A friend of mine who reads this series recently said, “It’s amazing how many different ways a person needs to say the same thing so people can get it.” So true. Repetition is key to learning. It also can be exhausting for those in positions to teach. That’s part of my edge, how to sustain compassion while repeating the same thing over and over while watching continued bad behavior in the process. Let me just be simple to start. The exasperated and somewhat snarky point is: PLEASE, TRY NOT TO BE AN ASSHOLE. The strengths based point is: PLEASE, TRY TO BE SUPPORTIVE AND KIND.
I have tried to dive into toxic masculinity and internalized oppression for both men and women in my last two posts. Neither are a bash against men or women. Both are a critique of cultural systemic sexism and oppression. Those posts ask for self-reflection and understanding. This post is about explicitly finding a new path forward. This path is one of inclusivity. To be nerdy, in current terms from diversity work, I take a new wave feminism angle of intersectionality, informed dissent, compassion and vulnerability. Those are a lot of words to unpack. What I mean is this: we all have struggles, we all have ways in which our racist, sexist, homophobic culture and system have hurt us. We need to pause, look at our internalized messaging and bias and start to gain awareness for change. Without awareness and intention no one can change.
We need to understand that we all have challenges and hurts, struggles and dilemmas. That is shared humanity. That’s the intersectionality part, because there are visible and invisible disadvantages we all carry. Even the white guys on top are suffering in this system in their own way. Trust me on this, I’ve heard so many stories of successful white men who seem to have it all that are absolutely miserable and struggling. Real inclusivity is to even allow them their feelings and full experiences while acknowledging that systemically their gender and skin color are most definitely not one of their struggles. Their gender and skin color give them advantages over others.
A good place to start awareness is by naming our advantages and privilege. I remember the first diversity workshop I took I was shocked to hear that the starting point for me was to name that I am racist. Naturally, I wanted to fight that, I was taking a diversity workshop after all. I was a “good person.” As we unpacked that further, it was a relief. While my intention was to work against racism, I couldn’t do that until I started to acknowledge all the ways I have internalized those messages and views. It can be subtle sometimes and pervasive, like the way we view certain drivers, people in stores, stereotypes we carry in our minds of what we think certain people are. Like the way my mom always had us lock the car doors everytime we saw a black person walking on a sidewalk as a kid. That shit sadly sticks somewhere inside.
One view that I worked on a lot was that I had earned everything I had through merit alone. While I have worked hard, that is a partly racist story. I had to start admitting that the color of my skin gave me a lot of advantages over people of color. My skin color has nothing to do with hard-work, that’s luck of the draw. My racism wasn’t personal, maybe I didn’t say racist remarks, or try to take things from people with different skin tones, but systemically it was all there in my life story. It was there in my thoughts and feelings. I grew up believing I deserved better somehow, because I am white. It was relieving to admit this because it was true and I could see it was bullshit. It brought me closer to understanding myself and people of color, who live out these bullshit stories in tragic and traumatic ways on the daily. A friend of mine said once, “It doesn’t matter how hard I work, I’m still black.” I can never fully understand that experience; and as a woman I can relate deeply because I live out the sexist bullshit daily. In the world and in sailing I could easily say, “It doesn’t matter how hard I work, I’m still a woman.” Meaning you never quite earn the same respect no matter what you do. The bias is there, it’s in your skin or your gender. Naming our difference and privilege is an important part of exploring intersectionality. This ultimately brings us all closer together through compassion and understanding.
So, men are all sexist. Heterosexuals are all homophobic. White folks are all racist. If we start there and own the ways we participate intentionally, or most of the time very unintentionally, in those oppressive frameworks, then we can start to change. Let’s take a really important example of sexism and how it relates to sailing. All men, but especially white men, make more money than anyone else. One of the biggest reasons you see more white men in sailing is that they have the extra income to afford it. You can look at numbers on this one and they don’t lie. Boats are expensive and women, who have less disposable income, have less access to playing with boats. Women of color are hit the hardest economically and have the least leisure time and income. So a starting point is white men saying, “Hey, I am benefiting from this sexist system.”
After we acknowledge how we benefit from and again, unintentionally play into sexism, we may say, “Wow, that sucks! I want to do something about it!” This is where we start to see how we can share our privilege. Maybe we train in diversity workshops for instructors, brokers, and marine industry. Maybe we create opportunities for women to get on the water, maybe we start programs, give discounts, or have scholarships. Maybe we do that for people of color or queer folk as well. It is about sharing the resources. It is about that equity piece I have spoken about before. Equity is our first steps toward equality. We can’t have equality until we admit the system is rigged. This is how we practice informed dissent.
Now we come to the vulnerability part. We need to discuss our differences and find compassion, then commonality in our humanity. In the case of sailing, lets all admit we come from different backgrounds and have worked hard to become sailors. The sea can give a shit about who you are. When giant storms hit, we are all scared and doing our best to navigate it because the sea always wins if you are not respectful. We all have basic needs that need to be met onboard. We all need to be rested, warm and fed. We need a strong hull and good rigging. We all have a need for safety. We also need emotional safety. We want to be heard and understood, validated and cared for. We all feel fear, sadness, anger, pain, joy, love and happiness. For sailors, we all love the water.
Within our humanity, we all have a right to explore our full selves authentically. Instead of feeling we have to fit into a certain role, we can choose our roles. That means if you want to be a big strong tough gritty sailor guy, great! Or if you want to be in the galley in a bikini and heels, more power! I just want it to be a choice that feels authentic to you, not one that you feel you have to do in order to belong or to be safe. I want it to be something that doesn’t restrict you, but is an extension of you. I don’t want an expectation that others be the same as you or anyone. I want to celebrate diversity because that’s what makes the world such an interesting place. We can celebrate our difference and learn from one another.
Let’s invite EVERYONE into the sport and dialogue with curiosity, support and kindness. We can grow that way. Hell, you can make more money that way if you need a bottom line to step into this work. Naming the privilege and difference, choosing informed dissent to give equity, and growing compassion will only make the sport stronger. Maybe someday people won’t be seen as men sailors or women sailors, people of color or queer sailors, but just sailors. People who love the water, love boats, like challenges and adventure and want to harness the wind for momentum. We can’t get there until we address how far we are from it. Folks, we are still a long way from it. Look around at your clubs and communities right now and ask: how diverse are we? Who owns the boats? Who runs the clubs? Sailing is a world sport where people are passionate and go to the remotest of places to explore. Can we give ourselves permission to have an open mind and heart as we do it? Can we pause on looking out only for ourselves or people like us and ask, how can I share with others and my community? How can I create opportunities or be inclusive? Can we be truly supportive and kind?
May we all sail in peace.