Gender privilege in Titanic Era

During the past few months regular movie-goers could hardly avoid James Cameron’s film-trailer announcing the recent release of a 3D version of his Titanic movie in response to the Centennial the shipwreck this month. However, few are aware that the relationship between the motion picture industry and the disaster stretches back nearly a full century. Even fewer realize the two films that “frame” the 100-year span are gross distortions.

Staring a notable and authentic personality, Saved from the Titanic was the first movie in May of 1912. Twenty-three-year-old Dorothy Gibson was among the era’s highest paid movie stars and was also a Titanic survivor. She sketched-out the movie plot herself.

Dorthy Gibson

Dressed in the same clothes worn the night of the wreck, Dorothy played a young woman returning from a European vacation to marry her lover, a Navy Ensign. The young man learns of the shipwreck from a buddy who is a wireless operator. He is compelled to call upon the girl’s parents to inform them of the disaster.

Later in a post-disaster scene when Dorothy’s character is telling her family of the events at the dinner table, she is overcome and faints. Her mom calls upon the Ensign to resign from a seafaring career if he wishes to marry the girl. After some dramatics, the Ensign declines by announcing it would be dishonorable to abandon his duties to the Navy. Admiring the officer’s patriotism, the young lady’s dad says, “My daughter, there’s your husband”, as the final scene closes.

As befit her movie star image, Dorothy is portrayed as a heroine. But her actual conduct was lacking. When she realized the danger was serious, Dorothy became hysterical and entered the first of twenty lifeboats. Once upon the water she began to shiver and accepted an overcoat from a thereafter-coatless gentleman.

After the ship foundered a lifeboat crewmember wanted to return to rescue people thrashing in the water. Everyone aboard, including Dorothy, shouted him down. After the victims’ cries faded away, Dorothy proclaimed that the loss of life was minimal since most of the passengers were saved in lifeboats. She was silenced when a crewmember interrupted to say, “If the boats were filled, not more than a third could have escaped.”

Although married, Dorothy vacationed in Europe without her mate and was greeted with a $1,000 engagement ring by her extramarital lover upon returning safely in New York. She would not divorce her pharmacist-husband for another four years. Meanwhile she continued to accept the largess of her benefactor-lover who was a rising movie industry mogul. By the early 1920s she was living in Europe where she remained until her death by heart attack 1946.

A hundred years later, James Cameron’s 3D Titanic foists another misrepresentation. The familiar plot characterizes the leading lady as a victim of gender discrimination whose miraculous survival convinces her to thereafter lead a lifestyle that boldly challenges the evils of patriarchy. She is portrayed as a pioneering feminist decades ahead of Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda.  In reality, far from being victims, the ladies of RMS Titanic were highly privileged. 

As the preceding table documents, three-of-every four women were saved as compared to only one-in-every-five men. Moreover, five-to-ten percent of male survivors were pulled out of freezing water, many of whom stood for hours on an overturned lifeboat. Finally, of the four First Class ladies who perished, at least three bravely elected to stay on board despite being offered a chance to enter a lifeboat. (The most oft-cited example was Ida Straus who was the 63-year-old wife of a Macy’s Department Store co-owner.)

Female privilege even trumped the needs of children. The fifty percent survival ratio for children is scandalous compared to the seventy-five percent fraction for adult women.

Contrary to feminist dogma, Titanic males convincingly prioritized the safety of women and children ahead of their own. While the ladies routinely accepted male sacrifice as a gender entitlement, some could unfairly take advantage of men who might simply have been alleged to have of evaded it. For example, two wives famously divorced surviving husbands. Each woman dubiously charged the men with cowardice on Titanic. Given the assumed era-specific female virtues — and reciprocal male obligations – such accusations were enough to condemn the men within society at-large.

Despite the obvious male sacrifices documented by survival statistics, modern feminists are determined to characterize women as victims and men as selfish perpetrators of the disaster. For example, Professor Ann Larabee of Michigan State University states:

Although many men seemed to have behaved admirably…They may simply have had a cavalier trust in technology. Some did not behave like gentlemen at all, jumping on top of women…and when in the boats refusing to return to the disaster site to save those in the water.

Thus, Larabee implies the disproportionate male death ratio merely reflects a false hubris in male inventions, to wit, the ship itself. (Later she contradictorily asserts that men ascribed a feminine identity to the ship in order to designate blame for technological failure on a female as well.)  She further implies that men alone failed to rescue those in the water, whereas women objected to returning even more often and forcefully than men. There are few reports of lifeboat ladies even suggesting a return.

Titanic Survival Table

Trivializing male disadvantages is popular sport among feminists. For example, women have outnumbered men on college campuses for so long that, The New York Times feels justified in publishing articles portraying men as advantaged because of their superior dating environment. Although men have long outnumbered women in the military I’d wager $100 against a good Cuban cigar that The Times has never published an article lamenting the dating disadvantages of male soldiers. More importantly, however, dating status is a trifling matter compared to the growing hostility toward males on campus where they are often forced into indoctrinations accusing them of being latent, if not active, rapists.  

As former Senator Moynihan was put it, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts.” Simple honesty requires that feminists and Hollywood admit that the overwhelming gender privilege aboard Titanic favored ladies. Even among the crew, over ninety percent of the women were saved.

Sources: Larabee, Ann, “The American Hero and His Mechanical Bride”; Wilson, Andrew, Shadow of the Titanic; Biel, Steven, Down With the Old Canoe; Foster, John Wilson (Editor), The Titanic Reader; Wilson, Frances How to Survive the Titanic; Lord, Walter, A Night to Remember; Lord, Walter, The Night Lives On; Wade, Wyn Craig, Titanic; Marcus, Geoffrey, The Maiden Voyage; Thayer, John B. The Sinking of S.S. Titanic; Gracie, Colonel Archibald Titanic; Lightoller, Charles, Titanic and Other Ships

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