Representation matters. Being seen matters. I’ve been writing this blog about women, sailing and feminism for almost a year now. Lately my posts have been sparce because I have been deep in refitting my own boat. I can think of no better post to write after a break than one of the Maiden Factor and her message of equality and women’s rights. I am gonna start this with some fan girl boaty stuff and end with something very important about rage, women’s voices, and social justice.
I saw the film Maiden recently. Not only was it an amazing movie about women in sailing, it was the best overall sailing movie I have seen so far. It showed raw and powerful footage of harrowing and awe inspiring climate conditions and intense boat performance and tactics mastered with preparation, competence and strength. This was done all while exploring a very vulnerable human side wrought with sexist cultural pressures and systems to navigate. Those women were as real as it gets and complete badasses.
Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago when I excitedly stood on i-dock at my very own Shilshole Bay Marina in Seattle watching the infamous Maiden tie up. She is a gorgeous boat. I was able to tour her and was touched by the way the crew spoke of her. There is a special relationship you grow with a boat. The tone for many is loving and respectful with a tinge of sarcastic irritation for the high maintenance of the entire experience; much like a parent with a spirited child who you absolutely adore but who takes up all your bandwidth and resources.
I got to touch the sassy pink helm, marvel at the same, albeit updated, navigation station Tracy Edwards was glued to in the 1989 Whitbread Around the World Race. The quote by HM King Hussein I proudly displayed above, “With faith, honor, and courage, anything is possible.” I was thrilled to see their bung plugs tied to thru hulls just as I have in my Poop Deck. Top of the line rigging and safety features were throughout and I had major boatgasm.
My fan-girl hi-light was getting a picture with Wendy Tuck, the first woman to win a round the world sailing race in 2018 through the Clipper Yacht Races. She was standing in the galley giving information about the boat. When we took the photo, she said dryly in her Australian accent, “this is the only time I’m ever in the galley.” We laughed at the irony and I told her I was gonna quote that with the picture. She elaborated that everyone cooks a meal, but she usually does it on land and freezes it because she is vegetarian. That, and I am sure because she’s busy overseeing a 58 foot boat and a crew.
I also spoke with Belinda Henry, or Belle, a current permanent crew member of Maiden. We were talking about the intensity of the film in the southern ocean. She said that she loves surfing Maiden down big waves at 17 knots. She gave me info on their rigging and spoke of that little tingle your gut gives you when you know a boat well and you need to reef. She said, “Always listen and reef at the very first notion.” I asked if she was ever anxious. She said, “Not really. Maybe at first when you haven’t done something before, you get that nervous feeling. After that, you just focus on the sailing and your job.” I have also found this to be true, but that first part is usually more than just a nervous feeling for me. More like a, “HOLY SHIT!! WHY AM I DOING THIS!? THIS IS CRAZY!? MOMMY, I WANT TO GO HOME!! I’M NEVER SAILING AGAIN!” Then after a warm meal and shower, “Oh ya, that was exciting, did you see how the boat performed? I learned x,y,z. That was so badass, when do we go again?”
I mentioned to Belle about growing your window of tolerance on the daily with the ever changing sea. You truly learn something new everyday in sailing, about the boat, nature and you. She mentioned that coming from Vancouver, BC, they hit a rough patch in weather and conditions and very surprisingly found themselves going backwards. This is a strange experience I have also had in our Puget Sound waters. We laughed at the power of the water and terrain here and the need to be diligent with tide and current charts in the Pacific Northwest.
Maiden is currently touring the world for advocacy of women and girls education and empowerment. Part of their Seattle tour was for the Indigenous Sisters Resistance, a group of first nations women, to do a blessing ceremony. They sang several powerful songs with themes of the suffering and empowerment of women and being uplifted by one another. I watched in a large group of PNW white folks as they talked about their lands and heritage here in the Pacific Northwest. I had my usual mix of working with white guilt and privilege while also witnessing the power, wisdom and rage of women of color fighting back. When women of color speak, we should listen. Not as a courtesy for people who are the most marginalized, but because being at the systemic invisible bottom these women usually can call out the truth, blind spots, and what is truly needed the most accurately. Want to really know the state of the union? Listen to women of color.
