Monday 27 June 2011

Women ruling the water? Oh yeah!

Pacific Pearl's feted line-up of top women officers: Zoltina-J Medwick Daley (Cruise Director), Martina Damonte (Administration and Revenue Director), hotel director Jane Herron and Captain Sarah Breton >(Photo: Ana Mckay-Smith)


"Women ruling the water! says the silly headline in Travel Bite today. Oh yeah, sure. Just as if!

This all because one of the rare women cruise ship captains, Sarah Breton, is setting off on her 32-day cruise around the South Pacific with three senior officers who happen to be female.

It is the biggest group of female senior officers on any cruise ship in this region. Well, will the time ever come when the media comments 'This is the biggest group of male senior officers on any cruise ship in this region'?. It is time that equality stopped being remarkable and became the norm.

The article quotes Pacific Pearl’s hotel director Jane Herron as luaghing “We are women in a woman’s world.”

Excuse me? Several swallows do NOT make a summer. Thousands of women are seeking not only maritime work, but respect when they do it, and equal opportunities in their career paths.

I agree somewhat with the post by Sarah from Melbourne, on 28/06/2011 1:18:41 who wrote:'So what does Gender have to do with it? I thought that gender equality was supposed to be promoted? What a joke. Can you imagine an article talking about an "all men" boat crew in a positive manner? It would be EVIL SEXISM AND MALE OPPRESSION.

'So why are things like "womens olympics" and "all womens ship crews" talked up as something amazing? The double standards with this "equality" is mind blowing. Just like "equality" with races.... this [is]reverse sexism.'

Jill Tar or Jack Tar under those clothes?

It's rather funny that the very day the world's e-media comes up with TWO stories about women seafarers' successes in modern times, I get information about how their counterparts fared 150 years earlier. You absolutely had to be mistake-able for a lad, if you wanted a job at sea.
In her stunningly commodious online treasure trove my friend Helena Wojtczak has put no less than 13 original 19C newspaper stories of women seafarers who crossed dressed to get work at sea. See them at
Perhaps best of all, it was joked that every Jack Tar might really be Jill - not transsexual or transvestite but absolutely born female.
On March 25 1843 The Examiner said that 2-3 years earlier - ie 1840 - 'there was a great run on female sailors. Every newspaper has its paragraph announcing the discovery of a female sailor.
'The result was a thorough conviction in the public mind that all sailors were female sailors - that there were no other sailors than female sailors in disguise; and now the curiosity would be the discovery of a male sailor, if such a phenomenon could be well authenticated.'

Former woman captain wins award in NZ

Photo of Maree Turner by John Borren.

Today's a bumper day for news about women who exceptionally make it in the maritime world. Maree Turner has just won the inaugural Aspiring Director award from the Institute of Directors' Bay of Plenty branch in New Zealand.

The story of her career path and the gendered struggles is really telling. In the Bay of Plenty Times, Graham Skellern writes this:
"Award winner Maree Turner has always believed people should be chosen on ability, not gender - and that you shouldn't pre-judge them.
"Over the past 30 years Maree Turner has had an interesting and varied career in the maritime industry, earning her oceangoing Master's Ticket, managing stevedoring gangs, organising cargo movements, and even helping to plan new container terminals.
She has held her own in the man's world. Now, she is taking the next big step in her career - gaining the experience to become a full-time company director...
"This is a huge opportunity to get more experience," said Mrs Turner, who is now a consultant with NZL Group, based at Mount Maunganui. "There is now a willingness to give younger senior managers development opportunities.
I've gone into port company, shipping and union meetings and been the only woman there," she said.
"I guess I've got tenacity and leadership skills. And I've always believed that people should be chosen on ability, not gender - and that you shouldn't pre-judge them," said Mrs Turner.
She held that belief when she left Carmel College in Auckland and headed for the Union Steam Ship Company.

