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
25 thoughts on “An Enlightened Mans Guide to Sailing with Women Part 1: Mansplaining and Hepeating”
Hear, hear! Thanks again for an insightful – well written post. It makes my day to know I’m not alone or crazy. May we all live in peace
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Thanks again for reading MB! ❤️
Hi, it’s an interesting and thought-provoking post, and mostly I agree.
Thing is about some people going sailing (and we’re all different) is they DO want to be treated differently. When I race I am in the “Ease The Main!” Camp of communication whether the trimmer is a guy or a gal. If they’re an expert, fab. If they’re learning, I hope I’m helping them learn why they’re easing; if not, let’s have them ask why in the debrief. But in the moment, sometimes, just “Ease The Main” and do it fast.
Only problem is, my wife considers that “being shouted at”. We’ve been on raceboats together with various crews, and she always comes off saying everyone is sexist and rude because “she gets shouted at”. She WANTS to hear “oh, please be a dear and ease the main” or whatever.
Maybe it’s just my experiences of sailing with a few hundred guys over the years and a few dozen gals. But out of all those people, whether experts or beginners, it’s ONLY been (some of) the gals who complain about the way they are spoken to – while ALL the guys just seem to accept (as I guess, do you) that sometimes in the heat of the moment people speak brusquely and firmly. Not because they are angry, but because they see what needs to get done, they don’t want you thinking about it because you actually don’t know what’s happening, they just want you to take a direct instruction and Ease The Main.
I should be perfectly clear that I have no problem with hearing brisk instructions myself, and that I’ve loved sailing with some punchy expert ladies who likewise just want to communicate effectively, especially in the heat of the moment.
So all the above said and done: my wife and I don’t go racing anymore. We go cruising, she mainly cooks, I sail. It’s great, life is great, but… It’s a shame. She never learned much; she recollects the whole experience as being shouty and sexist. And she still wants to be taken seriously on the water (and she still can’t tie a rolling hitch).
Unfortunately she’s only reinforced any conceptions certain crew may have had that the female of the species is emotionally fragile
I appreciate you trying to engage the dialogue. Certainly tone is very contextual and there are cultural gender norms around it that I write about here and more extensively in the toxic masculinity and mean girls posts in this series. My experience is that there is a difference between firm tone and yelling. People who yell are generally in fear and not regulating their own emotions well, which I write about in my tantrum series here. It is the skippers job to keep the boat physically, mentally and emotionally safe and if one crew member feels threatened in any of those ways it should be addressed and changed.
With that said, it is sad you and your wife cannot sail together. Perhaps if you were to listen to her experience and collaborate on a different way of communicating on the boat she would happily shift duties and you could do more cooking. Clearly she loves the water, maybe more communication while not running the boat would be helpful. Eric and I walk through scenarios regularly when not sailing so when we get to the action piece we can trust one another to communicate and perform well. We also talk after each sail on what went well and what didn’t. I do this with my racing teams as well. This includes an invitation to talk about tone.
As I have written about in almost every post, I believe it is men who need to step up to support women in the sport and call out other men who feel that “the female of the species is emotionally fragile.” I hope some of this helps with reflection on interpersonal dynamics on the wAter. Fair winds.
Excellent! All very true, but just USA, but UK too.
Not just USA but UK too.
Absolutely! It’s all over the globe.
Well written and beautifully expressed. Take note gentlemen. Sadly the smart guys already get this. ( I love the expression woke but I’m not cool enough to use it) and the idiots won’t understand it but all we can do is try. My personal favourite is saying something like it’s new when I’ve already said it but apparently they couldn’t hear my delicate girlish tones?!?
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“hepeating” is a bit dubious
i totally agree crediting someone is 100% totally appropriate, and i think tactically advantageous to a team… its also a good standard to track the group “consensus” (when productive) – i’ve seen this behavior (for better or worse) a billion times on all dude boats, all girl boats, mixed, etc… it has a lot more to do with what culture of decision making is operating (largely stemming from the driver/tacticians style of communication/abuse), and the groups hierarchy of perceived experience/talent (where the gender bias can absolutely come into play).
The rest seems pretty accurate, and sadly problematic.
