Tuesday 30 December 2014

Norman Atlantic: NOT women and children first

Greek ferry Norman Atlantic with chopper hovering to winch people to safety

36 hours ago, on Sunday 28 December 2014, the Greek ferry Norman Atlantic caught fire in the Adriatic Sea. Off Corfu 422 passengers and 56 crew tried to abandon ship in terrible weather; at least ten have already died.
This morning the British headlines are, astonishingly, focusing on the old chestnut of gendered evacuation.
Some passengers are reported as ignoring the old 'women and children first' protocol, also known as the Birkenhead Drill.
The Guardian reported that Christos Perlis, a 32-year-old Greek lorry driver, said he and another man tried to impose order. “First children, then women and then men...But the men, they started hitting us so they could get on first.”

Dimitra Theodossiou (pictured,) a Greek opera soprano heading to Rimini to sing in Nabucco said 'some of the men had been put below to give precedence to women and children. “But they climbed up and punched and tugged and pulled you out of the way, elbowing their way to safety. It was very ugly. I shall never forget it.”

To focus on gender misses two main points:
People should be given priority according to need, not gender. For example a disabled elderly man deserves more help than a young woman bodybuilder.
Women, including suffragettes, have now been arguing this for a century.
The human tragedy is that in a crisis some human beings, of both genders, forget to be kind.
And the practical problem is that selective evacuation can cause more loss of life because it wastes precious time.
The central issue is that the ship was unseaworthy and the crew weren't trained. It's the shipowner's culpability, and the fact that operators can evade international safety laws, that merits attention.
An inspection on December 19 reported that there were "safety deficiencies” including missing emergency system parts and faulty fire doors.
Seemingly only three liferafts were available. The alarm was given too late and crew weren't giving passengers directions.

How about replacing that 'women and children first' slogan with 'to each according to their needs'. Better still: 'Make ships safe.'

Sunday 21 December 2014

Mermaids ain't wot they used to be

Here's a review I've just found of a book on mermaids to which I contributed last year:
The book is Lines Underwater, edited by Laura Seymour and Kirsten Tambling. It's an anthology of poems, short stories and art.
In an review on August 26, 2013 Caroline M. Davies of Sabotage (http://sabotagereviews.com/2013/08/26/lines-underwater-ed-laura-seymour-kirsten-tambling)explains:

'Lines Underwater ... brings the mermaid into the twenty-first century ...
'Mermaids are used as a metaphor for contemporary issues and dilemmas. Most memorably, Jo Stanley’s ‘Adaptation’ recasts the mermaid as a WAG, the girlfriend of a racing driver undergoing surgery to transform her tail into legs.
'It ['Adaptation’] provides an incisive commentary on celebrity culture and cosmetic surgery and also includes veterans from the war in Afghanistan and transgender surgery:
'“Mainly I visited Stella, who was in supported housing in Slough. She was feeling lonely for all that some of her army mates visited between tours. Seeing their injuries upset her but she loved feeling one of the boys again, as they tried to drink themselves sane.”'

The above extract is too brief to convey that my mermaid's main pal, Stella, formerly Alan, was a war veteran who, like her, was seeking female genitalia and happiness, at the same time as her and in the same clinic . She lost her tail. He was about to lose his 'manhood'.
I chose the subject after reading a lot of seafarers' stories about mermaid sightings, and thinking about men's sexuality at sea.
It's mixed in with my empathy for many trans people I know who've struggled through gender reassignment surgery. In going for the most important goal of their lives some have been lovingly supported by very macho ex-comrades from the armed forces. I wouldn't have expected these men to be natural allies. But they were, because camaraderie is far thicker than old prejudices about what a 'real man' 'should' be.
In other words I wrote a story about about comradeship, bravery, mobility (in identity as well as physical movement) and gender. I'm glad my story worked for that reviewer. And I'd love to write a novel-length version of it.

Caroline M. Davies goes on to say 'Like much of the work ...[in this book,'Adaptations'] is a long way from the somewhat clichéd traditional view of a mermaid as an enchanting woman with a fish tail. Lines underwater is by turns playful, thought-provoking and above all packed with original work.
'The anthology is organised into four chapters covering various aspects of mermaids in story and myth: ‘Stories of washed up things, ‘Nets, nerves and wires’, ‘Bricked in and crossing borders’ and ‘Skin, scales, skirts’ ...
'Lines Underwater also includes multi-media elements. There are scannable barcodes so you can access songs and short films. These are also available via the website if, like me, you don’t have a smart-phone.'Go to http://poemsunderwater.wordpress.com/buy-the-anthology/

Sunday 14 December 2014

Women & Christmas at sea

For the crew and officers on British ships in the 1950s Xmas celebrations were enriched through the actions of the women working on board.
By the 1950s such women included stewardesses (the majority), women assistant pursers (many of whom were ex-Wrens in those days) telephonists, children’s hostess, hairdressers and the nursing sister.

There might be say five stewardesses and one-to-three women in each of the other roles. Women would have amounted to about fifteen in all, depending on the ship.
They were always less than 5 per cent of total complement at that time.
Purser Nelson French wrote about this Christmas at sea on Orient Line ships to Australia via Suez (‘The Purser’s Tale of Christmas at Sea’, Sea Breezes, vol 61, no 504, December 1987, pp 843-848.)
I’ve extracted the sections that suggest what’s going on, gender-wise

He wrote that in 1953 on the Orcades women officers persuaded the captain to have a nine-lesson carol service. Apparently it worked so well that ‘This became tradition throughout the Orient Line.’
On the Orion women enriched carol singing both visually and aurally. The ship’ 40-strong choir processed around the ship, led by ‘a nursing sister with her cape reversed to show the red lining on the outside, and carrying a candle.’ When it came to singing, the women led off singing the first verse of Once in Royal David’s City, then the whole choir joined in the next verses and other carols.

Like grand houses and the armed forces, passenger ships had the carnivalesque tradition of the upper order serving food to the lower order on Christmas Day (a bit like Midsummer Eve where everything is topsy-turvy and where revelry can be shockingly frisky, as Bakhtin points out)
Referring to the Orontes, Nelson French pointed out – though not in so many words - what a difference the gender of the server made, especially if she was serving young men who didn’t normally have contact with women on ship (as lower deck and engine room males didn’t):
‘while some ratings may have thought the deputy purser a little patronising serving slices of turkey, when it came to a pretty woman assistant purser offering stuffing it was a different matter.’

On New Year’s Eve on the Orion (still in the 1950s, seemingly) ‘a pretty young girl in a bikini burst into the ballroom [as arranged] with a shriek of joy and headed for Old Father Time and chased him' and his scythe and his hour glass, away from festivities.
So these stories show us that women in these hegemonically Christian situations did at least three things socially, on top of their usual jobs. They:
~ influenced the format of the religious service (a gift given by hospitality staff to guests)
~ they were enjoyed as eye candy in a conventionally-gendered ways in an unconventional exchange where class, not gender, was the main point
~ their voices were an important dimension enriching the collective singing, contrasting to the mass of c30 male voices. They were a welcomed symbol of diversity accepted.

In other words, there was a lot going on that was not to do with the nativity but with cooped-up peoples’ appropriation of a festival that could give a wonderful marginal space for other kinds of pleasure.

