I was dismayed to learn from the 24 January 2013 issue of The London Review of Books that the Titanic sinking of 15 April 1912 set back the cause of feminism and female suffrage. In an essay and seven-book review entitled “Why Name a Ship After a Defeated Race?”, Thomas Lacqueur said, in part:
“When the collision happened there was no evacuation plan…. Contingency, chaos and prejudice had as much to do with who was saved as class. The highest mortality rate was not in steerage but among the men in Second Class, who died at twice the rate of men in steerage and five times the rate of women there….
“In fact, this still misses the big story: gender. First-class passengers were indeed 37 per cent more likely to survive than third-class. But men in all classes were 58 per cent more likely to die than women. Since there were three times as many women as men in Third Class and more or less even numbers in First, sexual selection took its greatest toll there…. The reason for gender disparities is clear. Broadly speaking, men died in disproportionate numbers as the price of patriarchy. Their chivalry, their adherence to a masculine code of honour, demonstrated to the establishment on both sides of the Atlantic how deeply in error feminism and particularly the women’s suffrage movement really was.
“[Richard] Davenport-Hines [author of ‘Titanic’ Lives: Migrants and Millionaires, Conmen and Crew (2012)] quotes [Winston] Churchill’s letter to his wife: ‘The strict observance of the great traditions of the sea towards women and children reflects nothing but honour upon our civilisation.’ And he hoped it would set right ‘some of the young unmarried lady teachers’—a.k.a. suffragettes—’who are so bitter in their sex antagonism and think men so base and vile’. That view was widespread. ‘When a woman talks women’s rights, she should be answered with the word Titanic, nothing more—just Titanic,’ a correspondent in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch observed. Emma Goldman thought suffrage had been dealt a blow by the Titanic: woman ‘continues to be as weak and dependent, as ready to accept man’s tribute in time of safety and his sacrifice in time of danger, as if she were still in her baby age’.” (pp. 7–8)
I don’t recall anyone mentioning this particular backlash before. I added emphasis to the line that shocked the hell out of me—although it shouldn’t have been a surprise. Just yesterday I was a witness to how misogyny continues to thrive, almost 101 years after the Titanic sank. And it will be noticed that in the review quoted above, the last sentence of the second paragraph, a highly risible “statement,” was put without apparent irony.