An Enlightened Mans Guide to Sailing with Women

An Enlightened Mans Guide to Sailing with Women Part 6: How to be Truly Helpful

Eric when he was ASKED to help our team due to his years of experience. What a good guy!

Each of the posts in this series have suggestions on how to be helpful. This one is going to be the quintessential short guide on how men can be helpful for women in our sailing communities. I have broken it down into 5 categories: communication, support, awareness, opportunity, and safety.

  1. Communication: ASK US!! When you want to help, ask us if we need it or want it. Ask us what would be helpful, what we need. Please do not assume we need help or assume what that looks like, do not mansplain. If we do not require your help, unless it is a dangerous situation, back off and let us handle it. I am actively communicating to you men right now that we would like the following four things as a foundation for helping us in the sport of sailing.
  2. Support: When we call you out on something as unhelpful, offensive, oppressive or hurtful: LISTEN. Try to understand where we are coming from, have empathy and try to repair. Research, read, and inform yourselves on women’s issues. Put yourselves in our shoes and try to understand and even be thoughtful. Create an environment on your boats and in your clubs where women are invited, encouraged or supported to speak about their experience. Offer a lending ear and be an advocate. Call other men out when you see them being sexist, try to start dialogue with men in your community on how to be more inclusive, check their own bias and be helpful.
  3. Awareness: Please look around and note how many women own boats in your community, race, and hold leadership positions. How much recognition do women get for their roles in your community or on your boats? How many women are at the helm or working on the boats? How are the women in your community viewed? How do people talk about the women around you? These are good questions to clue you in to the health and inclusivity¬†of your sailing community. If the answer is very few women, or negative and bias associations with them, you’ve got some unaddressed systemic sexism in your clubs and teams that needs to be addressed. This could also be applied to people of color. In my experience there are even fewer people of color than women in sailing and we need to start asking the big questions of why that is.
  4. Opportunity: We talk about equality a lot in the USA, but equity is even more important. Equality is obvious, see women as people and sailors just like you and treat us with the same respect. Equity is a bit different. Equity is noticing how there is NOT equality systemically. It is the awareness of how it takes more effort for a woman to get a leg up in a male dominated sport and world. Then it is helping us get a leg up so we can eventually reach a more equal status. Due to the bias we work against daily, we generally have to work harder and do things perfectly and excel for the same recognition or opportunities, let alone respect. So create more opportunities for us, give us extra recognition and support. This looks like having women only events, awards, or classes. Give us encouragement to show you want us there and support us as we grow in sailing. On your own boats, try not to objectify us and put us in snacktician roles or making sailing look sexy. Treat us like sailors and encourage us to take on more complex parts of sailing so we can grow and learn. Let me troubleshoot the engine with you and be a tactician on course, let me drive, ask me what I have to offer or where I want to grow and give me a chance. Many women have a lot of experience and skills, let us show you.
  5. Safety: As skippers, caring for the safety of our crew is not only about physical safety, but emotional safety. Emotional safety is built on trust. Your crew and community have to know they can come to you with concerns, any concerns, and will be heard. Part of safety is allowing for vulnerability, for being open to fear, overwhelm, mistakes and hurt and knowing how to care for them. I talk about this in the tantrum series as well. I have actually seen more men throw tantrums on the water than women by the way, and that means men need support and care too. I will write about men’s issues in the next blog of this series. Special to women though is that most of us have had some kind of scary, difficult, demeaning, or violent interactions with men. Know that in general your bodies are bigger and stronger than ours, your voices louder. Know that many of us were taught culturally, through country and family, and experientially through social interactions not to speak up when we want something to stop. Know that as the tides turn with more women in the sport we are all growing and changing to reach bigger and better goals of more people and potential in sailing. So this means be considerate. It doesn’t mean to walk on eggshells, we are not that delicate. It just means have good communication and check yourself in words, tone and body language. Be inviting, try not to be defensive or aggressive, be kind and open. Sit down with us over a tasty beverage or snack and calmly ask, “How have things been on the boat, anything that I can help with or any concerns you have?” Then apply all the above and listen and respond. In fact, do that with everyone because that is just good leadership.

May we all sail in peace.

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