The Thinking 

Women and Children First

April 15, 2012


John Jacob Astor IV, who died on the Titanic

FEMINISM views history as one long male conspiracy against women. Misogyny, we are told, was omnipresent in society in the past. However, when we look closely at history, we find not opposition to women so much as deference to them, not rights denied so much as privileges embodied and enforced in law, customs and manners.

When property laws forbade married women to hold property in their own names, the sense of male responsibility for female welfare was so strong that men were held liable for the criminal acts and debts of their wives.

One of the most famous examples of male deference is, of course, the Titanic, which sank 100 years ago today. The next time a feminist says that everything must change to make up for past discrimination, say: “What about the Titanic? Is that the sort of discrimination you mean?”

Almost 70 percent of the people on the Titanic died, including more than 100 women, but the rescued were overwhelmingly women and children. Men, because of the size of the crew, were far more numerous on the ship, but still strongly disfavored when loading the lifeboats. As Lawrence Auster writes, “[T]he crew and the male passengers were so assiduous in following the rule of “women and children first,” that many lifeboats left the Titanic with empty seats. Many more people died than was necessary, because, far from pushing each other out of the way, people (i.e. men) willingly died in conformity with the moral code of that time.”

Among second class passengers, 86 percent of the women were saved, and eight percent of the men. Ninety-seven percent of the first class women lived while 33 percent of the men did. (Wikipedia provides a complete chart here.)

Among the men who perished was Father Thomas Byles. (His interesting story can be found at Byles, the son of a well-known Congregationalist minister, converted to Catholicism while at Oxford. He was on his way to New York to officiate at his brother’s wedding. According to eyewitness accounts, he continued to hear confession, grant absolutions and conduct prayers during the last moments of the ship’s sinking. He was one of four priests aboard and he also helped load women and children into lifeboats. I cannot imagine a woman acting with the sort of calm command that Byles was said to have conveyed. Not all men are as heroic, of course, but very few women can display this sort of  authority and focus in a crisis.

John Jacob Astor IV, one of the wealthiest men in the world at the time, did not survive. Neither did his manservant. But his wife, Madeleine and her maid, did. According to Wikipedia,

When Second Officer Charles Lightoller arrived on A Deck to finish loading Lifeboat 4, Astor helped his wife with her maid and nurse into it. Astor then asked if he might join his wife because she was in ‘a delicate condition’; however, Lightoller told him that men were not to be allowed to enter until all the women and children had been loaded. Astor stood back and simply asked Lightoller for the boat number. The lifeboat was lowered at 1:55 a.m. and Astor stood alone while others tried to free the remaining collapsible boats;[1] he was last seen on the starboard bridge wing, smoking a cigarette with Jacques Futrelle. A half hour later, the ship disappeared beneath the water. Madeleine, her nurse, and her maid survived. Astor and his valet, Victor Robbins, did not.

Deference to women and children doesn’t make sense under the logic of feminism and in the events on the Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia last year, we see that it is not necessarily an instinctive drive.


— Comments —

John Purdy writes:

You write: “Deference to women and children… is not necessarily an instinctive drive.” No, it certainly isn’t as the events on the Lusitania a few years later demonstrate. (There was mass panic and a stampede by men aboard the ship.) But there is good reason for it. Women are bio-economically more valuable than men due to the reproduction bottle-neck. As important is the fact that men are stronger and more robust than women, let alone children. On the Titanic there was no hope of survival but in many other situations these facts mean a higher chance of survival for men. I have promulgated an algorithm, that depending on circumstances, one of three things should be done in an emergency.

If the path ahead is unknown or potentially risky the man moves first, followed by children and wife. If the path ahead is safe then wife goes first, followed by children and husband. If the current situation is too dangerous then children go first, followed by wife and then husband.

Chivalry toward one’s own family will always be with us but toward strangers? That may be gone for the foreseeable future. Thanks to feminism.

Laura writes:

There is a biological basis for chivalry, but there is also a spiritual basis for it. God made man to be, at his best, more courageous and resolute.

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