An Enlightened Mans Guide to Sailing with Women, Dear Skipper Jenn

Dear Skipper Jenn: I Feel Conflicted by Women’s Awards

2017 Pink Boat Regatta Overall Woman Skipper Award. We also won the regatta, off of merit. I liked having two trophies. We also won the overall the year before and Margaret Pommert got the Woman Skipper award. This kind of award encourages women to be at the helm and to run boats. Also, Eric is a goofball.

In this blog series I answer questions from fellow sailors. You write me a question via e-mail, posting on one of my blog threads, or from Facebook and I write a post about it. Simple. All questioners will remain anonymous and unless you give me one, I will pick a snazzy name for you.

From: An Amazing Badass Sailor Woman
Here is a topic I sometimes ponder… what are your thoughts on special trophies or recognition for women at “open” sailing regattas?
I know that men are only trying to be supportive by recognizing women sailors, and I understand that some women need that encouragement. I would not want to appear ungrateful, but I personally wish to be recognized for my sailing ability, not for my gender.

Having said that, I do enjoy women’s sailing events, and the special camaraderie that we share. I guess I am a bit conflicted…

I wonder how other sailors (men and women) feel about this?

Dear Amazing Badass Sailor Woman,

I hear you! Of course their is conflict in pondering this topic. Gender shouldn’t matter. In the ideal universe we would not need any kind of gender recognition or opportunities for women. Sailors would be sailors with a level playing field and it would all be based on merit and skill. Many women have fought to be included and win in their sailing careers and communities already. These women did not have women’s events or recognition and just steadily worked their way to being the best to earn respect. I love these women so much! THANK YOU!! You definitely paved the way. I also know these women had to deal with a ton of shit to get there, and had to work harder in many ways than their male counterparts to succeed. They had to fight bias every step of the way just to prove they deserved to be there. Thank god they did because they showed everyone that women can be amazing sailors. Now, is their any way these women can use that merit and voice to make it easier for other women to join? Are there men out there who want to help more women succeed?

The issue here is that we live in a world where gender does still matter. It is not a level playing field, especially in male-dominated spaces like sailing. There are lots of reasons why, stemming from a culture that has been bias toward men and against women for a long time. If we want the sport to grow and be more inclusive, we need events and even awards for marginalized people like women. Everyone likes to be included, and everyone likes a chance to win.

In sailing, if you boil down much of the reason why women deserve awards at open regattas, it is about income inequality. White men have shared the lions share of wealth for a very long time. Sailing is damn expensive. Women have less disposable income and are less likely to make an investment into a boat when they do have it. Many women in sailing do so on a friends boat, through a club or community, or through women only events because very few women own a boat. So that is one reason women’s events and awards are important, just to get them on the water and even more importatnly at the helm. Look at any race and tell me how many women are driving or own the boat? That tells you a lot. If we have awards for them, maybe more men would be prone to having women drive or skipper for a race.

Another reason for women only events is sexism. A lot of women feel more comfortable racing with other women due to the bias and roles we are put into on a boat. This comes from both men and women in different ways and I have written about that in my Enlightened Sailor series. I have heard countless stories of women not feeling included on teams or belittled in some way. Many have left racing or even sailing all together due to it. Creating environments that are actively encouraging and supporting women to step up and onto boats helps them feel included and respected right off the bat. It is inviting in otherwise male dominated spaces to have events that are women focused.

Women also culturally tend to have different learning styles, usually much more relational due to our gender conditioning. We often like to talk through things more and discuss our process. We often have a keen eye for safety and like to be extra careful. Sometimes women can feel less confident and need extra support in taking on bigger tasks. There also can be trauma around men and when things get intense on a boat sometimes that is an added stress to work through that can be difficult as a beginner especially. Again, this is not all women, but many women express these things to me and find it beneficial and less intimidating to learn from other women.

The last bit is about emotional labor and being a householder. Women still take on the bulk of the work in homes. Many go to work to come home to do the majority, if not all, the child raising, cooking and cleaning. Time is often short and it is hard to commit to the water, teams, and boats. Most women I know who sail a lot have older kids or no kids. This is a shout out to my sailing mama friends who truly are the most badass of us all, juggling everything. Git-er-done Queens….yaaaassss! So having events where busy women can plan ahead, know they will be surrounded by encouraging faces, and other women to relate to is something to look forward to and make time for.

I think it is great to strive toward merit and equality and I would like nothing better than to fully get there one day. Until then, we need women’s events and awards to encourage more women to be on the water. To let women know: we want you here! To give them the opportunity to gain experience so they can become better sailors and compete for merit. Awards are also about encouragement in this context, as my picture and caption state above. Personally, I like winning more when I kick a bunch of other boats ass, and I strive for that and on occassion succeed. I also like being recognized as a woman skipper to show other women they can be in the lead too! It’s about representation. I looked at the PNW 48North SARC recently and was delighted to see a handful of women’s races on the calender. This was out of hundreds, it would be nice to see every club or area have at least one race per year for women.

To close on a personal note: for many reasons, women’s sailing teams are why I still sail. When I was learning, I kept having not so great experiences in co-ed environments. I almost stopped. When I started racing with my all women’s team for three years it was just the experience I needed to gain confidence and grow. I needed the comrade of other women to support me in learning, and it was mutual for all of us. It was a special thing to have an all women crew out there racing, sharing in the experiences both high and low. We were able to rotate rolls and talk things out, we really had a growth mindset where mistakes were okay.

Fortunately and unfortunately we also had to pay to play, renting a J105 for thousands of dollars plus club memberships to race once a week for 16 weeks. It was a perfect way to learn, I am glad we could do it. It was also not sustainable for many of us over time. None of us could afford an 80k boat ourselves, so we disbanded and now mostly sail on other boats, male owned, with co-ed teams. The confidence we gained helps us to get those rides and pick good boats to be on. And of course, I bought Poop Deck. I was one out of 8 women who purchased her own ride.

Thank you for your question and for being an AMAZING BADASS SAILOR out there paving the way for other women on the water! If others have comments on this topic, feel free to share below. I would love to hear from club board members on their decision-making processes to have or not to have events and awards for women!

May you sail in peace,
Skipper Jenn

3 thoughts on “Dear Skipper Jenn: I Feel Conflicted by Women’s Awards”

  1. I can understand how this could be conflicting, but agree that it seems to be mainly a good thing. Creating opportunities for marginalised groups (who would otherwise struggle to be included) can only be good… but are there other, more appropriate ways to be inclusive? Perhaps it depends on the group being marginalised?

    I’ve not done a lot of racing, but I would definitely feel more welcome/encouraged if I saw awards like this on display.

    Liked by 1 person

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