as the rather non-heroic live father of the past few years.

    In today’s world, short of a bona fide existential threat to my nation, I am not going to throw my life away.

    As a side note to Raymond Green. My statements put me in disagree with you with the implied cowardice and lack of class etc etc, you go on and on to the point of comedy.
    Raymond, you really are some kind of “Canadian” aren’t you. GFY.

  5. An academic study carried out on eighteen shipwrecks between 1852 and 2011 found that men are actually far more likely to survive shipwrecks than women and children and crew members are more likely to survive than passengers.

    The sinking of the Titanic, far from being the norm, was actually the outlier and it only happened that way due to the ship’s officers enforcing the rule at gunpoint. “Women and children first” was never official maritime policy, but the use of it on the Titanic was probably influenced by the earlier sinking of the SS Atlantic in 1873 where ALL of the women and all but one of the children perished. This is because the SS Atlantic was also a ship owned by the White Star Line, the same company that owned the Titanic.

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