An Enlightened Mans Guide to Sailing with Women

How to Respond to Being Called Out: An Enlightened Mans Guide to Sailing with Women Part 4

In support of all the amazing women sailors out there! The Sirens of Team Puff 2018

This one is both for women trying to figure out how to call out sexism in sailing and for men who want to respond in supportive ways. Look it: we can all be an ass sometimes. Intention is everything, so being an accidental asshole is much more workable than being an actual asshole who meant it or doesn’t care if they hurt someone with it. On my good days, I honestly think most people fall into the accidental category.

I will start by walking my talk and saying this past week I was an unintentional asshole in public. I titled my blog series “A Woke Mans Guide to Sailing with Women.” I did this having hung out in circles with both people of color and other white folks using the term in context of being aware of social justice and activism. I never paused to think about where the word came from or the context of its origin. I stole it because it’s catchy and I like to think of myself as someone hip to current vernacular and issues. This, my friends, is my privilege talking. This is also called cultural appropriation. I used it and I wasn’t thoughtful with it where it came from and now I know I was wrong. Someone, thankfully, called me out.

A friend, who is an amazing social activist and white ally against racism contacted me and said, “Hey Jenn, in many black circles it is frowned upon for white folks to use the word Woke, you might want to re-examine that.” So I started researching. I think the New York Times article “Earning the New Woke Badge” says it best.

So here is where it ties into my sailing blog series. When someone calls you out on something, even if you were not trying to be an asshole, you apologize and correct it. You try to learn from it and grow with it. You try to understand the other persons experience and reflect on your own. As a person who values inclusivity and justice, it is not my job to argue, defend, or analyze when someone tells me something is offensive. It is my job to understand why they feel offended, give empathy, say I’m sorry, and make informed choices on what I want to do about it. This doesn’t always mean I might stop the behavior all together, but at the very least I can acknowledge their hurt around it. You don’t argue with peoples feelings. Most of the time I try to stop the behavior though, because usually that is the kindest and most considerate thing to do and is usually a positive growth for me.

Note how my friend was kind but direct when they called me out. They didn’t need to explain it or put me down, they just gently asked me to look into it. If the person is generous enough to want to explain it to you, that’s indulgent of them. It’s also not their responsibility. You don’t ask that person why it’s offensive and have them educate you, that’s having them do the emotional labor again in care taking you. There is this thing called the internet and you can look it up, you can take on some responsibility in your own journey of awakening. That’s what I did. So that is my example of assholery and why now my blog series is called An Enlightened Man’s Guide to Sailing with Women.

With women calling out men specifically I need to start with the serious business of safety. Men often do not realize how unsafe it can be for women in general, let alone when a woman wants to stick up for herself. We are always assessing the situation to see if we will be verbally or even physically assaulted for saying cut it out or stop in some way or another. There is a kind of ingrained hyper-vigilance we are taught and take on in this culture for risk assessment with men. Even being friendly with men sometimes can lead to danger. I have heard countless examples over the years of women being friendly and men taking that as an entitlement to ask for or force more. Saying no directly, or calling men out is even scarier.

I posted my blog series to several sailing groups this week, but noticed I only posted them to women run pages. Why? Because I was scared. I was scared of the verbal assault I see regularly on co-ed pages and didn’t want to deal with it. I didn’t mind if others shared it there, I just didn’t want the direct hot seat of comments I knew would come from some defensive and angry men. I am wary of the name calling or belittling that regularly comes with women asking men to change or women saying no. In extreme cases I have seen women physically threatened or black listed from boats for standing up for themselves or other women. I’m not scared of disagreement or discourse. In fact, I have written this series to be conversation starters with open participants of all genders wanting to collaborate and grow. A shout out to non-binary, fluid, and trans sailors out there! I absolutely do not want to leave you out of this dialogue but have just been focusing on the dynamics of cis-men and women for now in a very male dominated sport and culture.

In writing this I was trying to explain to my beloved Eric that women tend to do a lot of internalization and emotional labor around men to keep safe. We often bury our experience to keep the peace, adapt or accommodate. We don’t just do this for safety, we often do it just to fit in, especially around groups of men. I asked him to imagine a world where if he wanted to tell someone no, to stop, or to even explain his view point, that his emotional and physical safety might be compromised or that he would be ostracized. It was very difficult for my 6’3″ white man to imagine being afraid like that. He immediately started analyzing the what-ifs and trying to make my claims smaller, that it’s not that bad out there. Like many men, he means well, and I believe that denial comes from a place of not wanting to be in a world where that is true. I rarely meet a woman who would blink an eye at the truth of the lack of emotional or physical safety for women, especially in male dominated spaces or sports like sailing.

