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Juliette Fretté

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Women and Children First? The Wishful Thinking of Titanic Dynamics

Posted: 04/22/2012 6:26 pm

With the revitalization of Titanic 3D in theaters recently, we re-inscribe visions of romantic yesteryears -- when women were pretty pets of rich men or otherwise living property. But hey, at least they received preferential treatment in life or death ship disasters!

Yay.

Yet, this is not exactly how it went down -- no pun intended -- even in the context of the celebrated film, as women and children of lower classes are shown trapped or otherwise disregarded inside the ship as it plunges through the depths of the Atlantic.

No, 'women and children first' is not exactly a widespread maritime mandate, but more of an optional act of chivalry perpetuated around the time of Titanic, as such doctrine in fact guided the loading process of the life boats.

But nowadays, the honorable but unofficial rule is not exactly alive and well. In fact, Italian cruise liners pointedly defied preferential treatment as the Costa Concordia sank this past Jan. 13, 2012. Indeed, many men and crew members opted to save themselves in lieu of women and children.

This is bad, isn't it?

Well: maybe not. But it may not be good either.

Either way you look at it, nobody likes the idea of a sinking ship in which women and children are left to die. Still, who would prefer the alternative: that men -- husbands, fathers, brothers -- are left to die either?

If we really want an equal society, we might need to accept that no gender group or socio-economic class be allowed to receive first dibs on being saved. Not women, not men, and especially not the purported first class who can pay for the finest accommodations on board (which is primarily how Titanic chose its survivors). In a climate of 'the 99 percent versus the 1 percent,' many would argue that our distribution of wealth is inherently unequal anyway.

Yes, if we want true equality, we must accept that everyone should have an equal opportunity for survival in disaster scenarios.

Still, there exists one exception that most of us can agree upon: putting children first.

As a group, the young are without question more vulnerable and innocent than adults and thus tug at our heart strings. And though most across the political spectrum can reach a rational consensus to safeguard children above gender, race, and class, does it actually happen? If we diverge from the topic of ship disasters and the like, we actually find that children and young people are still not first even though most of us believe they should be.

As evidenced by U.S. military spending versus education spending, the rising costs of colleges and universities vis à vis student loan debt, the general state of social services for families versus corporate tax breaks, the degraded environment and corresponding pollution our children will inherit, or even how mothers are treated in the workplace as they try to raise and nurture their own families, we can easily deduce that children are definitely not first. Despite the fact that they are the most important creatures in our hearts and minds, our collective political actions speak violently otherwise.

Thus America easily posits itself as a sinking ship. And now we poignantly ask ourselves: are we throwing our own kids overboard?

 

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