Wednesday 15 December 2010

Cunard's first woman captain.

I hope no-one will say 'Eek! Another woman driving a big ship!' Far better to celebrate: 'At last, another woman liner captain.'

Happily it's taken just 170 short years of Cunard's existence for a woman to become the company's first female captain. I love dynamism, don't you?

Inger Klein Olsen took command of Cunard Line’s Queen Victoria at the beginning of December. The Faroese captain has been First Officer on Caronia (1997); worked on Seabourn Sun and Seabourn Spirit; became Staff Captain on Seabourn Pride in 2003; worked for other companies within the Carnival Corporation group; and in August 2010 became Deputy Captain of Queen Victoria.

She is 48 and lives in Denmark. And no, I'm not going to comment on her marital status, hair colour, body size, or talents with a wok.

Equal opps are notoriously worse in the Merchant Navy than in the Royal Navy. But maritime culture is very conservative generally, as Captain Olsen's progress indicates. Royal Caribbean International only appointed its first woman captain, Karin Stahre Janson, in 2007.

And yes, so far she hasn't run into icebergs because too busy painting pink roses on her toenails. Nor has she held the ship up in expensive docks because she had to spend ten days a month lying down with PMT then another ten days getting therapy for it - all that in between maternity leaves. Remarkable, for a woman driver.

Could it be that women are actually competent? Could it be that shipping lines have been wasted valuable potential - not to mention insulting half the human race - by restricting seawomen to the dusting and pen-pushing labour aboard ships for over a century?

President and MD of Cunard Peter Shanks (whose abilities to lapdance, cook, sew, and simultaneously raise well-adjusted children has yet to be ascertained) naturalised the slowness to appoint a woman captain.

He implied that the delay was caused simply by the quest for quality. A bit like Jack Daniels whisky, according to its adverts then, eh?

'As Mark Twain drily observed, "the folks at Cunard wouldn’t appoint Noah himself as captain until he had worked his way up through the ranks"...Inge has certainly done that,' said the maybe 36DD-22-36 happy home-maker, Peter.

But equal opps legislation has been in place since 1975. Yes, 35 years ago. So, chaps, isn't all this a trifle, well, tardy? Imbalanced?

How about the real stories?
~ The struggle against traditional and masculine culture that still inhibits so many seawomen's progress, and makes some leave in frustration.
~ The statistical evidence that shows how men's promotion patterns differ from women's.

Good luck to Captain Olsen. May she be the first of many. Soon.And may she enjoy it.

Sunday 5 December 2010

Women on UK subs - finally. Maybe.

The UK navy is one of the last navies to allow women on submarines. But it looks like it could happen next year following a study by the Institute of Naval Medicine, it was announced on Dec 5.

See, for example,

About time too!See my blogs of Aug 6 and May 30 this year, and June 11 and Sept 15 in 2009.

The stated - and implausible - reason for women's exclusion was formerly that there was a risk to female or foetal health from the radiation on nuclear subs. The build-up of contaminants could exceed levels safe for a foetus, and women in the initial stage of pregnancy might not know they were expecting, the argument went.(Navy News, 29.4.99.)

A solution of course, was to only employ women who were not heterosexually active to work on submarines. This didn't happen. Which made many observers think that health was only an excuse, and that sexism was the real reason. Men couldn't cope with women on subs.

But now, perhaps it's been noticed that women submariners in other countries have been perfectly well for a long time.

The list of precedents is:
Sweden 1980s
Norway 1995
Australia 1999
Canada 2002
South Africa 2007
US 2010

Anyway the Institute has decided the risk does not exist. So the Ministry of Defence is now reviewing the decision and the green light might go on next year.

The other problem - fear of hotbeding causing immorality - is to be resolved by having separate beds for women and men. Wow, rocket science!

Could this concession be anything to do with difficulties in getting crews? As in both world wars, women were suddenly deemed fit for some jobs when there was a shortage of men to do that work.

Yes, I am suggesting there is hypocrisy in operation. And it's fascinating to see the fears of trouble, marriage break-up,etc that men are already posting on websites today.