I asked him to imagine a scenario where you wanted to say no or stop, but with risk assessment, you deemed it easier and safer to take the current abuse rather than get more, even if it hurt. Imagine that even if you are not worried about your physical safety you worry if you will be taken seriously, if you will be judged harshly, called names or pushed out of opportunities. This is the tricky navigation women do daily. To call a man out or not? Many times women choose not to because the fall out isn’t worth it. Let’s do a scenario to hit this home.

In my second blog I talked about being at a swap meet and men directing me to dishes instead of rigging. I could have said something but at the time chose not to. I didn’t want to give any energy to them right then, so I took non verbal action by taking my business elsewhere. That is a legit response, sometimes intentional ignoring is a good strategy. Ignoring also allows this shit to go on for others. It can be enabling. Many women ask how to confront this stuff verbally in a constructive way. Here are some appropriate examples of what I could have said:

  • “I know you mean well, but I didn’t come here for dishes, I came here for turning blocks and cleats.” Compassion then redirection.
  • “Are you aware that pointing me to dishes could be seen as offensive and stereotyping me as a woman?” Direct and to the point.
  • “Are you trying to be funny right now? Because I hate to cook! I’m looking for winches.” Or “Really? You gonna cook me something?” Adding some levity.
  • “What the fuck? Just because I’m a woman doesn’t mean I want dishes!” Rude and confrontational, don’t do this one. Also don’t do the sarcastic example I put in my original blog post. These responses illicit aggression in some men and are not productive even if the sentiment is understandable. It is totally okay to think these responses, the anger and rage have to go somewhere.

Here are some of the sad and much too often reported responses men give women in these scenarios. This is what NOT to say or do:

  • “You don’t need to be so sensitive.” Blame the victim.
  • “That’s not what I meant, you didn’t have to take it that way.” Defensive.
  • “Don’t be a bitch.” Mean
  • “That’s not true, I didn’t do that.” Denial
  • “Everyone knows women are best left to the galley.” Derogatory
  • “Insert whatever words here and add looming, standing too close, taking a step forward, puffing up, standing taller, or generally using body language in a threatening way.” Threatening

Here are some helpful examples of what you could say:

  • “I am so sorry, I can see how that was offensive, I didn’t intend for it to be that way.” Sincere
  • “You are right, that was thoughtless and a huge assumption. How can I help you today?” Helpful
  • “Yikes! I got caught being kind of an ass. I’m so sorry! I think women are amazing sailors!” Affirmative
  • “You know, I really try to support women in sailing and I still get caught up in stereotypes. I’m sorry, what is that like for you when that happens?” Supportive
  • “I am not sure what you mean, can you help me understand?” Open minded and engaging. Although this could be seen as making her do the emotional labor, but it’s better than the first set of responses on what not to say.
  • “Thanks for letting me know, what are you looking for?” Acknowledgement

This final paragraph might be the most important and the most helpful thing a man can do for a woman in sailing. Educate yourself, be an ally, and YOU CALL IT OUT. I do believe there are more of you good guys out there than not. You need to step up. When men stand up to other men that changes the culture faster and takes the burden off of women, who have been the ones struggling to be included all along. Words matter, semantics matter, but what matters most is intention. Even if you screw up, put your foot in your mouth, are clumsy, TRY. Try to do the right thing and call out sexism where you see it, own it when you do it, and repair when you can. Try to be inclusive and give opportunities with different kinds of people riding on your boats, buying your boats or being involved with boats. This will grow our sport. It will make it healthier and more fun. Sailing is about teamwork and people relying on one another for survival. A skippers main job is the safety and welfare of their crew. That means emotional safety as well. Thank you to all the good guys out there, we need you and appreciate you. May we all sail in peace.

