Women and Children First

titanicIt’s interesting that after almost a century since it’s demise, the story of RMS Titanic continues to attract interest and may even be capable of triggering a bit of controversy. An article in a recent edition of the New York Times will be of interest to all local Titanic enthusiasts. It describes the behaviour of the men on the occasion of the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 compared with the behaviour of the men when the Lusitania sank in 1915.

Most of us know that the Titanic struck an iceberg on 14 April 1912 and sank early the next morning, with the loss of 1,517 of the 2,223 lives on board. Less well-known is the sinking of the Lusitania, which was torpedoed by a German U-boat on 7 May 1915, taking 1,198 of 1,959 lives on board. The sinking of the Lusitania was a major factor in bringing the United States into war against the German Empire in the First World War.

The two sinkings were notably different in one crucial respect. The Titanic took hours to sink, leaving time for a remarkable human drama on board the sinking ship. The Lusitania sank in just eighteen minutes.

But there was another crucial difference. A new study looks at the difference in the behaviour of the men aboard the two sinking ships and it notes a remarkable difference. Aboard the Titanic, the men generally behaved with great concern for women and children, doing their best to get the women and children into the insufficient seats in the lifeboats. Hundreds of men died with the Titanic, demonstrating a commitment to put the welfare of women and children above their own.

Aboard the sinking Lusitania, the scene was very different. Women and children were less likely than men to survive that disaster, because the men used their natural strength and speed to take the spaces on the lifeboats, with women and children forced out of their way.

As The New York Times summarizes: “On the Titanic, the study found, children were 14.8 percent more likely to survive than adults, while on the Lusitania they were 5.3 percent less likely to do so. And women on the Titanic were 53 percent more likely to survive than men, while on the Lusitania they were 1.1 percent less likely to do so.”

What is the reason for this difference? Time magazine reports one conclusion the researchers arrived at.

There were a lot of factors behind these two distinct survival profiles — the most significant being time. Most shipwrecks are comparatively slow-motion disasters, but there are varying degrees of slow. The Lusitania slipped below the waves a scant 18 min. after the German torpedo hit it. The Titanic stayed afloat for 2 hr. 40 min. — and human behavior differed accordingly. On the Lusitania, the authors of the new paper wrote, “the short-run flight impulse dominated behavior. On the slowly sinking Titanic, there was time for socially determined behavioral patterns to reemerge.”

That theory fits perfectly with the survival data, as all of the Lusitania’s passengers were more likely to engage in what’s known as selfish rationality — a behavior that’s every bit as me-centered as it sounds and that provides an edge to strong, younger males in particular. On the Titanic, the rules concerning gender, class and the gentle treatment of children — in other words, good manners — had a chance to assert themselves.

Al Mohler, influential leader of the Southern Baptists, and a very compelling blogger and broadcaster, comments on this phenomenon and draws some conclusions for feminist thinkers and writers.

There is a huge question looming in this — is it right for men to act with care and concern toward women and children, or is this just an outmoded relic of Victorian morality?

What do modern feminists do with this? Those who stake their lives on the elimination of all meaningful gender distinctions must, if honest, take what they see on the Lusitania as the inevitable result of such a worldview. Are we really to believe that the moral call that makes men act against their own self-preservation is just a socially-constructed artifact of manners?

Aboard the Lusitania, young males acted out of a selfish survival instinct, and women and children were cast aside, left to the waves. Aboard the Titanic, there was time for men to consider what was at stake and to call themselves to a higher morality. There was time for conscience to raise its voice and authority, and for men, young and old, to know and to do their duty.

The Christian worldview based in Scripture explains this in terms of God’s revelation of moral order within the structures of creation, and especially in what we call conscience. Even in our fallen state, this moral knowledge speaks to us, and there is a moral knowledge within us that calls us to do what we otherwise would never do — even what is plainly not in our direct self-interest.

A secular worldview has little at its disposal to explain all this, and is left with some argument based in evolutionary survival behaviors or socially constructed morality. The feminists are in even worse shape in this. They call for a world like the Lusitania, but must hope against hope that the world is really more like the Titanic.

Women and children first. Civilization itself depends upon this kind of moral knowledge. Without it, the entire enterprise of human civilization is destined to sink beneath the waves.

Local Titanic buffs might be surprised (and maybe pleased?) to learn that the sinking of their famous ship continues to provide data for a very contemporary debate.

2 Replies to “Women and Children First”

  1. I agree with much of this… but there are different types of “feminism”, and we shouldn’t all be lumped together. The morality of the Titanic is about protecting and providing for the “weaker”, “smaller”, less physically strong, and in general that applies to children, then women as against men. The responsibility isn’t on the men, as men, but on human beings as human beings, to use their strengh in the interest of others.
    There are things some women are strong in, and we should be allowed – morally compelled, even – to use our strength, not to put men down, but for the benefit of any whose abilities in these areas is lacking.

  2. As an ex army explosives expert and ex full time Belfast Fire Fighter,could i please make you aware of a few very important and crucial facts, which both the New York times and Al Mohler fail to recognize in their articles,thereby casting a shadow of shame on the innocent victims of the lucitania. First of all i would like to point out,that there was very little similarity between the two disasters,this fact automaticlly makes them totally unacceptable choices for a comparative study. The Titanic SANK slowly after striking an iceberg in peacetime.Most of the passangers did not realize the seriousness of the situation until well after the initial impact.This allowed time for people of cool head and strong heart,to exert a certain amount of control over the situation.The fact that women and children were put first is i believe, a perfectly natural,totally admirable, God given strength and the most sincere expression of undiluted human love, that a man can aspire to. The Lucitania was SANK during war time,it was hit by a torpedo,there would have been an unexpected massive explosion,fireball and intence heatwave reverberating throughout the wholeship.The ship would have began listing almost immediatly,wounded and burning victims would have been screaming and running blindly from the blast area,many of them deafened,shellshocked,and totally disorientated by the explosion.This charge of blind panic would have quickly gathered momentum and spread across the ship as a stampede as the poor victims sought to escape further expected torpedos. Women,Children,the sick and the Elderly,would nearly all have been trampled to death. I have absolutly no doubt that there many heroic men and women aboard the Lucitania who tried their best to help the weak,but trying to stop a panic stricken stampede of that magnitude,in such horrific conditions would i believe have been nearly impossible.

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