Friday 5 December 2014

Enslaved women on ships

Adjua (June Carryl) and Dembi (Kimberly Scott) in 'The Liquid Plain'. Photo by Jenny Graham

Today in Britain there are estimated to be 10,000 to 13,000 slaves, mainly women (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-30255084). We have a Modern Slavery Bill going through parliament and a Minister for Modern Slavery and Organised Crime, Karen Bradley (pictured)

In these days of increased trafficking (mainly by air) it's telling to look back and see the parallels with the 15-18C slave trade, in which 4-5 million women slaves were transported (about a third of the estimated 12-15 million.)
Not many experts have written about gender on slave ships, let alone written for popular audiences.

The Liquid Plain
But US playwright Naomi Wallace has, in The Liquid Plain, a play that won the 2012 Horton Foote Prize for Promising New American Play. So far it has only been staged in the US, not here in the UK. (http://www.tcg.org/tools/newplays/details2012a.cfm?ShowID=213)
It's about two runaway slaves, Adjua and Dembi, and the docklands community in late-18C Bristol, Rhode Island, which was a major slave marketplace. With sailors Adjua and Dembi make common cause and plan to return to Africa and 'freedom'.
The play's title comes from a poem by Phillis Wheatley (c1753-1784),who was herself transported from West Africa as a child but became the first African-American to have a book published, and at only twenty.
In her Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral she writes:
While for Britannia's distant shore
We sweep the liquid plain,
And with astonished eyes explore
The wide-extended main

Naomi Wallace was inspired to write the play after reading Marcus Rediker’s book The Slave Ship. She refers to the 1791 indictment for murder of slave ship captain James D'Wolf.
He'd wanted the crew of the Polly to heave the nameless woman overboard because he thought she had small pox and would infect the whole crew and thereby cause him to lose his profitable cargo. The sailors refused so,according to seaman John Cranston:
D'Wolf 'himself ran up the Shrowds [he'd had the woman put high up in the mainmast two days earlier] ..then he lash'd her in a Chair & ty'd a mask round her Eyes & Mouth & there was a tackle hooked upon the Slings round the chair when we lowered her down on the larboard side of the Vessel.

That chair, that mask

I know about the story because I've just finished reading Rediker's book. For me the most potent of all many potent images in this history is that chair, and the idea of a captain who was so afraid to touch her skin that he tied her to a chair (presumably she was too ill to move unaided.The sailors themselves were quite keen to get exposure to smallpox and thereby gain immunity).
And then there's the mask, which Cranston said was tied onto the woman so that she could not see what was happening to her so that she would not struggle.
'It was [also]done to prevent her making any Noise that the other Slaves might not hear, lest they should rise.'

Comprehending the full horror of appalling histories, such as slavery and the holocaust, can be hard to do. But the chair and mask somehow helped me take in the horror of a trade that treated human beings in this way. It is similar to the impact on me of seeing the mountains of human hair at Auschwitz: just a commodity.
James D'Wolf (pictured) got away with it, just as so many slave captains got away with their appalling 'business practices' over 244 years. On ship the millions of kidnapped African women were the sexual targets of officers and sometimes crew too. There was rape and there were relationships too.

Regulating women on ships
I started grasping slave women' stories when researching the chapter in my forthcoming book that discusses the regulation - and entertainment - of women passengers in transit. Over the centuries there were matrons, conductresses, escorts, social hostesses - and always natural leaders among the 'human cargo' too.

Rediker retells the stories of two such natural leaders on slave ships: both nicknamed ‘The Boatswain’ they were on the Nightingale in 1769 and the Hudibras in 1787.
On the Hudibras there was also a cultural leader and griot of enslaved women, a ‘songstress ‘ and ‘orator’ who would stand or kneel at the centre of concentric circles of women on the quarterdeck, elders in the outermost circle.
She sang ‘slow airs of a pathetic nature’, and gave orations. Watchers who didn’t speak their language thought these were epic poetry as the women all responded with a chorus at the end of significant sentences.
Seaman William Butterworth, watching, was so moved that he ‘shed tears of involuntary sympathy.’ Rediker reports that at least one captain found the songs of resistance ‘very disagreeable’ and had the singing women flogged so badly their wounds took two to three weeks to heal.

For the women it was, Rediker explains, ‘an effort to retain historical identity in a situation of utter social upheaval … a central element of an active and growing culture of opposition aboard ship.’
It was solidarity and comforting company - something the poor masked murdered woman in the chair so needed.

Sunday 30 November 2014

Pioneering woman of the sea dies: Margaret Newcombe

Margaret Newcombe on the 'Britannic' in 1951 with colleagues Brent and Peter and another (details unknown).

Doyenne and pioneer of social directresses at sea Margaret Newcombe died on November 14.

Margaret(1922-2014) is not someone you find when you google her name. But in the world of Cunard shipping she is a legend.
Her charm earlier this year, when I interviewed her, was as remarkable and real as it must have been for the last half century. It astonished me. I'd expected her to be intimidating or a bit visibly ‘good at people.’
In fact I was disarmed and truly warmed. I'd never before experienced such genuine graciousness. And people at sea had been basking in that for over half a century.

It was only in the interwar war that ships seeking happy (therefore repeat) customers started employing men as entertainment/cruise directors.
Before that the job had been done by Junior Assistant Pursers with microphone skills and a flair for Ents. They worked with the ad hoc sports and social committee that the passengers organised each voyage. On emigrant ships to the Antipodes in the 1950s the job had been partly done by ‘liaison officers’ employed by the receiving countries.
In the 1950s all the competition from commercial flying meant new customers had to be wooed. ‘It was necessary that shipping lines … [put] more accent upon entertaining the passengers than they had in the past,’ Margaret told interviewer Sheila Jemima of Southampton Oral History project.
Social hostesses began to work with entertainment/cruise directors (although Hilda James was a pioneer in the 1920s).

Olympic swimming star Hilda James (1904-82)in 1923 joined the 'Franconia' as Cunard's first social hostess and continued to do work rather like Margaret's for several years on other Cunard vessels. The job then seemed to disappear until the 1950s. [With appreciation for the picture to her grandson Ian McAllister who wrote her biography: http://www.lostolympics.co.uk/]

Margaret thought the job partly emerged because ’someone with sense in the office must have said “Someone must take care of the ladies, the lonely hearts. Make them happy. Introduce them.”’
A social directress managed the social hostesses, of whom there might be several depending on the ship's size and route. At a time when women officers were still rare, the idea of a senior woman organising the social life on ships was even rarer. Margaret was Cunard’s pioneer in this.

How do you get such a job, social directress? In Margaret’s case it was partly because she was already in the purser’s bureau. It’s the department of the ship now called ‘hotel’ that deals with passenger activities. Her skills were evident.
In WW2 she’d done welfare work with women in the ATS. And as a girl she’d been used to being sociable – her father was a vicar. (In his role at the local aeronautical club he’d introduced her to that inspiring pioneering flyer Amy Johnson – and been rather put out that Amy ignored her.)
Margaret at Hull Cenotaph in 1926, where her father was conducting the service.

