Female Seafarers: Everyday Sexism

Yesterday I attended a ‘Women’s Forum’ meeting. This is no big deal in itself, many people attend meetings everyday, but this was quite a big deal for me. I’m not too sure when or even how it happened but I have definitely turned into one of those people who go to meetings and ‘fly the flag’. I actively derided those types when I was in university (way back in 1990-something) and now I find myself eagerly attending meetings, trying to make a difference. I’ve been motivated to write this post following throw away comment from a high-ranking male seafarer after seeing a photograph of the delegates; “They’re dreadful; have they deliberately tried to look unattractive?”

What?!? Is the sole purpose of a female to be attractive to men? If she is deemed unattractive, does that make her less of a being? That somehow she is ‘wrong’ and is to therefore be an object of ridicule and mockery? Everyday my female colleagues are judged by their male peers: too fat; too thin; too much make up; tomboy; class swot; lezza; moody… the list goes on. Despite all the advances in women’s equality, we seem to be no closer to actually achieving it. That is, to be judged on our performance and ability and not against a stereotyped perception of what a woman is or should be.

It should be unacceptable to sit in a lecture and have male colleagues openly comment that if a woman has been successful in her career, it’s because “she had her legs open”. How rude and insulting is that?! Worse still, to be challenged on the comment and simply to retort “You weren’t supposed to hear that” just highlights how entrenched these attitudes are in people. It’s all very well to be pushing equality and acceptance for women in the seafaring industry but attitudes have to change at the coal face. What good is the International Maritime Organisation’s (IMO) programme on the Integration of Women in the Maritime Sector ,if misogynistic attitudes amongst both the ‘old and bold’ and the future maritime professionals are allowed to go unchecked?

It’s imperative that we, as female seafarers, figure out where our line is and don’t allow anyone to cross it no matter how hard we may find it. This is no easy thing to do, confrontation in any situation is never pleasant. However, refusing to compromise on our lines will make a difference in the long run.  I make no apologies for upsetting men by challenging their attitudes and comments: If I can make the slightest difference to the lives of future female mariners then it’s worth all the uncomfortable conversations that I’ve had, and will undoubtedly continue to have in the future.



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