This is me in my most natural state, alone with a book. Preferably in my hammock on my boat in a secluded anchorage.
I almost titled this one “Holy Shit! When Your Blog Accidentally Goes Viral.” I cannot express to you the mixture of anxiety and excitement this past week has had for me when my blog series An Enlightened Mans Guide to Sailing with Women went viral. When I started my blog, it was just for friends and family and I thought maybe 20-100 people would read it sporadically. I almost didn’t share it with larger sailing groups at all. I was encouraged and even prodded a little to expose it in wider circles by several close sailor friends. They told me that it was needed and would be helpful, so I did.
I shared it on three women’s sailing groups, including the amazing Women Who Sail on Facebook, and my post took on a life of its own. Somehow the infamous Scuttlebutt Sailing picked it up. I was literally sweating as I accepted the link to my site. As of today, over 3800 people have read my Mansplaining and Hepeating post with over 8000 views of my website. In case you didn’t know, “totes” is what the kids say these days for “totally,” as in: I am super excited and am totally with you; I am emphatically in agreement. The response, mostly from women, has been overwhelmingly positive and I am deeply humbled and grateful that it was helpful, valid and dare I say, enlightening.
Before I wrote this series I had already heard dozens of stories of sexism in sailing directly around the Pacific Northwest. I had read many more online in women’s groups from around the world. With this series, I now have read hundreds of comments, messages and stories more from women of men behaving badly in sailing. Women have even reached out asking me to address certain topics, which I will try the best I can in future posts. As I have said before, I am certain the majority of men have been unintentional or unconscious in intent. I think many times they genuinely think they are being helpful while being insulting. For the most part these are not bad people, they are just bad behaviors. This is why I wrote this series, to help bring awareness to men of what bothers women in sailing and how to work with it and correct it. Obviously I cannot and am not speaking for all women. Just know that what I am writing resonates with and comes from A LOT of women. Maybe take time to ask the women in your life about it and see. Ladies, take a step up and let them know what bothers you. Share some of these posts for back up or as a conversation starter.
There have also been some disagreements and engaged dialogue on my writing, which is part of the process of growth and engagement. I wanted that. My hope is that these conversations can come to some fruition of making the sport even more inclusive and peaceful. It is uncomfortable, I get that, it is also needed. Please be respectful in your communication around sexism. Part 4 and Part 6 (to come soon) are very helpful in how to do that. Alas, there have also been trolls, aka the assholes. Assholes are people who intentionally try to belittle or hurt you, or who do not care if they do. I have chosen to delete their comments and not respond.
I am not going to lie, the trolls sting, even if their actions and claims are not evidence based, are reactionary, and sometimes just very mean. I am genuinely sad for people who spend their time trying to harm others, or for people so ignorant and closed off that their empathy and understanding of the world is impaired. It must be a lonely and bewildering life to be an asshole. My series is not for the haters and I will not engage anyone who is not respectful or who has viewpoints from the 1950’s on gender roles and no flexibility to come into 2018.
I thought in this post I would also share a little about why I wrote this. To be fully honest, I am hugely introverted and have major social anxiety. When I share that most people get confused because this is an odd mix with my outgoing personality and opinionated nature. These aspects of Jenn are often in conflict. I am also highly sensitive and care deeply about the world and people. I care so much that I whistle blow even though it puts a spot light on me that I hate. I’ve always been this way: a lightening rod. Luckily my metaphorical boat of psyche is wired with a copper ground and while my hull and rigging are extra responsive I am also extra sturdy.
You see, I deeply believe in social justice and health. I have dedicated my career to helping people as an art therapist and mental health counselor who specializes in anxiety and trauma. I actually went back to sailing to help balance out my passion for work. I often feel deeply relieved when I’m on a boat NOT processing feelings. I love it when I can completely focus on pulling lines and getting trim just right. In intense situations I find myself using my full capacity physically and mentally to rise to the challenge, everything else drops away. It is beyond lovely and relaxing when I am in the groove on a perfect wind day with the sun on my face watching the water and thinking of nothing but my direct experience, allowing the sea to rock me.
To sail with others is to be part of a team. To be a cohesive team there needs to be trust. To have trust there must be safety. This is not just physical safety, but emotional safety. People need to be acknowledged and heard. For the most part, the people I have sailed with have been stellar humans and great sailors who I adore. I want that to be very clear. Many men in Seattle have supported me and helped me greatly on this path. The liberal bubble I live in does tend to cultivate fairly enlightened men. Many women have also normalized my experiences and provided guidance and context for being a minority in sailing.
Even with the stellar men in my life, sexism happens. So, how do the male sailors in my life collaborate with me around all this? Honestly, we talk a lot and we joke a lot. They listen to me, they ask me what it’s like to be a woman in the sport. They care. They try to understand even when they cannot relate fully, and they really try to check their defenses and work with them. We have created a baseline of emotional safety in our friendships and teamwork so we can talk about what happens on the boat technically and interpersonally. This is critical for the health of a sailing team and for relationships in general. (Some of you might be catching onto the fact that this blog could be applied to life outside of sailing.)
I was putting on a main sail one day and I had accidentally missed a slug. My skipper came up to me and started explaining how to attach the slugs properly. It was a knee jerk response on his part I believe. I looked at him with my lack of poker face annoyance and the thought of, “Are you fucking kidding me?” He looked sheepish and caught with a shrug of, “Ya, I just did that.” We both started laughing. I am his main trimmer after all, and have put the sail on many times before. I played into it with, “So what does this big sail do?” He started saying, “Well, you see, this is how we make the boat go.” We continued exaggerating the Mansplaining and redoing the sail laughing harder and harder. It was such a release to play with a dynamic we both have lived out so many times in many different contexts. Later I came up to him and said, “So, let me explain to you: this is how you pick up your bag, and this is where you step off the boat….” We laughed some more.
I am selective with who I sail with and deeply grateful that the men I sail with know this shit goes on, they catch themselves in it, or they give me space to call it out. We all know that it comes from an internalized bias sexist system and the good intentions are there. We repair when needed. I love sailing with my boys, as they so lovingly let me call them. I am asking you men reading out there to try to step up like the men I know and include yourselves in the exploration to create more equity and equality in our sport. I am asking women out there to be brave and when they feel they can, try to speak up. I am asking you all to have fun on the water and be safe! Thanks for reading everyone. More to come. May you sail in peace.