These women fiercely and solemly spoke about their high infant mortality rates, the obscene numbers of indigenous women who go missing or are murdered, the lack of education and resources. They were strong and true to their message, warriors with their voice and drums. It was emotional and uncomfortable. I looked around the audience to see some women nodding their heads and standing in solidarity. I saw some men attentive and silently witnessing. I saw many more look bored, uncomfortable, and even back away and leave. What a privilege it is indeed to walk away, to be able to ignore.
When it was over and they were taking pictures with the Maiden crew, Eric and I needed to get back to our boatwork. We walked silently for a bit. Eric is still very new on the road to social justice work so he is always a bit tentative at first. He asked, “How did you feel about that?” I said, “I feel a lot of things, I felt rage, sadness, power, inspiration, discomfort and solidarity mostly. Did you know the statistics they were talking about?” He said somberly, “I knew that they still struggle, but no, I didn’t know about the infant mortality rates and missing women.”
I spoke of some social media sites I follow that discuss these topics and how very real it is here in the PNW. Eric is so genuine in his exploration, authenticity is key in trying to be an anti-racist. He said, “Didn’t they come off a little harsh and angry? Wouldn’t their message be better heard if they were not so forceful?” Breathing in my own anger, having heard that message so many times in my own advocacy for womens rights, I steadied myself. “I know that kind of rage is uncomfortable for people, but wouldn’t you want to scream from the streets daily if people you knew were dying and no one was doing anything about it? Wouldn’t that be totally valid? Maybe the very least we can do is witness their righteous rage at a system and culture that allows this to happen to them directly. They are uncomfortable everyday, white supremecy and colonozation make them uncomfortable. I think the least we can do is listen and hold space for that.” He was quiet for a while as he pondered.
I thought of Michelle Obama’s book “Becoming.” How she was coached to be more performative in her speeches to not come off as so angry. How she had to fight the stereotype of angry black woman, how this is such a prevalent theme for women of color. I say, let people have their rage. I don’t need people to sugar coat messages about assault and murder, of kids who are hungry or lacking resources. Their rage is valid. Rage has wisdom and resiliency if we listen to it, if we give it room to express and move safely. I was at a diversity workshop with Angyl Kyodo Williams and she suggested that there is a difference between anger and rage. Anger is when you are personally affronted, rage is when it’s also systemic. Rage is when you are tapping into your own oppression, but also that of a collective. Rage is a feeling, and also an energy, a powerful energy that when allowed to be expressed with resiliency can be channelled into change. Voicing our wounds is the first in a series of steps toward sublimation and change. The women I witnessed at the blessing were FULL of resiliency in their rightful rage. Not only were they voicing their truth, but each also were active in their communities finding resources to support and change. They were smart, fierce and congregating, pooling resources to break down walls. They were badass. Rage on sisters.
Eric has listened to me rage many times about my own experiences of assault and rape. At the trolls who come after me for speaking up about women’s rights, for people who chastise me for being shrill or too confrontive. Over and over I explain to this tall white Texan how it’s his privilege that allows him to not even know about these issues. That as a white man it is his choice to care because he hasn’t had to live any of it. I support him in his exploration of white guilt and fragility that comes with the new awareness that even unwittingly he’s a racist and has been a racist benefiting from racist systems. Unless he or anyone actively becomes an anti-racist he will continue to perpetuate these issues. I am on the same path, albeit a little farther ahead as I’ve been trying to engage this work since 2005 actively. It’s hard work, it’s work that needs to tolerate mistakes and errors as white people engage and grow. It’s the work of repair and restorative justice, it’s the work of compassionate action. It challenges everything for white people, especially white men.
I commend Maiden and Tracy Edwards for setting sail in 1989. In the documentary you watch her evolution in context to the word feminist. She starts off saying she isn’t one and ends up realizing that is exactly what she is. She paved the way for other women to break glass ceilings and do what they love. I commend her and the crew again in 2019 for now taking that platform and allowing space and voice to other marginalized women to be seen and heard. Intersectional feminism is about understanding and equity in the systems that keep people down. Those systems live in us and create bias we live out daily whether we know it or not. No one is free until we are ALL free. In the end that day, Eric was able to work through his own feelings and ignorance to come to a place of accountability in his whiteness and how that contributes to others suffering. This is the work for white folks and men so we can take action for repair. Like sailing, just by being human you can learn something new everyday if you open to it. Especially if you open to understanding others experiences. I would say the Indigenous Sisters Resistance and the Maiden Factor did their work well. I hope others were able to listen and engage that day. Fair winds sailors, keep up the good work out there.