January 17 2012
Sea Change: The Costa Concordia Vs. The Titanic
The sinking of the Costa Concordia cruise liner off the coast of Tuscany has been compared to that of the Titanic. But there was a remarkable way in which the behavior of those aboard differed:
Whatever happened to women and children first?
That is a headline from the Daily Mail.
The article reports “how, in the chaos, men refused to put women and children first, and instead pushed themselves forward to escape; and how the Italian crew ignored passengers and reportedly shouldered their way past mothers and pregnant women to get into lifeboats.”
None of us know how we would behave in such circumstances. Let’s stipulate that. But…
We IWFers several times put flowers on the Titanic memorial here in Washington. We wanted to honor the men who let women and children go first. Understandable though the desire to save your skin is, the contrasting behavior of the men of the Titanic and those of the Costa Concordia represents a sea change, if you will, in the concept of manliness.
My colleague Carrie Lukas wrote a wonderful piece several years ago hailing the men who let women and children go first at the cost of their own lives. She praised a virtue we don’t hear much about today: chivalry.
Chivalry. The idea that part of being a man (and certainly part of being a gentleman) is to sacrifice willingly to protect those who are more vulnerable. Of course, all those aboard the Titanic were equally vulnerable to the near freezing water. The men who gave their seats in the lifeboats gave their lives. Out of all of the Titanic's passengers, 74 percent of women lived while 80 percent of the men died.
Carrie quoted from Christina Hoff Sommers’ review of Harvey Mansfield’s then-new book, Manliness. Christina mentioned the memorial erected in a little-traveled corner on Washington in 1931 "to the brave men who perished in the wreck of the Titanic. . . . They gave their lives that women and children might be saved.”
...almost no one remembers those men. Women no longer bring flowers to the statue on April 15 to honor their chivalry. The idea of male gallantry makes many women nervous, suggesting (as it does) that women require special protection. It implies the sexes are objectively different. It tells us that some things are best left to men. Gallantry is a virtue that dare not speak its name.
Without becoming preachy or unsympathetic to men in peril of the sea, may I just observe that we saw the post-gallantry world in the sinking of the Costa Concordia?