July 5, 2009

Do women like sailing?

Mainly About Boats: Check back here every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for a new column by John Vigor.

DELICATE SUBJECT THIS: Do women really like sailing? It’s a question that occurred to me during a recent meeting of a little committee whose members write and edit articles for our local yacht club’s newsletter.

The editor wanted to know: Are we having enough articles of interest to women members? Recipes, for instance. Or: Where can they get nice nautical fabric for settee cushions? Or: What’s the best detergent for washing up in salt water?

Then it occurred to me that these questions are nonsense. Women sailors are no different from men sailors, except they smell better and seem to stay cleaner longer. Sailors are sailors, and if women are interested in sailing they’ll be learning all the same stuff that men learn.

The truth is that most people don’t like sailing. It’s a minority sport. But those who do sail aren’t divided into categories by gender. We all know women who have sailed around the world singlehanded and non-stop. Perhaps they weren’t the first to do it because they had a lot of catching up to do after Ms Pankhurst and her women warriors first managed to start the equality ball rolling, but there’s no reason now to think women aren’t the equal of men as sailors.

What may be confusing is that there are probably fewer women than men whose ambition is to sail a boat. And that’s probably very wise of them, considering that sailing a small boat is the slowest, most uncomfortable, and most expensive method of travel known to mankind.

The fact that there are still special sailing schools run by women for women seems to me to be an anachronism. I think they sprang up because of a nasty rumor that men are prone to shout at women who can’t perform a simple action after being shown how to do it a hundred times. Women don’t shout at women, apparently. The teacher just does it for the pupil and keeps the peace. But what worries me is that when they have graduated, those women will have to sail with men again, so they might as well have got shouted at in the first place and have it all over and done with. If it’s true about men shouting, of course, which I’ve never seen proven.

But, anyway, to presume that women sailors want special articles in the club newsletter about how to butter parsnips or sauté mangel-wurzels seems demeaning. Women who like sailing want to know how to tell the difference between variation and deviation and where the deepest chord of the mainsail should lie in heavy weather. And if nice nautical fabric is needed for new cushions, why shouldn’t it be a man who searches for it, rather than a woman? Come to think of it, maybe it’s time for a woman editor for the club newsletter. Then the questions wouldn’t even be asked.

Today’s Thought
If men are always more or less deceived on the subject of women, it is because they forget that they and women do not speak altogether the same language.
—Amiel, Journal, 26 Dec 1868

“Did you visit that spiritualist last night?”
“Was she a good one?”
“Not really, just a medium.”

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