As to docking (or any other non critically dangerous thing)… if someone says “i got it” and i think i “know better”… my M.O. is to just say “OK” and watch the train wreck unfold (or watch my world crumble as i inadvertently learn some wicked new sorcery) regardless of their gender/race/etc… unless of course they are hazardously old/frail… in which case ill bear the brunt of their ire knowing i didn’t abandon someones misguided grandpa/grandma to their fate at sea.
I agree and tried to illustrate that with the hepeating. It does depend on how the boat is run as repeating can be part of the teamwork or about the skill level. The hepeating here is more when the intention comes from a bias as you stated at the end. My second blog addresses that further.
Interesting you brought up the aging people at sea and when is it necessary or important to step in vs it being sexism, racism, or even ageism. I am going to write another on that. But I do think it goes back to intention, safety, and asking first. Thanks for commenting and engaging!!
Following, sharing. This is a very important post. Personally working on being “one of the good ones.” Attended annual mtg. at competitive and prestigious yacht club recently. Many awards and trophies, approval of new flag officers, committee heads… nary a woman stepped to the front of the room. Guess what, I didn’t even notice. My wife mentioned it on the way home. I suspect the nice fellas you sail with aren’t perfect, but always acknowledge there’s room for improvement. Thanks for your help.
Thank you! What a great example. You are right, the first step is awareness and all of us are learning and growing. Most men don’t notice the absence of women being recognized. Thanks to your wife pointing it out, now you will! Thanks for being one of the good guys! 🙂
Jen, I laughed so hard while reading this post!! Girl, you hit that nail on the head with a big, fat ass hammer! As an African American female sailor who was raised in the South, I hear you. Oh, but do I hear you! The mansplaining, hepeateing, and just plain ole “you don’t belong here” is the primary reason that I don’t sail as much as I would like. Thanks for calling it out, sister. Peace & fair winds.
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Omg! I can imagine! I often look around our sailing community and think, where are the people of color?! So very few on the water. That’s another area to be addressed. Thanks for commenting!!
I agree, totally nailed it. I haven’t been sailing for long and I’ve already experienced some of the behaviours and attitudes you describe and felt it was condescending and counterproductive to my learning or it affected my confidence. I feel lots of men for some reason want to take you down a few pegs if you’re passionate
I am so sad you have experienced these and am also sadly not surprised. I hope some of the tactics for coping and advocating are helpful and you keep at it! Sailing is so amazing and we need more women out on the water! You can do it!!!
I’m yet to read your tactics for coping. I was privately getting upset over it, at times felt crushed and despondent but somehow managed to pick myself up and just be more determined next time round. I now started to call it out if I encounter it rather than just take it. I’ll have to master the art of handling such moments more gracefully and just be more assertive rather than get upset and defensive about it.
You have a right to get upset! I plan on writing even more on what women can do to help create their own safety. My biggest suggestion in this blog series is that MEN create safety in the sport systemically and individualy. MEN need to stand up to other men and call it out and say it’s not okay. Go to men who are allies and ask them to do something about it. I have asked the men in my life to speak up when they see it and to also try to create more opportunities for women to get on boats and sail.
We have to stop worrying about coming off sounding like a bitch, man hater, whatever it is they think, because we have a POV, because they are going to think that anyway, …unless he is an enlightened man, who we should all strive to sail with anyway…
At 21, I bought my own boat, then made my living sailing, became a captain and Instructor, and for 34 yrs have formed all women crew to build confidence in these Galz, who are just as good, but don’t know it, because they are never told they are an equal…..
I was lucky to have mentors in my career who were secure enough in their masculinity that they could tell me I am good enough, an equal, can do anything I want in life if I want it badly enough.
Empowerment is possibly an overused term, and men are probably fed up hearing it, but it is so needed by women at all levels in life, but especially in male dominated industry and sports.
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Agreed whole heartedly! Thank you! I am inspired by your life and career on the water!
In the Hobie Cat Fleet we sail with many women on the helm. Most are very qualified, and never question their ability. As in most high performance sports, we rely on every ones ability to stay safe. Never a problem with women on the helm.
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That has been my experience as well! Thanks for sharing!!