"I didn't realise there weren't any women there. Here I was, from an all-girls school and the only girl on the ship."
She was actually the third female sea cadet in the country but the only one in her intake of 35 in 1982. Another cadet that year was Tauranga-born Peter Jackson, who became her husband and is a ship's pilot at Port of Tauranga after also earning his Master Mariner certificate.
Turner began as a Third Mate on the cargo ships Rotoiti, Marama, Ngahere and tanker Amokura during two tough years at sea.
"We cleaned the bilges, changed the crane wires, went down the crank case, and over the side of the ship to paint. Cleaning out the chain locker was a dirty, dangerous job, and we also went on the bridge to do some navigation and sights. You knew all about the ship, and the jobs, from top to bottom."
Turner progressed to Second Mate, then Chief Officer and finally gained her Master's Ticket after having six years at sea and study periods at the New Zealand Maritime School.
She worked on the Sea Link Cook Strait ferry, the gas tanker Tarahiko, and Forum Line that delivered general cargo around the Pacific Islands.
Then she was selected for P&O's main fleet and joined the Fishguard Bay container vessel on the Eastern Asian run between Singapore, Taiwan, Korea, Japan and Jakarta.
"The ship had a Chinese crew and British officers, and I was the only New Zealander and woman. It worked out fine and I certainly learned how to manage people," said Turner.
She came ashore in 1992 and moved to Tauranga to become cargo superintendent with Tasman Asia Shipping (now Quadrant Pacific), planning the loading of ships....
She is now consulting. Her present project is helping to prepare the legal case for NZL - supported by Ports of Auckland - to reinstate its container terminal operation at Sulphur Point.
Turner, who has a post-graduate diploma in management studies from Waikato University, was director on the Conlinxx board, a joint venture between Ports of Auckland and NZL that established and operates the inland port at Wiri.
She is also a member of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport and is running for national vice-president this year."

Another women cruise ships captain breaks through!

Cruise shipping developed in the late 19th century with Hamburg-Amerika Lines winter trips to southern parts. Over the century since, thousands of cruise ships were captained by men. But in the few years (see early entries on this blog) women are finally getting those roles - that recognition of their competence.

Today P&O cruises have announced the appointment of Australasia’s first female cruise ship captain, Sarah Breton, who will be on the Pacific Pearl.

The press release says:

"P&O Cruises today welcomes the first female cruise ship captain to sail in Australasian waters.

Captain Sarah Breton, 46, boards Pacific Pearl in Auckland today for a 32-night South Pacific cruise. Beginning with a handover from Captain Andy Willard, she officially takes the helm of the ship on 12 July.

Capt Breton’s arrival means the crew on this cruise includes the biggest group of female senior officers on any cruise ship in this region, a sign of changing times for women in shipping.

The impressive line-up of female officers includes Jane Herron, Hotel Director, Zoltina-J Medwick-Daley, Cruise Director and Martina Damonte, Administration and Revenue Director.

Ann Sherry, CEO of Carnival Australia which operates P&O Cruises Australia, met with Capt Breton in Sydney on Friday.

"It’s taken a long time but we’re really proud that P&O is again leading the way by bringing the first female captain to this region,” Ms Sherry said.

“We are delighted to have Sarah as captain of Pacific Pearl and to see her joining such a large contingent of female officers on this cruise.

“She is an outstanding officer and one of only three female captains on major cruise ships anywhere in the world.”

Capt Breton said many women set out on shipping careers but the long periods at sea also led to a high rate of attrition as they grew older and wanted to spend more time with family onshore.

"It takes time to build up the necessary experience so rising to this position takes many years – there are no shortcuts,” she said.

“The responsibility as captain is huge, but it’s the same responsibility whether you are a man or a woman and the reaction to my captain’s appointment last year has been terrific.”

Capt Breton began her maritime career as a cadet on a freighter and has also served on ships including Pacific Princess (the original Love Boat), Grand Princess Pacific Princess and Artemis in roles including navigator and first officer.

