Women in Sail

Most men have to prove themselves. They start from zero. If they didn’t already learn that from mom and dad, they will soon get the lesson applied with a sledgehammer by the women they attempt to seduce. Females, conversely, are handed a great bounty by nature

Part I : Girls Against the Boys

On the 28th of May, 1990, the 58-foot Bruce Farr designed yacht Maiden crossed the finish line in Southhampton, England, taking second place in Division D of the 1989-90 Whitbread Round the World Race. “The Royal Southampton Yacht Club had arranged a special ‘gun’ for her and the report was so loud it was heard in Hamble.”[1] A special gun because Maiden was a special boat, being skippered by Ms. Tracy Edwards and her all-female crew. She would therewith earn her place in history as the first woman to skipper a women’s challenge in this prestigious ocean race.

Maiden competed against three other yachts in Division D, Rucanor Sport, L’Esprit de Liberte, and Schlussel von Bremen, and she won two legs against them. L’Esprit de Liberte won Division D overall; Rucanor Sport hit rocks approaching the finish line and never completed the race. Nonetheless her two leg victories turned Edwards into a yachting superstar, especially in New Zealand where she was feted and fawned over, and awarded Yachtsman of the Year. “In the two hours since they had left the dock to meet the girls on Maiden, something in the order of 14,000 people had gathered – they occupied every inch of dock space, they crowded along the roofs of the buildings, they spilled over into the streets of Auckland … ‘It was just unbelievable’ Tracy said later. ‘We just couldn’t grasp how many people had come to see us in at 1am in the morning.’ … The City of Sails had taken Maiden to their hearts.” [1](pp. 181-182).

Of the twenty-one yachts which completed the 1989-90 Whitbread, Maiden finished in 18th place on overall corrected time. The race was won by Steinlager II, skippered by the late Peter Blake, who won every leg [2].

In her book titled Maiden, which she co-authored with Tim Madge, Tracy Edwards writes with refreshing candor about her life leading up to and including the race. We are naturally interested in such an oddity as a woman driven to compete with men in such a difficult and dangerous sport. What I found most refreshing is the near complete absence of feminist invective which is so common nowadays whenever a women proves even somewhat competitive in a male dominated arena. Dawn Riley, who sailed with Edwards and would later rescue the US Women’s Challenge in the 1993-94 Whitbread Race, replacing the failing Nance Frank as skipper, matter-of-factly states: “The only advantage of an all women’s team is that you have a little more of something that holds you together … the disadvantage is obviously strength.” [3]

Over the finish line and now reflecting on her accomplishment, Ms. Edwards writes: “I am so proud of the fact that we have created a foundation upon which female sailors can now build.  Maybe the next time an all-female crew races around the world they will come first.” [1] (p. 336)

In the following Whitbread Race of 1993-94, the aforementioned US Women’s Challenge, which would compete in the new Whitbread 60 class, and would become Heineken due to a change in sponsorship, would finish in 9th place overall out of the ten finishers. In the 1997-98 race, there would also be an all-woman’s challenge, EF Education, skippered by Christine Guillou, which would finish in last place overall. In 2001, the Whitbread Round the World Race would be re-branded as the Volvo Ocean Race, and there would be one all-female entry, Amer Sports Too, who would finish in last place overall despite being allowed additional crew.[4]

For the 2005-06 Volvo Ocean Race, rules regarding number of allowed crew would be altered by gender, where an all-male crew could only have 10 members, a crew with at least five women could have eleven, and an all-female crew could have twelve.[5]

Despite the rule changes to favor women, there would not be another all-female challenge until the 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race with Team SCA, skippered by Samantha Davies. They also finished in last place (excepting Team Vestas Wind, which went aground and only completed three of the nine legs).

More rule changes favoring women were put in place for the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean race. All-male crews could only have seven men total, one fewer than the 2014 race. They can, however, have eight or nine total with one or two females onboard, respectively. Or there can be crews of five men and five women, or an all-female crew can race with eleven total. So if it’s going to be girls against the boys, it’s going to be eleven against seven. CEO Mark Turner stated: “We’re using the crew rules to incentivize skippers to bring one or more female sailors onboard. I really hope that it’s not necessary to have any rule at all in the future – but it seems it’s the only way today to ensure we can maintain progress.”[6]

Despite these changes there were no all-female entries in the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean race. Turn the Tide Against Plastic sailed with a five and five male to female combination. They tied with Scallywag for last place on the points based system. [7]

In 2018 the documentary film “Maiden” was released. Columnist Kyle Klein-Nixon published a review of the film and her thoughts on Tracy Edwards which, I think, speaks for the prevailing feminist view: “Imagine, I thought, imagine what they could have done if they’d had the support those bloody men had as if by right. Imagine if no–one had tried to hold them back.” She writes, “
To borrow a phrase from the internet, imagine what women like Tracy Edwards could do if the world treated her like it treats mediocre white men?” And she continues: “Representation matters because the patriarchy isn’t just scared of women being smart, they’re scared of women being physically capable too.”[8]

This article was published in 2019, at which point we can clearly see the game board getting ever more steeply tilted in favor of women over men, and with no discernible improvement in the performance of women.

