Sailing with my bad boy posse on LiftOff, these are definitely some of the good guys of sailing.
First let me start by saying that I love me some men. I date a man, a man is my very best friend, I work with men and boys, I often sail with amazing men (see pix above). Men can be so great! This is not a post about man hating. This is a post about how to be one of the good guys and to help include and support women in the sport. It is about the ingrained bias we have in America around gender and how to be aware and shift it.
In case you haven’t noticed: Sailing is still very much a mans sport. Look at any boat roster, race team, or crew and you are gonna see a lot of men and some women. But our numbers are increasing. Unfortunately, the stories of misogyny and sexism are still going strong.
Mansplaining, what is it? Let’s start with some sailing examples.
A woman is coming in to dock. Men rush to assist, they start gawking, looking concerned, shocked or amused, then they start telling her how. She’s docked 100 times before. She declines the offers of help and docks it herself. This is obvious mansplaining: assuming someone doesn’t know what they are doing and explaining how. I’ve also seen this go terribly awry when men insist on “helping” and even grab lines without permission, screwing up the docking.
Step two of mansplaining is taking the above example, with a woman just calmly saying “no thanks, I’ve got it.” The response is a man thinking or saying “well, you don’t have to be a bitch about it.” This happens in a billion ways all the time. Boats get tense and things need to be done now. “Ease the main!” When men directly speak to one another you never hear, “wow Bob, sounds like you are grumpy today.” Women often have a standard of needing to say everything with a big smile. “Bob, excuse me, but can you ease that mainsheet please? Thank you so much and it is so great to sail with you!” Tedious stuff being pleasing and chipper all the time.
Let’s say you did ask for help, but the advice goes on and on and on. Another example is when a man continues to try to convince you of his way even if you politely say, “That’s a good idea, thank you, but I like docking the way I do it now.” Some men apparently think that if they just explain it one more time you might turn around and say, “Oh my god, I’ve never thought of that before. It’s genius! I see the error of my ways and will do it your way forever now.” As if there is just one way to sail a boat.
Mansplaining often isn’t done with bad intentions, but very bias unconscious intentions that women always need help or don’t know what they are doing. I have spoken with men I love who have annoyingly done this and they said they were genuinely trying to be thoughtful. So, how does a woke man navigate this? It’s pretty damn easy:
“Would you like help docking?”
She says no.
You stop and shut up.
This is the hard part…..STOP. Even if you still think she’s doing it wrong. Unless something is in danger, just stop talking. Let her make the mistake, she will learn from it. My favorite is when this happens and she doesn’t make a mistake. Sometimes she does it even better, and maybe even the man learns from it. Because again: there is not just one way to sail a boat.
Another way to help is to call men out when they do it. We need advocates. Often, when I stand up for myself like in the above example, I am labeled a bitch. Apparently assertiveness, if you have a vagina, is still considered aggressive to some. So if a person with a penis says, “I think she’s got it,” or “I don’t think she needs help,” it takes the pressure off of the woman. Also, sadly, men tend to listen more to men.
Mansplaining often goes into Hepeating. This one is a personal favorite of mine (insert eye roll) and happens the most often. I have been on boats where the skipper has asked me to check behind the jib on the leeward side for oncoming boats. I do and say clearly and loudly “all clear.” Then a man has literally scrambled down off the windward rail, put his body in front of me, double checked, then yelled “all clear.” I hope I don’t have to explain the offense or absurdity of that one.
Another is when a woman says, “I think we should gybe.” Everyone pauses and thinks about it. They look around, question it, or even flat out ignore it. Then a man says, “I think we should gybe,” and the boat is coming about in seconds.
How do you not fall into hepeating? Listen and acknowledge. You don’t even have to do it or agree, but you can acknowledge you heard it. You can double check if all is clear, that’s fine, just acknowledge you heard her say it. If you see someone hepeating a woman, give her credit. “Hey, Jenn said to gybe.” Or you can even call out the aftermath, “Jenn said to gybe 5 boat lengths ago. We wouldn’t have over-stood if we had gone then.” A short rule is this: try to treat a woman on a boat as a fellow sailor who is competent and knows their role and the boat. I know it sounds a little crazy to some, but it’s a whole new world out there.
A true Jenn sailing story is when I was taking a class and I had a turn as the navigator with a man at the helm. I asked him to come down 20 degrees to correct for current as we came up on a big rock. He kept saying, “We are fine, I can see the rock to the right of us, we won’t hit it.” I kept saying, “Yes, it looks that way, but the current is pulling from left to right 6kts and we will crash into it unless you head down.” I think we did this about 5 times until he just clapped my shoulder and said in a gruff tone, “I’ve got it, you can stop talking now.” He refused to correct, we got closer and closer and I was getting concerned for safety. I went below to get the teacher and told him what was happening. The teacher popped his head out of the cabin, looked ahead with a shocked expression and said, “You need to head down NOW!” The boat turned fast, and at about 40 degrees to correct for the distance. I am not sure if this is in the mansplaining or hepeating realm, but more just in the asshole category. I hope it’s obvious why. Just don’t do that.
Another simple thing you can do is just apologize if you have unintentionally done these things or come off this way. Or even just admitting to it is helpful. “I’m sorry I explained that, I know you know how. I just wasn’t thinking.” “I know I double checked your work without acknowledging you did it first, I was just going over it for safety.”
I had my favorite man read this post and it was interesting because he said, “All of this is true, and I totally agree, and I worry you come off like a bitch.” This led to a great discussion of my point being proved, women who advocate come off as edgy. So if you are feeling reactive, you might want to check your own bias and ask some questions. Are you reactive because you see yourself in this? Are you reactive because a woman is saying it and would you be if a man said it? Are you reactive because it’s hard to put yourself in someone else’s shoes? Are you reactive because you feel blamed somehow? Are you reactive because I am talking about gender at all? I am aware that these dynamics don’t just happen from men to women but sometimes men to men and even women to men. It’s not cool no matter the dynamic, just be considerate. However, it most often happens from men to women because of the bias.
Lastly, are you reactive because you might indeed just be an asshole? If it’s the last one, don’t comment: this blog was not for you. Again: this blog is for all the men out there who want to try to be allies and who want to sail with women. This is for the awesome men who want to sail with other sailors, support the sport and have fun. This is also written for all the other women out there who get tired of experiencing this shit over and over and over again. May we all sail in peace.
You can also check out my second blog of a Woke Mans Guide to Sailing with Women: Assumptions Make an Ass of You