After the war’s end she badly longed to go to sea, as a purser. So many ex-servicewomen felt the same urge. It was the start of Wrens becoming the first women pursers, and cabin crew.
Margaret nearly didn’t get work on a ship at all. So many young women were told ‘girls don’t do that sort of work at sea.’ It was persistence, happenstance and luck that did it, as well as ability, of course. This is how Margaret too succeeded.
In 1947 she’d been employed by the electricity company in her native Hull and applied to every possible shipping company for jobs. Cunard wrote back saying ‘Dear Sir, We don’t employ ladies.’
But then a year later by chance she saw a newspaper picture of Elizabeth Sayers and three other women doing pursering work. Elizabeth Sayers (1912-c2000) had been a Wren Officer with Mountbatten in WW2 before joining Cunard in 1948 as a Lady Assistant Purser. She then became a beacon for Margaret and others.

Margaret's beacon: Elizabeth Sayers, and L to R some of Cunard's other pioneering LAPs: Margaret Morton, Phyllis Davies and Mary Marchant. (With appreciation for the picture to www.liverpool ships.org.)

‘So I wrote back to Cunard and said “Dear Sir, you do.” And within a month I was out of my [old] job and into the seagoing experience,’ says Margaret.
As a Lady Assistant Purser (LAP) she sailed mainly to New York in the 1950s. She worked in the ship’s travel bureau until ‘things were getting a bit monotonous [so] they said would I like to be social directress.
‘And so I was able to change my duties and have a new interest … I’ve gone from pen and paper to song and dance.’
By now Cunard had ‘introduced what they called the cruise director and his staff.’ She was the right-hand person of this man, and the first social directress of the Queen Mary.
And ‘for the next seventeen years that’s what I was doing on the three queens: Queen Mary until she went to Long Beach, Queen Elizabeth for one year, and the QE2.’ Margaret also went cruising on Caronia, Britannic and others.

Margaret (right, in background) on the 'Britannic' with colleagues in 1951. Note one other woman. Women pursers were usually outnumbered by at least five to one in that period. Expected to marry and leave (there was a marriage bar), they seldom got promoted, weren't sent on courses like the men and were treated as a separate category, which probably meant a lower pay scale.

Nicknamed ‘Dame Margaret’ and often taken to be a member of the peerage, she enriched thousands of passengers’ voyages on many ships - and had a great time as well.
‘I was enjoying myself. I like people, I'm a bit of a show-off and I like giving passengers everything they wanted. I don’t put myself forward but I enjoy them.’
She sailed for 28 years until retiring in 1977. ‘I thought it was time I put my roots down.’
She went to live with an aunt in Torquay, but found it very hard because ‘I was so used to being amongst people, knowing them.’
After three years her aunt died. Margaret moved to a flat overlooking vast fields at Milford on Sea in Hampshire ‘because I had lot of friends here.’
Her Cunard shipmates met regularly at reunions. And they gathered for her funeral at Bournemouth Crematorium on November 28: a network of people who loved her and looked after her, particularly as her health declined in the last few years.

Since the 1990s a few women have become cruise directors, senior executives with four gold stripes. They may never have met Margaret.
But in the patchy progress of shipping lines accepting women in senior entertainment positions she’d been their crucial predecessor in showing that women really could be entrusted to cut that mustard, and be truly respect-worthy.

I think Margaret, a modest and grounded person, would not much want to be remembered as a model for women attaining new careers at sea.
She’d prefer to be recalled as someone who made people’s voyages enjoyable – and who herself traveled delightedly round the world again and again on some of the most exciting ships in the world.

(Margaret was interviewed by Sheila Jemima, no date but circa 1992, and the recording (M0100)is available at Southampton City Archive. My own interview with Margaret was on 9 January 2014 and was unrecorded.Since then we spoke by phone and letter. She kindly let me copy these three photos, for my forthcoming book on the history of women working at sea.)

Saturday 29 November 2014

Patrick O'Brian as Jane Austen? Almost?

Patrick O'Brian signs books at L.J. Harri Nautical Booksellers in Boston while owner Catherine Degnon looks on. (Photo credit: Vernon Doucette). http://www.wwnorton.com/pob/vol3i.htm

In today's Guardian Lucy Eyre urges women to celebrate the maritime author's centenary.See
She writes: 'There are two types of people in the world: Patrick O’Brian fans, and people who haven’t read him yet. This second category includes many women who are put off by the seemingly excessive focus on ships. This worried me, too. I thought it would be all battles and no women: perhaps even (shudder) a seafaring Lord of the Rings.'


But Lucy Eyre's a convert (like me):
'There is vastly more to [Captain] Jack [Aubrey] than fair winds and rigging. For one thing, there is Stephen [Maturin], the brilliant, bold, enigmatic Irish-Catalan naturalist-surgeon-spy.
'Although Jack doesn’t write up his physical charms, I’ve got a huge crush on Stephen: he is obsessional and secretive, but also fiercely intelligent, moral and passionate. For book after book, I willed the gloriously lithe Diana Villiers to succumb to his pursuit.
'The detail of the world of the ship is wonderful... O’Brian skewers the pompous in their own words. It’s Jane Austen at sea.
'And yet, somehow, I’ve so far failed to convince my mother – Sue Birtwistle, Austen admirer and producer of the TV serial Pride and Prejudice – to dip her toe in the water.
'The centenary of O’Brian’s birth will be 12 December.'


I myself would have liked O'Brian to give more space to women - including those disguised as boys (how else could a gel get a job at sea?).
After all, Austen's very great strength was that in a sea (sorry) of male authors she was a woman writing very fully about women.
Her brother was in the Navy, and she writes so well about it. See the website:http://historicalhoney.com/jane-austen-sea/
At least a woman was visible focus in O'Brian's Clarissa Oakes. But the point is, of course, that the sea was indeed a very separate and male space, although exceptions were many.Far more than many writers credit.

Monday 28 July 2014

Sarah West: power, sex and sensible attitudes towards gender

This weekend one pioneering woman's new relationship (and that's "relationship" with a question mark after it, nothing's proven) has gone viral.
Or rather it's gone as viral-ish as is possible given that her employers have issued only three sentences about it.
A Royal Navy spokesperson said of Commander Sarah West, the first woman commander of any major Royal Navy battleship: "We are aware of an allegation of a breach of the code of social conduct on board HMS Portland, which we are treating seriously.
"Anyone who is found to fall short of the Royal Navy's high standards can expect to face appropriate action. It would be inappropriate to comment further."
Commander West, 42, from Isleworth, has had to leave her vessel, a Type 23 frigate, because it's been claimed she's had an affair with someone else on board.

Officers are allowed to have relationships if:
~ they don't undermine 'trust and cohesion'
~ They don't damage operational effectiveness

What now?

The next step will be for her superiors to discern whether this has happened: a kind of inquiry.
If 'found guilty' Commander West will face a range of moves including:
~ formal warning
~ reassignment to other duties
~ the end of her service
Implicitly media speculation is "Will she lose her job with ignominy and scandal?"

The point is rather what does this event and its coverage say about gendered attitudes towards women? Specifically, what does it reveal about attitudes towards women newly in power within institutions that for centuries have been male both in culture and in complement?
Once (shore) women were seen be a force that could distract seafarers from their duty and career.