“Growing up near the water I always loved boats and the ocean, so it really does fulfill a lifelong ambition of mine to be a captain with P&O Cruises,” she said.

Capt Breton has been sailing with her family since she was born and her earliest memory of a P&O ship was on a school cruise, at the age of 11, visiting Bergen, Oslo and Copenhagen on the Uganda.

Captain Breton lives on the Essex Coast and when on leave spends her time with family, in her garden, sailing - whenever the weather permits - and watching Six Nations rugby and Formula One motor racing."

Thursday 23 June 2011

Sylvia Pankhurst, suffrage campaigners' mobility, and the sea

This year's Sylvia Pankhurst Memorial Lecture is by me, and called Suffrage campaigners on the ocean wave

The lecture takes place at Wortley Hall, Sheffield, on Friday August 12 at 7pm.This is what I'll be saying in my very illustrated talk:

Fighting for women’s rights brought an inadvertent side-effect: it encouraged thousands of suffragists and suffragettes to seize the freedom of the seas, roads, and railway lines.

Women who had never before left their home town went campaigning and networking across the Atlantic and Pacific. They ventured thousands of miles, alone or with sisters from movement, to give attend key conferences, make lecture tours and investigate conditions. It was a revolution in international connecting as profound as the internet revolution of our times.

Sylvia Pankhurst was one of the many women to seize her rights to mobility by sailing on ships, be it cross-channel steamer to Paris, little ferries from Dublin, or deep sea liners.

In WW1 a tiny number of suffragettes such as her mother Emmeline and sister Christabel sailed with impunity for reactionary ends, whereas suffragists were effectively banned from the seas.

However Sylvia was a key fighter against the ban on peace campaigners’ rights to attend the 1915 Hague International Conference of Women for a Permanent Peace; it could have ended the war. More than any other organisation, her ELF supported sailors’ (and soldiers’) wives.

This lecture tells the stories of both gallant sailings and frustrations at quaysides. It celebrates the geographical mobility that accompanied women’s new freedoms as they pressed impressively forward to build justice worldwide.

Information about the Sylvia Pankhurst Memorial Committee:

Women pirates as widowed businesswomen?

I'll be talking about women pirates at a Pirates study day, at the Museum of London, Docklands. It's on Saturday 24 Sept 2011 from 10.30am–5pm. The title is Delve deeper into Pirates: The Captain Kidd Story.

No, Captain Kidd, wasn't secretly a woman, but gender is on the agenda.Come and find out whether pirate life was anything like this picture:Captain Kidd in New York Harbor.

It's by Leon Gerome Ferris (1863–1930)from the series The Pageant of a Nation. This is a a postcard published by The Foundation Press in 1932 and portrays a very fanciful amount of fancy women, for a working pirate vessel.But at least it makes the realistic point that many male seafarers seek female company when they dock.

My session is Women pirates: heroines and hell vixens, or victims and boss's wives?

I'll be arguing that female buccaneers such as Anne Bonney have become modern icons of girl power, not least thanks to Geena Davis in Cutthroat Island. But were they actually admirable heroines?

This talk proposes that we think more deeply about women seafarers’ place in shipboard society. Could they be re-seen as, like lads, targets of cruelty? Could some have been simply widows who had to keep the family business going?

Leading academics will be discussing the history and cultural resonance of pirates and piracy. They include David Cordingly, Hilary Davidson,Ed Fox,Angus Konstam and Tom Wareham.

Topics include pirates' life and organisation; the mythology; Henry Avery; Blackbeard;and Captain Kidd himself.

Book in advance £20 (concs £15, Friends £12.50)includes tea, coffee and exhibition entry., tel: 020 7001 9844.

Wednesday 22 June 2011

Refugee women catheterise themselves on ship: victims or problem-solvers?

Sometimes people ask me – somewhat rhetorically - what difference gender makes on ship, especially in these modern times. Surely none?