7 thoughts on “How to Respond to Being Called Out: An Enlightened Mans Guide to Sailing with Women Part 4”

  1. Jenn-
    Thanks for the blog posts. It’s good to get ideas out there for all of us to absorb and consider.
    Sailing and racing has been my passion for my entire life. My earliest conscious memory is my grandfather hoisting me up onto the steering box of his schooner and letting me steer. (Thinking back, I’d imagine he kept a foot on one of the spokes because I don’t think a four-year-old had the strength to drive) I believe the best thing I can do to grow our sport is to encourage growth in sailors. Teach newbies to sail, coach up-and-coming sailors and push experienced sailors to learn more and do better. I’ll share some things that I find help.
    Make sure everybody knows the goals. If the goals are clear, we all know what to work towards. This will vary greatly, especially when racing. There are times when I’ll state that I want a podium finish for a race or series. Everybody knows how serious things will be. There are other times when making it around the course without getting in a collision (that’s usually my strategy for Duck Dodge) is all I really want. Everybody knows what to expect and removing the uncertainty increases comfort.
    Hold a safety meeting before leaving the dock. Sometimes that’s as simple as “Lifejackets are in the V-berth, beer is in the cooler”. Other times it includes assigning positions such as primary radio operator for each watch and partnering up so your partner can check your harness before going on deck. On Oregon Offshore race I like to go over the safety items after we leave the dock but before Buoy 10. Everybody’s usually a little nervous about the bar crossing so discussing where the flares are, how to operate the liferaft and rules regarding when harnesses are required focuses everybody’s attention and takes their mind off puking. One of the most powerful safety meetings I’ve held finished up by assigning tasks. The directions went like this; “If I have a heart attack, Lisa, you ride with me all the way to the ER. Alex, you put the boat back in the slip.” This established a plan and a chain of command for the half dozen of us aboard. I didn’t have a heart attack but I felt assured that if I did, Lisa and Alex would take care of me and the boat. BTW, those assignments weren’t based on gender stereotypes. Lisa is an RN so has professional experience. Alex has thousands of ocean miles under his belt. I suspect either could have handled the other’s assignment but in stressful times, do what you know best.
    A couple of other random points; regarding the seller pushing dishes at the swap meet, you’re probably correct that his view was “the little lady does the cooking”. But consider the off chance that he had been trying to unload those dishes at the past several swap meets and was (desperately) trying to do a little (crude) marketing. Yeah, probably not the case, and you were there and I wasn’t. But hey, there’s a chance he had another agenda beyond reinforcing stereotypes.
    Between races I try and have the least experienced person drive. It gives me a break and gives them experience. If I don’t feel they have good situational awareness, I’ll ask one of the more experienced crew to “keep an eye on traffic”. If you’re out cruising, go ahead and let them drive. Who cares if the telltales are streaming every second? Give ’em the experience.

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    1. Thanks for engaging Scott. I plan to write about team building and racing and some point as well and agree whole heartedly on your communication points here.

      This series of women’s issues in particular is more focused on bringing awareness to the mostly unintentional bias women get in the sport and to examine it. With the dishes, sure, there could be all kinds of intention behind them asking me. Women consider and give grace for that all the time. In fact, I think many times we don’t say anything because we realize the intention was harmless, even though it’s annoying or offensive. However, women get way more of those kinds of comments than men and that is the point of me writing this.

      That morning at the swap, after the THIRD table redirected me to dishes, it was obvious it wasn’t just they desperately needed to offload some plastic ware.

      I see you are trying to be helpful in your comment and I appreciate it. This is also an opportunity to grow and ponder some of the points brought up in my fourth blog post on being called out. Being called out isn’t always individual, but women calling men out collectively as well. Many men feel the need to defend, like Eric did in my example. Maybe a question for you to ponder is: why did you explain the dishes to me and bring up they may have other intentions? It comes off as telling me I hadn’t thought of that or considered their intentions. My blog is trying to point out that regardless of their intentions I found it offensive and annoying, and most women somewhere inside do in those situations. We want to be heard and acknowledged that sexism is alive and well in the sport and that there are other people, especially men out there, who agree and have our backs.

      I realize this is a very challenging growth edge for all of us as women continue to come into male dominated spaces more and more. I have a post about that coming, stay tuned.

      Thanks for reading, engaging, and for all you do out there to grow the sport!

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  2. Jenn I love you bringing out the oftentimes hidden aspect of safety. I like having it spelled out like that and as a woman who is not new to this topic, I think that your piece was the first time I actually looked at that aspect of how hard it is to speak up at times, my or another person’s safety. Thanks ❤

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  3. “cultural appropriation” … doesnt exist and is not a thing. No-one owns culture, all human culture and history belong to all of us… that doesnt mean you should be disrespectful of others, but this concept that we as a species dont constantly borrow evolve build upon change update and ultimately adopt the cultures and behaviors of others is one of our very modern era’s worst backslides.