Taken to be symptomatic?

The problem is that any publicity about this gives fuel to reactionary arguments along the lines of "See. We told you. Putting women on ships can only lead to one thing. Illicit sex. Even women at the top succumb. Keep 'em ashore."
Merchant navy women have been becoming deck officers since the 1970s, against the odds. In interviewing them for my current book they repeatedly talk about the strain of knowing that if they make a slip - indeed, if they do almost anything - then ALL women in their position are judged by that.
When women seafarers - who are now 13 per cent of the merchant navy - do something not quite right it's never seen as simply an individual's one-off action, as it would be if a man had done it. No-one says "See! That proves all men of 35 with grey eyes and a mole on their left shoulder shouldn't work at sea at all." Instead people would just shrug:"Oh, Geoff's slipped up on this one."
By contrast, a woman's action is still taken as irrefutable proof of one gender's intrinsic unsuitability for sea work. Ever. And as for someone in command being fallible...!
Women seafarers - and most pioneers doing "men's" jobs - find they are critiqued earlier, and for far more minor infringements, then men. Critics lurk, waiting for failure, so that they can argue that the old gender imbalance (men in charge/women in support) needs restoring.
Can it be rivalry and deep insecurities about gender that motivate people who grass up a shipmate? What are they doing causing trouble in that tiny space where solidarity is so crucial - and so tricky?

An old objection
Sarah West's situation, as represented, is not only typical of attitudes towards women working on ships in general.
The story of sexual activity as a hot issue on royal and merchant navy ships is hundreds of years old. For centuries it's been argued that having women aboard brings trouble, including rivalry about who has sexual access to whom.

In fact, it is gendered attitudes towards women and towards sex that are the problem. It's not a problem that women per se are on board.

The royal navy dealt with it by, at times, only allowing women (variously 'good' wives and 'bad' sex industry workers) on board a ship if it was in port, not sailing. Or turning a blind eye to women's existence.
And sexual activity on RN ships was always controversial. Nineteenth century opponents argued on the hand that the Admiralty was allowing the navy to be "brothelized". But permissive commanders contended that if you didn't allow press-ganged men their 'recreation' they'd mutiny.
Nobody's sure how much homosexual sex really occurred and if it really did sap morals.

Clearly sex on ships is a subject that needs thorough, wise, and un-bigoted airing.

The merchant navy's past attitudes towards sex on ships has included only employing mature and motherly-looking women, preferably wives of men already employed aboard. Some shipping line personnel officers deliberately rostered camp gay males as cabin stewards, on the grounds that then women passengers wouldn't be bothered by heterosexual advances from crew.
People keep relationships secret, certainly from head offices ashore. When found out, it was usually the case that the woman, not the man, was moved to another ship. She was quietly seen as the more culpable one.
Women today on merchant ships often deliberately chose not to have relationships with shipmates because it's too difficult. It's too gossiped-about; the team tensions it can cause are tedious, especially if you break up in mid-voyage; and if you then take up with another partner on that same voyage you can be branded as slag and traitor.

When women were allowed to sail in RN ships from 1990, some naval wives protested that adultery would inevitably ensue. Ex-Wrens told me most heatedly that of course there would be trouble: in a tin box full of testosterone-fuelled young men, rampant sex must be the outcome.
The women sailors themselves replied 'Eh? Why? We've already got our own partners already, ashore, actually.' And among the 3,150 in today's navy (9 per cent) a number of women on ships have relationships with each other.
Cartoonist Smiles(the late Charles Smiles) made the implicit point (see cartoon below)that when women sailors were revealed to have agency and be actively desirous it changed the position of male sailors as the more powerful, knowing gender on the ship.

CAPTION: "They have to go through your [the women's] messdeck and they might see the pinups!" Cartoon by Smiles, Navy News, Nov 1990

As part of the preparation for writing my next book, on women and the Royal Navy, I've been collecting newspaper cuttings on cases of women sailors who've come up against male shipmates' sexualised and discriminatory attitudes.
Given the RN's impressive record of struggling to be a truly equal opportunities employer it would be invidious to list these. I'll just say that included in that picture are cases of rape (which are dealt with very firmly), but also a very noticeable decline in stories about sexist behaviour these days. Even tabloids can't find stories of the 'HMS Lusty' kind.
The RN's record of good gender discrimination policies - and policies firmly enforced - is much better than the MN's. And women officers appear to be well-respected. I don't believe this picture is just a matter of better silencing of accounts of discrimination. It's real.
But old attitudes towards women and their sexual activity take much uprooting.

It's no fluke that in the weekend newspapers there's another gender-related story along with Sarah West's: the Archbishop of Canterbury's letter to the Pope acknowledging that the recent vote supporting the ordination of women bishops is a problem (but urging that it not be).

Religious life is simply another key area where we see that major, male-led, institutions are troubled by the idea of women having power - and behaving differently. Gender divisions are still a problem. But decades of solid evidence proves that gender does not have to be an obstacle on ships.

As male masters in both navies repeatedly agree after they've had real experience of women working on board, most women are assets to be prized for their diligence, creative problem-solving and team-bonding skills.
Once-sceptical WW2 officers enthusiastically asked for more Wrens, not fewer, when they'd seen the usefulness of the Real McCoy.
Post-1970s MN masters repeatedly say that women can be even better seafarers than men.
They are a precious resource and that was recognised by the RN in 1997 when it first employed women commanders for ships, to some shock.
See Smiles' cartoon below, Navy News, March 1998:
"Hey Chief! There's a lady in the skipper's cabin!" "You're right on both counts, my flower!"

So what if some people sometimes have on-board affairs.
In both navies attitudes towards on-board relationships may yet take a few more decades to sort out. But why waste good personnel over trivial matters?
And when ever did a male commander get ditched because he loved unwisely?
I can think of two appropriate adages.
1. Let good people get on with doing their jobs.
2. And judge everyone on their own merits, not on supposed gender characteristics. This matter must not lead to the Navy hesitating over appointing more women to positions of command.

Tuesday 8 July 2014

Chinese women sailors in navy

Since writing a few days ago about Soviet women sailors, this 2013 article about Chinese women seafarers has been drawn to my attention. I'm re-posting part of it here, plus the link (http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/90786/8133836.html)and some extra pictures.
(It's worth saying that earlier Chinese history women sailing on, and even commanding, 19C pirate vessels, and Sisters nursing on naval hospital ships in WW2. They don't seem to have been ordinary merchant seafarers as the post-1930s Soviet women were.)

Chronicle of events of Chinese female sailors on warships

● In 1991, a hospital ship of the South China Sea Fleet of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy carrying 17 servicewomen made a round of visits to the Nansha Islands in South China Sea. This is the first time for the Chinese naval servicewomen to carry out tasks along with a ship.

●In 2002, four servicewomen participated in the first around-the-world voyage of the PLA Navy.
Since December 2008, many batches of female sailors of the PLA Navy have participated in the escort mission in the Gulf of Aden. Previously, they had mainly undertaken such service and support work as medical treatment, translation and culture.

● In 2010, 14 female soldiers were temporarily assigned to the combat duty posts of signal, radar, steering and boatswain of the Chinese naval escort ships in the Gulf of Aden.

