I still recall the vague sense of unease I felt as a young boy when I watched scenes from the movie, A Night to Remember many years ago.
The fact that the huge, hulking bulk of the Titanic could be rendered helpless and immobile by a large chunk of ice was unsettling enough, but the cries of “women and children to the lifeboats” …caused a stab of fear to cut through my young heart.
I was a child back then, but I was also a boy. I knew I would one day be a man. I thought of the inky black water rising up to greet me and the horror of the cold seeping into my bones, rendering me paralysed before the slow process of drowning followed.
I remember my father speaking about his most feared death. He said,
Imagine you are on a huge ocean liner and you wander up on deck for some fresh air or to simply be alone. As you lean on the rail, it snaps and you fall as if in a dream until you hit the cold water and as you struggle to stay afloat, you watch as the liner continues on without you…oblivious to your predicament. The lights grow dim and distant, the cold bites, your arms are growing weary and the darkness envelopes you as the only light in that black night came from the ship which is now on the horizon.
You are alone. No-one in the universe knows that you are facing your last moments on earth. Can you imagine the loneliness? Dad would ask.
The men in the Titanic went to their deaths with the screams of other people in their ears, but ultimately each man had been facing the stark reality of his impending exit from this world for one and a half hours as they watched women and children scramble aboard the available lifeboats. Women drowned too, as did some children, but this were as a result of inadequate preparation for a possible catastrophe at sea. There were not enough lifeboats. The class system also meant some women and children were trapped below deck and didn’t get to the boats in time.
The men were denied a place on the boats simply because they were men, even when there was room and they were only a few feet away. They were threatened with death if they dared give in to their primal urge to avoid a ghastly death in the icy black ocean. Some still snuck aboard, swallowing their shame and preparing to face the scorn and hatred they would encounter for daring to live when women and children had not survived. Others were required in order to man the large lifeboats and look after the passengers lucky enough to be on them.
I try hard to place myself in the shoes of one of the many men upon the Titanic that night. I understand that this was a different time and place, and that most men as well as women, believed that it was only right and proper for men to sacrifice themselves for women and children- as they do to this very day. But the reality of your imminent extinction must send all of your evolutionary instincts into overdrive. These men, many very young or in the prime of their lives had everything to live for. They had children, loved partners, stimulating jobs. Many of these men were extraordinarily wealthy and powerful-yet more women from third class survived than men from first class.
Many (not all) of these men faced their death with extraordinary composure and dignity. We have all heard the stories of the musicians who continued to play in order to calm the panicking passengers as the boat slowly listed and the end drew near.
How longingly they must have gazed at the lifeboats which promised another dawn, fresh opportunities, comfort………and life….life.
It was however, an eye opening experience to read comments made by female survivors of that unforgettable tragedy in a book I recently read called, Shadow of the Titanic by Andrew Wilson. This book presents a number of stories, all of which focused upon the lives of survivors and examined how the disaster impacted their lives in the years that followed.
It is one thing to humbly and gratefully acknowledge the loving sacrifice made by so many men on that night, but to read the comments made by female survivors about both the men who died and those who survived gives new meaning to the words entitlement and privilege.
Writing in 1955, Marjorie Dutton who travelled aboard the Titanic as an eight year old second class girl-described how her life was somehow blighted or cursed.
My father was drowned taking our worldly wealth with him, as in those days people were not as bank- minded as they are now,’ she said. ‘ Since that time I have been blessed with bad luck and often wonder if it will ever give me a break, but it just seems to be my lot…
Perhaps Marjorie has expressed grief over the loss of her father in other interviews or in private conversations, but if I were discussing the loss of my father I don’t believe my focus would be on the money that went to the bottom of the ocean with him. Such bad luck for Marjorie.
Renee Harris, knew her husband was dead (although it had not been confirmed) and said she would rather that than live with the knowledge that he had taken the place of one of the women in the lifeboats.
When Doctor Henry William Frauenthal, the doctor on the Titanic came into Renee’s cabin to tend to her broken arm and see if he could help her in any way, Renee let him know what she thought of a man who had leapt into a lifeboat and landed on top of a woman, breaking her ribs.
I wouldn’t have my husband back at the cost of a woman’s life!” she told him “and he made such a hasty exit I didn’t see him again on the Carpathia (the rescue ship) or ever after.
Despite her apparent hard line attitude toward men who dared to live when women had drowned, Renee Harris was tormented by the fact that she survived and her husband was dead. Had she done the right thing in leaving her husband on the ship to die? Harris posed this very question in an article for the American Weekly.
She wrote of the final moments of that terrible night. She recalled one man saying to the officers that he was going to help his wife into one of the lifeboats. He had evidently sneaked into a lifeboat as the next time Renee saw him he was on board the Carpathia. Harris branded this behaviour cowardly and said that her husband’s sense of right and wrong was too strong for him to behave in such a manner.