But no, women do have it harder. Especially if racial issues are part of the equation. Stories of some refugees leaving Libya on ship indicate that enduring and silly myths about pregnant women’s ‘impurity’ continue and have a role at sea. And some women continue to not challenge men about this. It comes at a cost to their health and comfort, and at a time of already appalling difficulty on fraught voyages.

Today Dada Aladelokun writes in The Nation online about 32-year-old expectant mother, Nigerian Madeline Adebisi . She and her husband had been living in Libya.

In a rather heightened article (‘her heart harbours a killing tempest: She may not see her beloved husband again, dead or alive!’) it’s reported that Madeline Adebisi is one of the 45,000 migrants who made their ways to a refugee camp in Lampedusa, Sicily, in the last five months. The moves follow NATO bombardments and Gaddafi’s strategic decision ‘unleash an unprecedented wave of illegal immigration’ on Europe.

Aladelokun’s article quotes Barbie Latza Nadeau's June 12 report in Newsweek. It reports that Mrs Adebisi was pushed onto a ship at midnight, with hundreds of others, on an emergency trip to “nowhere in particular” against her wishes. The voyage “takes about four days and conditions on the ship are often horrific. There is little food and there are no toilets on board.

“Expectant women are often forced to insert catheters before boarding so that their urine won’t ‘poison’ the superstitious men.” She was about five months pregnant.

Only last week I happen to have witnessed someone being connected by small latex tube from urethra to disposal bag by a small tube – in sterile conditions. An A&E Sister catheterised my elderly mother, who hated the intrusion.

The nurse told me that actually it feels a bit like putting in a tampon, only easier because the tube is so small. It’s less than half a centimetre in diameter and even more pliable than a rubber band. The distress is caused by it being inserted into a place that has usually never been so penetrated.

So the issue is not that these pregnant passengers endured pain, but that they did something invasive under duress. And they did so in a stressful and potentially harmful conditions.

(Usually the area round the urethra is cleaned with a 0.9% sodium chloride solution, to avoid urinary tract infection. And there is risk of trauma to the urethra if the correct procedure isn't used.)

And there’s the indignity of catheterising yourself without privacy in a crowded situation. And then what happens? You are presumably encumbered by a 17oz/500ml drainage bag strapped to your leg in a cramped melee, where lavatories are rare and overloaded.

Fleeing at midnight is hard enough. Being pregnant is hard enough. These women should not have to concede to men's ignorance and bigotry in this way as well.

On the other hand, as there were no lavatories at all on her ship, this woman may have made a very creative decision. It enabled her to avoid the problem of urinating in public. This usually involves hanging over the side of the ship, which might have especially awkward for heavily pregnant women in bulky clothes.

(The situation is akin to cross-dressed women seafarers historically resorting to a silver or horn urinating instrument - at bit like today's plastic Shewee. The difference is that they did it disguise their sex.)

Madeline Adebisi, who is now about to give birth, was on a ship that lost its rudder off Lampedusa’s shore. “Unable to steer, its captain abandoned the wheel and the ship smashed onto the rocks, a stone’s throw to the Door to Europe, a statue erected as a memorial for immigrants who died at sea while trying to reach the continent.”

“‘They just kept screaming and screaming, calling desperately for help. I was so worried we would lose some of those babies,’ Lt. Marco Persi of Italy’s military police reportedly recalled.”

Mrs Adebisi said “‘I thought I was dead that night when the boat crashed… I was sure my life was over.’… The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has estimated that in the past two months, at least 1,600 people have died at sea while fleeing their countries for European shores.” They include pregnant women.

For me the interesting side-point is that Madeline Adebisi and her shipmates already had catheters with them. They were former hospital workers so they were in a position to prepare.

But a refugee information network must have alerted them to the idea that catheters were needed in such a situation. Or were catheters simply part of some extensive medical equipment the women had cannily appropriated from the hospital when they lost their jobs - not least in revenge?