● In March 2010, the first female sailor training team was founded at a training base of the North China Sea Fleet of the PLA Navy. After a five-month-long training, the first batch of 24 female sailors acquired at least eight professional skills including damage control, knotting and chemical defense of surface ships, and became the first batch of female sailors of the PLA Navy.

● In September 2012, the PLA Navy attempted to expand the service scope of female soldiers in surface ship units, and gradually established and improved the system and measures for organization and equipment, education and training, and management and support of female soldiers."
Female soldiers in China-Russia joint drill come into focus
(Xinhua) 08:25, July 15, 2013

"Female sailors of Chinese Navy participate in escort mission in Gulf of Aden
(People's Daily Online November 05, 2013).Female sailors of the 'Jinggangshan' ship under the escort taskforce of the Navy of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) are holding combat positions in escort mission in Gulf of Aden.They have completed the training of common subjects, such as seamanship, damage control and battlefield rescue, and professional subjects, such as navigation, radio operation and signal."

Sunday 6 July 2014

Reading about women seafarers

This is a select list of books and articles on women seafarers and women at the sea’s interface. Intended mainly for non-academics, it's to share, a resource from which many can benefit.
I hope people will send me additions to it. It would be good to include publications from countries other than the UK, particularly Scandinavia, China, and Asian and African countries.


Phillip Belcher, Helen Sampson, Michelle Thomas et al, Women Seafarers: Global employment policies and practices, International Labor Office, Geneva, 2003.
David Cordingly, Heroines and harlots: women at sea in the great age of sail, Macmillan, London, 2001.
Margaret S Creighton and Lisa Norling, Eds, Iron Men, Wooden Women: Gender and seafaring in the Atlantic World, 1700-1920, Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore and London, 1996.
Linda Grant De Pauw, Seafaring Women, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1982.
Diane Dugaw, Warrior Women and Popular Balladry, 1650-1850, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1989.
Joan Druett, She Captains: Heroines and hellions of the sea, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1999.
Leon Fink, Sweatshops at Sea: Merchant seamen in the world's first globalized industry, from 1812 to the Present, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 2011.
Basil Greenhill and Ann Giffard, Women Under Sail: Letters and journals concerning eight women travelling or working in sailing vessels between 1829 and 1949, David & Charles, Newton Abbot, 1970.
Merja-Liisa Hinkkanen and ‎David Kirby, The Baltic and the North Sea, (three chapters on maritime women, Routledge, Abingdon, 2013.
Colin Howell and Richard J Twomey, Eds, Jack Tar in History: Essays in the history of maritime life and labour, (four chapters on gender) Acadiensis Press, New Brunswick, 1991.
Celia Mather, Sweatships: What it’s really like to work on board cruise ships, War on Want, London.
Jo Stanley, Bold in Her Breeches: Women Pirates across the Ages, Ed, Pandora, London, 1995.
Minghua Zhao, Seafarers on Cruise Ships: Emotional Labour in a Globalised Labour Market, Seafarers’ International Research Centre, Cardiff University, 2002.

US & Canada
Charlene Atkinson, Sue Ellen Jacobs and Mary A Porter, Winds of Change: Women in Northwest Commercial Fishing, University of Washington Press, Seattle, 1989.
Lesley Leyland Fields, The Entangling Net: Alaska’s Commercial Fishing Women Tell their Stories, University of Illinois, Urbana and Chicago , 1997
Lucy Gwin, Going Overboard: The onliest little woman in the offshore oilfields, Viking Press, New York, 1982.
Vickie Jensen, Saltwater Women at Work, Douglas & McIntyre, Vancouver, 1995.
Jeanne Marie Lutz, Changing Course: One woman's true-life adventures as a merchant marine, New Horizon Press, Far Hills, New Jersey, 2003.
Sari Mäenpää, ‘Shipping Out: “The Story of America's Seafaring Women”’, International Journal of Maritime History, Vol 19,no 2, 2007, p472.
Nancy Taylor Robson, Woman in the Wheelhouse, Tidewater Publishers, Centreville, Maryland, 1985.
Cristina Vignone, 'Women Workers and Gender Equality on the Ocean Liner,' Crossing on the SS Normandie, http://www.fordham.edu/normandie/people.

The Antipodes
Patsy Adam-Smith, There was a Ship: The story of her years at sea, Penguin, Ringwood, Australia, 1995.
Sally Fodie, Waitemata Ferry Tales, Ferry Boat Publishers, Auckland, 1995.
Dee Pignéguy, Saltwater in Her Hair: Stories of women in the New Zealand maritime industry, VIP publications, Auckland, 2001.

Olive J Roeckner, Deep Sea ‘Sparks’: A Canadian Girl in the Norwegian Merchant Navy, Cordillera, Vancouver, 1993.
Mira Karjalainen, In the Shadow of Freedom: Life on board the oil tanker, The Finnish Society of Sciences and Letters, Helsinki, 2007.

The Soviet Union
Jo Stanley, Soviet women Commanding Ships, 4 July 2014, http://genderedseas.blogspot.co.uk.

The UK
Linda Collison,
-Surgeon’s Mate,(The Patricia MacPherson Nautical Adventure Series of novels), Fireship Press, Tucson, AZ 2010.
- Barbados Bound, Fireship Press, 2012, Tucson, AZ .
Crabb, Brian James, Beyond the Call of Duty: The loss of British Commonwealth mercantile and service women at sea during the second world war, Shaun Tyas, Donington, 2006.
Cherry Drummond, The Remarkable Life of Victoria Drummond, The Institute of Marine Engineers, London, 1999.
Violet Jessop, Titanic Survivor: The Memoirs of Violet Jessop, Stewardess, John Maxtone-Graham, Ed, Sutton, Stroud, 1998.
Mary Lacy, Mary Lacy ‘The Female Shipwright’, Margarette Lincoln (intro), Caird Library Reprints, National Maritime Museum, London, 2008.
Sari Mäenpää,
-'Women below Deck: Gender and Employment on British Passenger Liners, 1860-1938',
The Journal of Transport History, Vol 25, no 2, 2004, pp57-74.
- ‘Comfort and guidance for female passengers: The origins of women's employment on British Passenger Liners 1850–1914’, Journal for Maritime Research, Vol 6, no 1, pp145-64.
Jo Stanley,
- Women at Sea: Canadian Pacific Stewardesses in the 1930s, self-published, Liverpool, 1987.
- ‘The company of women: stewardesses on liners, 1919-1938’, The Northern Mariner/ Le Marin du Nord, Vol 9, no2, 1999, pp69-86.
- ‘Black Women on British Ships’, The Black and Asian Studies Newsletter, no 28, pp10-13, 2000.
- ‘Co-venturing consumers “travel back”: Ships’ stewardesses and their female passengers, 1919-1955’, Mobilities, Vol 3, no 3, 2008, pp437-54.
- ‘Caring for the poor souls: inter-war seafaring women and their pity for passengers,’Gendered Journeys, Mobile Emotions, Gayle Letherby and Gillian Reynolds, Eds, Ashgate, London, 2009, pp121-32.
- ‘We were skivvies / We had a ball: Shame and interwar stewardesses,’ Oral History, Vol 38 (Emotions issue), no 2, 2010, pp64-74.
Suzanne J Stark, Female Tars: Women Aboard Ship in the Age of Sail, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 1996.
Michelle Thomas, ‘"Get yourself a proper job girlie!" Recruitment, retention and women seafarers’, Maritime Policy & Management, Vol 31, no 4, 2004, pp309-18.
Caroline Walker, David Peart, and Alan Gleaves, ‘Problems in the construction of gender and professional identities for women in a United Kingdom merchant navy training school,’ Research in Post-Compulsory Education, Vol 8, no 3, 2003, pp285-304.