    What would rock N roll be without blues? or Jazz? What would blues be without folk and european instruments and african tradional music/dance? What would rap be without The beastie boys… and begrudgingly eminem? MC hammer without Queen? The mission buritto without northern mexican and white blue collor workers in SF? Should we not spread democracy as being a thing only allowed to the greeks? etc….

    so please… use WOKE… use it however you want… give the word new meaning and use and let the frowners frown as they spend their lives appropriating everything else in our culture (without care) believing they “own” a thing they can neither hold, nor possess, a thing they didnt even create.

    as an official person of african descent you have my permission … 🙂

    moving on…

    90% of what you state above about fear of reprisal and violence and how it moderates your behavior is in no way unique to women at all… its universal, and the majority of men (if they’re honest with themselves) will tell you we contend with fear of violence every day in more situations than you’d expect. Some of us are envious of women’s general status as “non-combatants”. It really comes down to pack and tribal behavior we are all subconsciously keyed for assessing the threats of EVERYONE around us ALL THE TIME. Its instinct, and not one particular to either gender as it is a survival trait. Hand in hand with that is clearly the bigger and stronger a person the much better off they will generally fare on a one to one basis and the less they will be concerned (your 6’3 eric will have a less worried journey through a slum than a 5’1 asthmatic with a lisp). And as women are statistically smaller on average… they will on average be subject to more concerns about such encounters (which is totally unfair but you guys get to live longer? ).

    that isnt to say it isnt in parts gendered… gendered violence particularly between intimates is a real thing and a real problem that shouldn’t be diminished. But the fear of calling someone out on their shit potentially escalating into a verbal fight, reprisals of some sort or violence is a very universal trait and has WAY more to do with ego and self preservation in the eyes of the tribe/group on the part of the person being “attacked” (how they feel, even when they are wrong). Any body whose gonel through middle school knows whats up… and i have unquestionably seen both sides of this behavior between every gender/race/sexuality matchup of humans you want.

    grain of salt: im known to be giant jackass with about as much filter as a broken brita 3 years past warranty…. so im not one to keep my thoughts to myself – consequences be damned. Took some years to get the courage to just lay it all out and deal with the occasional blowback, but id much rather sail with crew who say awful things and who i can say awful things too without the dressings of propriety tying down every interaction. there is one caveat… DONT BE A DICK. and dont threaten people… ever. but outside of that… why pull punches? say what you feel, try not to be judgey, and you dont need to put kid gloves on to deliver it. Some people dont like that, but as time goes by ive found that teams (in work and play) that operate just shy of brutal honesty perform far better and have very few interpersonal conflicts (mainly cuz theyve aired all their greviences, and feel SAFE to do so).

    do not take my advice if your trying to climb a social hierarchy (which is sadly at times necessary)… that requires tact and a touch of sociopathy. 😉

    I love reading your posts… keep up the good work and sail on!

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    1. forgot to add… my issue with your use of “woke” was it’s a subtle attack on men who dont agree or “dont get it”… this is more a problem with the word itself when its used to “other” people we dont agree with.

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      1. Thank you for engaging Jacob. My intention was never to be attacking, I am sad it came across that way. As I stated in several of my blogs, I am aware many of these issues can happen across gender and race. I am speaking specifically to women’s issues in these posts. I also tried to emphasize that changing language is a personal choice and I am aware different boats have different cultures that work for them. The key in safety is to be checking in with everyone to see what their comfort level is. Just like in a race or cruise, if one person is uncomfortable with the situation/weather etc., it is a good team policy for everyone to stay at the dock. This is for safety. Communication is key. I intend to write some more on this as I go along.

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      2. With that said about personal choice of changing behavior or not, we can agree to disagree on cultural appropriation. To many, it does exist, and I choose to believe them and adapt when they say use of their cultural traditions and symbols without due respect to their origin or used with great misuse is offensive. Culture and art evolving and building off one another collaboratively is one thing to me, cultural appropriation another. I will let people research that on their own and make up their own minds on what they choose to believe and act on. It does reflect the topic of the article though: if someone says something hurts, who am I to say it doesn’t? Then I have a choice on how to respond.

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