Is this story actually not about women's victimisation, but about their creative - and angry - finding of solutions in a crisis? The key to it probably lies in the word 'forced.' Does it mean women felt impelled by circumstances to make this choice? Or that men bullied women into doing it?

Monday 20 June 2011

Sailing changes your life: Sarah Moore Grimké

As I read about women passengers in all sorts of situations from war to cruises, it’s clear that being at sea – or indeed in transit – seems to enable serendipitous encounters that can change lives.

Some people appear to be in metaphysical state of mind on a voyage, where they reflect about all the possibilities of life and the direction they want to be taking. When they land, they act on their new insights.

Such a world-changing encounter on ship is revealed, in a post today about one of the US’s most famous slavery abolitionists,Sarah Moore Grimké(1792-1873).

The post was made by blogger Steve Farrell, using information from John Blundell’s forthcoming book, Ladies for Liberty: Women Who Made a Difference in American History (Algora). (Of course Gerda Lerner wrote the best-known biography of Sarah and her sister Angela.)

In spring 1819 Sarah left Charleston with her poorly father, Judge Grimké, who upheld both slave-ownership and the subordination of women. They were sailing to see his specialist in Philadelphia. Following the doctor’s instructions that he take the sea air and bathe at Long Branch, New Jersey, they travelled there - were he died.

On the voyage back home, bereaved and alone, Sarah was befriended by the Morrises, a wealthy Quaker family. The Quaker literature they gave her inspired her.

After her return she corresponded with Israel Morris,and worked on learning about the Quaker movement, including its outright opposition to slavery. It became increasingly hard for her to tolerate life on the plantation, where her brother opposed her interest in law.

‘In 1821 she relocated to Philadelphia to live alternately with Israel’s family in the country and his sister Catherine Morris in the city’ says Farrell. She eventually became a full member of the Friends, although her attacks on slavery were later seen as too radical for them.

Her sister Angela was similarly attracted to the cause and joined Sarah in 1929.In February 1836 they attended the Quaker Convention in Providence, Rhode Island.

There they found abolitionists with whom they were more in sympathy. So began their career as the US’s best-known women anti-slavery campaigners.

To be sure, Sarah was not influenced solely by that on-board encounter. The Philadelphia Friends she’d met before and after her father’s death influenced her, as did witnessing the mistreatment of slaves around her childhood home, and being part of a family interested in jurisprudence.

But there seems to be something about a voyage that leads some people to step into a new and inspired way of living.

Friday 10 June 2011

Women owning ships

Devon-based researcher Dr Helen Doe has definitively shown that 19th century women owned ships - and to a surprising extent. In just the five ports she surveyed - Exeter, Fowey, Whitehaven, Whitby and Kings Lynn - nearly 900 women owned shares.

In her 2009 book she also shows that women were chandlers, blackmsiths, teachers of navigation, ropemakers and even naval shipbuilders. Her book is Enterprising Women and Shipping in the Nineteenth Century, Boydell and Brewer, Woodbridge, ISBN 978-1843834724, pp.2896, price £55.

I've just read Nina Baker's excellent review in Women's History Magazine, Issue 64, autumn 2010, ISSN 1476-6760,pp.42-3.

Helen Doe has certainly broken new ground in writing about such women. Her findings deserves to be more widely known because they - yet again - refute the stereotype that in maritime life only a neglible number of women had power, and that it was neglible power at that. She has made a very important contribution to maritime history and women's history.

Archival research is usually described as 'painstaking'. In this case I certainly know it was.

Hopefully researchers in other countries will follow Helen's example, so that useful comparisons can be made. Australia, the West Indies, and Canada seem ideal places to look.

It would be especially valuable if those researchers examined the operations of (class and) gender within the industry. What enabled particular women to take on such non-traditional roles? How did they manage their 'femininity'? Were their ships run differently? What was the long-term impact on gendered attitudes in those coastal towns, for example, did it increase respect for women?