Women at sea as part of the UK royal navy services.
Vera Laughton-Mathews, Blue Tapestry, Hollis & Carter, London, 1949.
Marjorie H Fletcher, The WRNS: A History of the Women's Royal Naval Service, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, 1989.
Paddy Gregson, Ten Degrees Below Seaweed. A True Story Of World War II Boats' Crew Wrens,
Merlin Books, Devon, 1993.
Kathleen Harland, Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service, Journal of the Royal Naval Medical Service, London, 1990.

Sari Mäenpää, Catering personnel on British passenger liners, 1860-1935, PH.D, Liverpool University, 2002.
Jo Stanley, “Wanted: Adventurous Girls”: Stewardesses on liners 1919-1939, PH.D. Lancaster University.


www.womensmaritimeassoc.com (US Women's Maritime Association)
www.womensmaritimeassoc.com (Women's Maritime Association, New Zealand)
http://www.itfglobal.org/women/ (International Transport Workers’ Federation, women's section)
http://www. genderedseas. blospsot.com (Gender, sex and the sea)
www.wista.net WISTA (Women's International Shipping & Trading Association)/
http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/people-and-places/womens-history/maritime-women/ English Heritage, history of maritime women)
http://www.nps.gov/safr/historyculture/maritimewomenhistory.htm (Women in Maritime History, San Francisco Maritime Museum)


Donna Bridges, Jane Neal-Smith and Albert J Mills, Eds, Absent Aviators: Gender Issues in Aviation, Ashgate, London, 2014
Lucy Delap,
-'Thus Does Man Prove His Fitness to Be the Master of Things': Shipwrecks, Chivalry and Masculinities in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Britain, Cultural and Social History, Vol 3, no 1, 2006, pp45-74.
-‘The Woman’s Dreadnought: Maritime symbolism in Edwardian gender politics,’ The Dreadnought and the Edwardian Age, Andrew D Lambert et al,Eds, Ashgate Publishing, Abingdon, 2011, pp95-108.
Priyanthi Fernando and Gina Porter, Eds, Balancing the Load: Women, Gender and transport, Zed Press, London, 2002.
Margaret Grieco, Laurie Pickup and Richard Whipp, Eds, Gender, Transport and Employment: Impact of Travel Constraints (Oxford Studies in Transport), Avebury, Aldershot, 1989
Arlie Russell Hochschild, The Managed Heart: Commercialization of human feeling, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1983.
Robin Law, ‘Beyond “women and transport”: towards new geographies of gender and daily mobility, Progress in Human Geography, Vol 23, no 4, 1999, pp567-588.
Eileen F Lebow, Before Amelia: Women Pilots in the Early Days of Aviation, Brassey's Washington DC, 2002.
Gayle Letherby and Gillian Reynolds, Eds, Gendered Journeys, Mobile Emotions, Ashgate, London, 2009
Rosa Matheson, Women and the Great Western Railway, History Press, Stroud, 2007.
Liz Millward, Women in British Imperial Airspace: 1922-1937, McGill-Queen's University Press, Montreal, 2008.
Alain Pelletier, High-Flying Women: A World History of Female Pilots, Haynes & Co, Sparkford, 2012
Nancy Pagh, At Home Afloat: Women on the Waters of the Pacific Northwest, University of Calgary Press, Calgary and University of Idaho Press, Moscow, Idaho, 2001.
Virginia Scharff, Taking the Wheel: Women and the Coming of the Motor Age, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1999.
M Thea Sinclair, Ed, Gender, Work and Tourism, Routledge, London, 1997.
Jo Stanley,
- ‘The Swashbuckler, the Landlubbing Wimp, and the Woman in between: Myself as Pirate(ss)’ in Women’s Lives into Print: The Theory, Practice and Writing of Feminist Auto/Biography, Pauline Polkey, Ed, Macmillan, London, 1999, pp216-28.
- ‘And After the Cross-Dressed Cabin Boys and Whaling Wives? Possible Futures for Women’s Maritime Historiography,’ Journal of Transport History, Vol 23, no 1, 2002, pp9-22.
- ‘Putting Gender into Seafaring’, in Hilda Kean, Paul Martin and Sally J Morgan, Eds, Seeing History: Public History in Britain Now, Francis Boutle, London, pp81-104, 2000.
Marian Swerdlow, Underground Woman: My Four Years as a New York City Subway Conductor (Labor & Social Change), Temple University Press, 1998.
Chuchu Vivian, Entering a man's world; Women bus drivers in South Africa, LAP Lambert Academic Publishing , 2012.
Margaret Walsh, Ed, Journal of Transport History, Vol 23, no 1, 2002 (special issue on women).
Drew Whitelegg, ‘Places and Spaces I've Been: Geographies of female flight attendants in the United States’, Gender, Place & Culture, Vol 12, no 2, 2005, pp251-266
Giles Whittell, Spitfire Women of World War II, Harper Perennial, New York, 2008.
Helena Wojtczak, Railwaywomen: Exploitation, betrayal and triumph in the workplace, Hastings Press, Sussex, 2005.



Pat Ayers, ‘The Hidden Economy of Dockland Families: Liverpool in the 1930s’, Pat Hudson and W
Robert Lee, Women’s Work and the Family Economy, Manchester University Press, Manchester, pp 271-90, 1990.
Jan Brøgger, Nazare: Women and men in a pre-bureaucratic Portuguese fishing village, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers, Boston, 1992.
Douglas Catterall and Jodi Campbell, Women in Port: Gendering Communities, Economies, and Social Networks in Atlantic Port Cities, 1500-1800, Brill Academic Publishers, Leiden, Boston and Tokyo, 2012.
Sally Cooper Cole, Women of the Praia: Work and lives in a Portuguese coastal community, Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 1991
Elaine Forman Crane, Ebb Tide in New England: Women, Seaports and Social Change, 1630-1800, Northeastern University Press, Boston, 1998.
Helen Doe, Enterprising women and shipping in the nineteenth century, Boydell Press, Rochester, New York and Woodbridge, Suffolk, 2009.
Hanna Hagmark-Cooper, To Be a Sailor's Wife, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle upon Tyne, 2012.
Margarette Lincoln, Naval Wives and Mistresses, 1750-1815, National Maritime Museum, London, 2007.
Sena Jeta Naslund, Ahab’s Wife(a novel) Morrow/Perennial, New York, 1999
Lisa Norling, Captain Ahab Had a Wife: New England Women & the Whalefishery, 1720-1870, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 2000.
Michelle Thomas, Lost at Home and Lost at Sea: The predicament of seafaring families, Seafarers International Research Centre, Cardiff, 2003.
Henry Trotter, Sugar Girls & Seamen: A journey into the world of dockside prostitution in South Africa, Jacana Media, South Africa, 2008.