She describes how her husband helped her into her life jacket (she had broken her arm earlier that day). “It was the most awful moment I had ever known.” Harry lifted her into the collapsible boat and told the crew member of her injury. “For years after, my heart was numb with grief. And always one question haunted me. Should I have remained aboard the Titanic and died at sea with Harry?”
She relates a true story she read in a newspaper report.
A husband and wife were on their way to the movies near Chicago when the women got her foot caught in a railway track. Although the man tried to free his wife’s trapped foot, it wouldn’t move. Then they heard the whistle of a train, quickly followed by a rumble. Within seconds the train was approaching. Frantically, the man-who had three children at home-pulled at his wife’s foot, but still it did not move. As the train thundered toward them, he had to make a decision-whether to stay with his wife or save himself. His choice? “To remain with his wife beneath the wheels of the train.”
“Was he right? I have never known what to think.” said Harris.
I think Renee knew full well what kind of response she would receive in that time of stiff upper lips and men standing whenever a woman entered a room. I am sure she wanted a flood of reassuring words and support, and that of course is exactly what she got.
“To have stayed on the Titanic,” said a man from New Jersey “would have been suicide on your part.” I wonder if this man considered the deaths of the hundreds of men who remained to be suicides.
What fascinates me is the fact that this woman was fully aware of the privileged position her gender gave her in the moment of life or death and of the horrible end she had avoided and yet she could find no compassion or understanding for those men, who, like her, chose life.
We must remember that the sinking of the Titanic occurred at the very time the suffragettes were demanding the vote for women (those of the privileged classes). This did not escape the attention of the press back then and they indeed pointed out the hypocrisy of these women who demanded equality yet happily accepted the protection and sacrifice offered by their men when the grim reaper was lurking close by.
In fact a poem was written by Clark Adams which identified this glaring double standard with a razor sharp wit.
“Votes for women!”
Was the cry,
Reaching upward to the Sky.
And flashing eye-
“Votes for Women!”
Was the cry.
“Boats for women!”
Was the Cry.
When the brave
Were come to die.
When the end
Was drawing nigh-
“Boats for women!”
Was the cry.
Life has many
Doubt and bitterness assail
But “Boats for women”
tells the tale.
The responses from some suffragettes to those who dared to denounce their “cake and eat it” attitudes provided lines that sit very comfortably alongside Hilary Clinton’s infamous:
Women have always been the primary victims of war. Women lose their husbands, their fathers, their sons in combat.
One woman said:
Women, though saved by the noble sacrifice of men, were in the equally hard position of having to see the ship go down.
She did not want to minimise in any way the gallantry displayed, but it must be borne in mind that it was the universal rule in times of shipwreck that women and children should be saved first and the instance of the Titanic was not the only one in which this was carried out. It was merely a matter of rule. There was no special chivalry attached to it. (Sylvia Pankhurst)
Entitlement was deeply entrenched in many women, much as it is today. These women who scorned and accused the men who survived would perhaps have been just as willing to hand out white feathers to teenage boys in 1914, two years after the Titanic sank to the bottom of the Atlantic.
One female survivor, Lady Duff Gordon, made this observation.
Even in that terrible moment I was filled with amazement as nearly all of the American wives who were leaving their husbands without a word of protest or regret, scarce of farewell. They have brought the cult of chivalry to such a pitch in the States that it comes as second nature to their men to sacrifice themselves and to their women to let them do it.
Perhaps today, these same women would mock any man’s attempt to express his pain or fear and happily proclaim their fondness for bathing in male tears. They would assuredly regard any suggestion that the abuse or murder of a man by a woman was in any way worthy of the attention or compassion given to female victims of male violence as an outrageous idea.
The fact of the matter is most men, and that includes the writers and readers of AVFM would instinctively still place the needs of the females around them before their own in any dangerous scenario. This is not the issue. It is the fact that some women would not only expect but demand such a response that causes the bile to rise in one’s throat.
Feminist attitudes today mirror the expectations of the women of the past. They demand “equality’ but know full well that is the last thing they want. To truly want equality means living with the same obligations and responsibilities every man is assigned from the moment he is born. It means you must “pay the piper” when your turn comes and not suddenly cry poor.
It is accepting the fact that every right men appear to have has been earned and paid for, often with blood, sweat and tears. The suggestion that women be conscripted in Norway brought a heated outcry in 2015 from leading feminists who said under the title Misconceived Equality
“The Norwegian Association for Women’s Rights (NKF) considers female conscription as a misunderstanding of the concept of gender equality and the intentions of the Law on Equality. Gender equality implies first and foremost that women and men should have the same human rights and fundamental freedoms. Women should be valued and allocated power and resources on equal terms with men. But women and men do not have to be alike or do the same things to be equal.
To ensure gender equality it is important in many cases that women and men are treated equally. But they should not necessarily be treated equally in all situation”
Do pigs and farms come to mind?
Nothing has changed in the past century.
Shadow of the Titanic, Andrew Wilson, Published by Simon and Schuster 2011