Several slightly less relevant categories are excluded:
~ women recreational sailors
~ (in section 1) seagoing wives of masters (as they are not, quite, employees
~ women passengers
~ Only in exceptional cases are novels included; this means some of the fabricated 'autobiographies' of cross-dressed women sailors such as Hannah Snell and Lucy Brewer aren't here. Maybe they should be.

Friday 4 July 2014

Soviet women commanding ships

Pic: Valentina Orlikova and colleagues on the bridge of WW2 merchant ship

In surfing yet again for women seafarers’ history in different countries I realised that a new researcher doing the same thing,looking for Soviet women at sea, could easily be under a big misapprehension.
The prominence on the internet of Soviet pioneers Anna Shchetinina and Valentina Orlikova might lead people to think they were exceptions, like Victoria Drummond.(This British marine engineer pictured below was, like them, breaking through in the 1930s.)

In fact, Captains Valentina and Anna were two of many thousands of Soviet women in the merchant navy from the 1930s who did ‘men's' jobs: deck, engineering and radio work, rather than hotel-side work.
~ Anna Shchetinina (1908-1999) certainly was the first Soviet woman in the world to serve as a certificated captain of an ocean-going vessel. (see pics below, and many other images on the excellent Russian-language website about Anna: http://ljwanderer.livejournal.com/150094.html)

~ And Valentina Orlikova(1915-1991), with her movie-star looks, certainly was the most internationally-fancied woman deck officer in the world. Her high profile was created after she was featured in a USSR/ New York publicity drive in 1943.
But evidence of the mass of women is hard to find, even for Russian speakers. Use the search term 'women sailors' on the RIA Novosti press agency site and there’s just an implausibly smiling woman cleaning up a nuclear ship in 1964, and a young woman on Far East service, who looks rather planted.

A much-admired media icon
By contrast to the now-invisibility of the mass of Soviet women merchant seafarers, the Milwaukee Journal of February 28 1943 headlined an article ‘Pretty little Soviet girl is officer on cargo ship.’

And the Illinois Alton Evening Telegraph celebrated Valentina:
Any preconceived pictures you have of Soviet women as tall husky Amazons will have to be revised for Orlikova. She is four feet ten. Gray eyes. Brown hair. Slender little figure in a dark blue suit. She is the wife of a Soviet seaman and the mother of a two year-old boy.
‘In stormy weather or calm seas she stands her watch on the bridge, helping direct navigation through mine-sown and submarine-infested waters. She has directed the evacuation of a ship truck by a mine and has leapt from a flaming vessel into the sea, o be rescued by a submarine. And she talks about it more calmly than most people discuss rationed hoes.’

US writer Anais Nin wrote:
<'A photo of her had appeared, which all of us fell in love with... She conveyed firmness and capability, without hardness or coldness. She became a symbol of woman’s most secret wishes: to be free and in command of her own destiny, responsible without loss of her womanliness.

'We wanted to imitate Valentina Orlikova. We saw ourselves trim, efficient, capable captains of our ship and our own lives. It was not a desire to be a man, but be free and capable of self-direction and professional growth.
’ And Nin cross-dressed in her husband’s tuxedo and cut her hair short, in emulation.
So wartime needs for women’s labour, and new temporary alliances of Allied powers, were helped by her not being fitting the burly Russian Bear stereotype. The message was that you could be cute AND a tough worker and a married Mom - and someone from the land of Communism.
(Pic: Anais Nin cross-dressed,from http://pensaleas.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/anac3afs-nin.jpg)

The reality was that Valentina Orlikova was a dual-ticketed engineer and deck officer, aged 28. And one of thousands of women who were in the USSR merchant fleet long before the war started.
The socialist revolution gave many rights to women, including doctors and scientists, which were astonishing in other countries. By 1933 British economist Sidney Webb had recorded that there was ‘a steadily increasing number’ of women sailors, engineers and wireless operators, usually dressed in trousers. They went to marine training schools along with men.
When they docked in foreign ports the women were seen as novelties and featured in the press.
For example when the Chelyuskinet arrived in New York with exhibits from the Soviet Pavilion at the Worlds Fair in February 1939, the women officers along with what we could call ‘stewardesses’ were pictured by a news agency(see picture below.)

Caption: Left to right Uliana Lebedeva, Mess Girl; Elizabeth Gierorga-Pulo, Radio Operator; Galina Gradsaya, Second Mate; and Nina Todory, Mess Girl.


The Soviet defensive navy had the same trouble as most defensive navies in letting women sail in this all-male organisation in WW2. (Finally the USSR did. Britain didn’t, except very exceptionally. And the Canadian navy rejected women radio officers, who instead joined the Scandinavian merchant vessels)
According to historians Markwick and Cardona, 21,000 women worked in the USSR's defensive navy. Some rose as high as captains in the Amur River Fleet, sailing on the relatively safe Amur and Sungari rivers. Those on the Astrakhan, carrying and ammunition, troops, wounded people, and supplies, were much decorated. In the Black Sea Fleet were 2,854 women.
Not all were seagoing and they faced misogyny. Captain Taisa Rudenko-Sheveleva, the first woman naval officer, who had got in by pretending to be a man, said cats and women were traditionally seen as unlucky.
By comparison, the intensively-trained professional seafarers Anna and Valentina were some of the long-accepted technical officers on merchant vessels routinely going deep-sea in dangerous waters, including the horrific Murmansk route.

~ Captain Anna was transporting cargo in the Baltic. She took part in the ‘Russian Dunkirk’, on one of the 190 ships of the Baltic Fleet evacuating people from Tallinn in August 1941. She was also sailing as master of a Liberty ship, transporting Lend-lease supplies from the US, and therefore at great risk of Axis attack.
~ Valentina was working as a mate on cargo ships, including as fourth mate on the armed Dvina, sailing from Archangel to New York in 1942 and 1943 delivering US arms to the USSR.
She’d been ‘serving as mate on hospital ship in the Baltic Sea … the Nazis sowed mines directly in our path. Our ship hit one of them. I shall never forget the terrible moments that followed – the explosions, the flames, the wounded all around needing help – and through it all the faces of my women comrades, strong and heroic…[the water rose, the ship listed]
‘I was on the upper deck, in charge of lowering lifeboats … Despite the frightful danger facing everyone on ship, my heart was calm. I saw there was no room here for weakness. All the women around me, young and old, nurses and crew members, were working quickly, efficiently, confidently….I did not see any of the women make even a gesture towards saving their own lives.’

The ship managed to get to a small island where the wounded were unloaded. The ship temporarily repaired so that it could limp to the home port and be properly repaired.
When the wounded were re-embarked and the ship ready to sail again, I ordered the women to take some rest. With tired, but happy, smiles, they refused …noiselessly they glided through the cabin helping to bring back to health those who had been wounded,’ she told the US media.

In typical ‘women can do it’ and Rosie the Riveter style, the Alton Evening Telegraph reported Orlikova is the only woman mate on her ship. But she does not intend to stop there. Her ambition is to be a ship's captain. She thinks in three more years she should make it.
‘"It's good to have women on ships," she says. "They keep everything clean and in good condition. They are exact as doctors and radio operators, too. And they are not afraid of anything." Have any of Orlikova's order ever been questioned because she was a woman. "Never," she says with a grin.’

• Anna Shchetinina (Captain on numerous vessels)
• Valentina Orlikova (Captain of Storm, etc)
• Vera Mitsai (First Mate of whaler Typhoon)
• Alla Rezner (First Mate)
• Lydia Kochetkova (Second Mate)
• Nadejda Zabardayeva (Radio Telegraphist)
• Vera Gorlova (Radio Telegraphist)
• Nadejda Neoslenaya (Surgeon's Assistant)

Pic: Unnamed WW2 woman in Pacific Fleet landing party on their way to Port-Arthur,Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, 1945.Photographed by Yevgeny Khaldei. Courtesy of RIA Novosti.

After the war
Both Anna and Valentina women survived the war, and were much decorated.

~ Captain Shchetinina went on to captain six ships of the Soviet Baltic Shipping Company, MV Askold, Baskunchak, Beloostrov, Dniester, Pskov, and Mendeleev. Then, aged 41 in 1949 she came ashore and taught in the Leningrad Marine Engineering College College where Valentina had studied two decades earlier. Anna later became Dean and wrote a very entertaining lifestory, not yet translated.

(Pictures from http://ljwanderer.livejournal.com/150094.html, with thanks)

~ Captain Orlikova
worked on whalers sailing to the Far East from 1947-53. Under international law Russian-style factory whaling was illegal and controversial. She attained her dream to be captain, working on Storm.
Many women were on whalers in both 'male' roles such as scientists and radio officers, and in domestic roles such as cooks, and laundry. Valentina never got the same publicity again.

Pic: Soviet whaler Aleut, 1958. Photo by Yulia Ivashchenko

It’s rather peculiar that the progressive trend of women doing ‘men’s work’ at sea didn’t continue in the USSR. However though this 1960s photo of some Soviet women seafarers visiting Warsash Maritime Centre (now Academy) in Hampshire, indicates they not only existed but traveled. In the 1980s there was at least one woman, Valentina Plutova, a First Officer.

Yet when Nina Baker, Britain’s second women deck officer, sailed to the USSR in the 1970s Soviet officers (male) deliberately visited her ship to see this phenomenon: a woman on the bridge.
(This blog entry is part of a longer article to be published elsewhere, later. Suggestions for additions are welcome.)

Friday 9 May 2014

Representing Cornish fishing village women in art

On Monday May 12th there's a symposium: British Waters and Beyond: The Cultural Significance of the Sea since 1800, at the Royal West of England Academy in Bristol. http://www.rwa.org.uk/whats-on/events/2014/05/poweroftheseasymposium/

But what's the cultural significance of the sea for women? To me - and I'm not giving a paper on it, as I've been too busy - it's that the sea was:

# a place inhabited by male seafarers,: the sphere implicitly termed 'Rugged Masculinity'
# the site of an industry that women were expected to support but to only join in limited roles e.g. net-mending not fish-catching, stewardessing not engineering
# the widow-maker, the force that shaped their lives, yet something women were largely encountered from a distance or by proxy
# of course, a force associated with Woman's/Nature's unruliness (and stirred up by any women who had the temerity to venture on it, even as passenger).

Of course, this was very different at different times in history. It was absolutely affected by class position, race etc.

It seems that the sea was often rather hypocritically gendered: it was called 'no place for a lady', but actually working-class women supported activities on it and lived off it. And ladies actually were owners and the models for muse-type figureheads of ships, but often formally excluded from anything like an equal - or any - place on board.

From the symposium programme, it appears that at least one paper is about women and the sea, and somewhat about gender. Mary O’Neil from Oxford Brookes University) writes this summary of the paper she'll be presenting:‘A “white-aproned sisterhood”: representing Cornish fisherwomen’


'Late nineteenth-century representations of coastal women focused on their healthy beauty and neat, plain attire. Nostalgia for a picturesque rural life ...intensified at the turn of the century. [It]was evident in the attitudes to feminine dress that contemporary writers and artists revealed in travel writing, art criticism and personal correspondence.

'Naturalist artists in Cornwall chose ‘real fisher-folk’ as their models. They placed them in ‘authentic’ coastal settings, at work and at leisure. They constructed an image of West Cornwall that fulfilled metropolitan expectations of a simpler life rooted in traditional values.

'Artistic selection sustained the Cornish idyll in the face of challenges from an encroaching modernity and from visceral realities of fishing life.

'Stanhope Forbes [1857-1947] rejected the citified fashions adopted by Newlyn women as inappropriate in their maritime surroundings. Patrons and viewers expected paintings ‘whose society they could enjoy’.

'Contemporary photographs documented the fisherwoman’s work. But pictorial equivalents are rarer. [Sir George] Clausen had encountered hostility to his naturalist representations of female agricultural labourers for a reason.

Pictured: Sir George Clausen 'Gathering Potatoes' 1887

'Artists negotiated such constraints by representing Cornish fisherwomen as:
• fresh-faced young women in interior settings, fulfilling domestic and maternal roles, often working on the nets, the signifiers of their maritime identity
• working women waiting for the boats, at beach auctions or processing the catch
• ‘traditional’ Cornish fishwives (older women wearing distinctive occupational costume), whose image had both regional significance and a tourist value beyond West Cornwall.

'Finally, I consider Newlyn women’s self-presentation as a contrast to such imagery.


It seems that Mary's paper will illustrate the wider gendered maritime picture that generally applied until the 1970s: women are by the sea, not on it. Wives and daughters are helpful to the chaps who sail but do not actual try to be on board. And Stanhope Forbes was painting WW1 Wrens in a similar - though charming - way.

When they appear in sea imagery it's not as active on-board workers. Nor as realistically stressed-out impoverished dependent auxiliaries ashamed of their ragged clothing. Nor as women with agency choosing to wear stylish and modern - even outrageous flapper-style - clothing.

Women are presented as being in a very distinct gendered binary of woman on shore versus man at sea. They do do a lot of waving Him off supportively from the headland. Very picturesque.

But actually as many as a thousand women were working as seafarers when these nostalgic (and saleable)representations were created. (Fish-catching, even today, remains a largely male job, though it's easier for women to succeed if they are boat-owners and from fishing families, as several now are.

Every time I see these Cornish images - they're on popular postcards there - I wonder if local women said to each other 'Quick, here come those blinkered London artists. Better get your old pinny out of the rag bag if you want to make some money posing. Cover your marcel wave up with this headscarf, girl! Flashy patent leather boots! Nah! Swap 'em for your gran's clogs! Now, none of that lesbian stuff here, these types can't cope with us being anything other than heterosexual, never mind their own proclivities. And scrub that mascara off or you'll never get the job.'

I guess the key question is 'what was in it for artists to represent women in this way?' The answer has to be 'sales'. Sales to buyers whose preferred version of the non-urban included quiescent outdated figures, definitely not suffrage fighters, definitely not the anticipated women captains.

The symposium is organised in partnership with Leeds Metropolitan University and Oxford Brookes University.