The feminists–who now pervade academia, the media, and Western governments–always insist that poor performance of women relative to men is the result of cultural biases, of old-fashioned sexist attitudes which just won’t go away. And so the fight has to be ever renewed, reinvigorated. I recall from my voyage around the Atlantic, in 2020-21, how many European men, as an obligatory contextualizing to any conversation of male solo adventurers such as myself, were sure to genuflect on a small but nonetheless real pantheon of female solo sailors, such as Ellen MacArthur or Naomi James. Perhaps I have an overly sensitive ear to feminists, as growing up on a prep school campus, where my father was a teacher, in the 1970’s and 80’s, I got an earful of feminism.

And for a while I believed in feminism, to large extent because that’s all there was to believe according to the clerisy of my time. Nowadays I would say that the feminists are more strident and entrenched than ever amongst academics and journalists and the media corporations who hire them. What they ultimately seek is a distributive system of justice based on the dictates of a ruling elite, of people whom they consider properly educated.

From which I dissent. Nature works toward a certain gender equilibrium, and that is undeniable. It also produces endless variations. Tracy Edwards is one such exceptional variation. Throughout history there have always been women who occupied positions only held by exceptional men. There have been great leaders like Queen Elizabeth I. There have been great novelists like Jane Austin. There have been great scientists like Marie Curie. But they have always been a very tiny minority in comparison to men. In what follows I endeavor to understand why this is so.

Part II: Precarious Manhood

In their book A Natural History of Rape, anthropologist Craig Palmer and biologist Randy Thornhill dispute the social science explanation of human rape. Amongst academics this would be referred to as the feminist psycho-social analysis of rape. In this view: “rape is motivated by a desire for control and dominance … caused by supposedly patriarchal cultures where males are taught to dominate, and hence rape, women”.[9] Feminists insist that rape is not sex but violence against women, perpetrated by men, in order intimidate and control them. And the feminists who do insist that rape involves sex simultaneously insist that sex is a form of power and control. To quote Catherine MacKinnon: “assault by a man’s fist is not so different from assault by a penis, not because both are violent but because both are sexual.”[9](p. 127) If that makes any sense.

The social science view is premised on a psychological tabula rasa. That is, human propensities, toward violence, say, are learned through human socialization and normalized as culture. They are not merely natural or derive from natural forces. So the feminist solution to rape is to reverse engineer men who have been socialized to control and dominate women. This is accomplished by changing education and culture.

The tabula rasa view of human nature, however, is not consistent with what is known of natural adaptation and sexual selection. If, for example, sexual desire is a matter of learned cultural preferences, then men could be taught to only desire sex with older, let us say, distinguished women. But such a culture would have few descendants, as most of the women these men were taught to copulate with would be infertile, and in a few generations such a culture would be out-reproduced by cultures where men desire young, fertile women. Hence sexual desire cannot be merely a product of socialization and culture. It has to have at least some alignment with biological forces. “The kind of males and females proposed by social science theorists would have been quickly out-reproduced by more specialized males and females whose psychological mechanisms inclined them to behave in ways that solved the sexual challenges facing their specific sex more efficiently.”[9](p. 131)

Also the claim that rape is primarily an act of violence against women, as Susan Brownmiller puts forth in her famous book Against Our Will, has trouble explaining why most rape victims are young attractive women. Most rapists target the same women eligible bachelors will attempt to seduce. “Contrary to Brownmiller, although any female might become a victim of rape, some women are far more likely to become victims of rape than others. Indeed, one of the most consistent finding of studies on rape, and one not likely to be due entirely to reporting bias, is that women in their teens and their early twenties are highly overrepresented among rape victims around the world.”[9](p. 139) Others claim that rapists target females who are weak and vulnerable, are only looking for easy access. But if this were true, elderly women and young girls would be disproportionately victimized. The evidence shows the exact inverse of this.

So if we can safely dismiss the feminist/social science explanation of rape, then why do men rape women? If rapists go after attractive women, and rape is about getting sex, why don’t they go through legitimate channels like asking her out on a date? Thornhill and Craig do not reach a definite conclusion, but the most likely explanation seems to be mate deprivation. The majority of men who rape are losers without any romantic or sexual options. “This hypothesis is supported by evidence that rape is disproportionately committed by males with lower socioeconomic status, insofar as that is evidenced by data on rapists in the penal system (Thornhill and Thornhill, 1983) … That is, higher rape rates are seen in lower-income home and areas, and the lower the income the higher the rate (Perkins et al. 1996). Moreover, Kalichman et al. (1998) report that 42 percent of surveyed women living in low-income housing in the state of Georgia had been raped, and Eisenhower (1969) reported that a female residing in an inner city stood a 1/77 chance of being raped whereas in the “more affluent areas” the risk was 1/2000 and in the richer suburbs it was 1/10,000.” [9](p. 67)

While much ink has been spilled, and continues to be spilled, on the dynamics of human mate selection, most work done by evolutionary biologists agree that human females prioritize high social status in selecting a mate. Hence the fact that low status males are overrepresented among rapists is consistent with the mate deprivation hypothesis. The bulk of rapists are males with insufficiently high social status to get a date with a woman who is at all desirable (there are of course very high status males who rape, e.g. Harvey Weinstein, if we are to believe the allegations. In these cases it appears to be a matter of easy access and lack of impulse control).

Though a bit of a digression, it is both interesting and worthwhile to examine why women are so much more choosy about their mate’s social status–and why women are so much more choosy in general–than men.

The asymmetry in human mating, as with many other mammals, is rooted in basic biology: “Men produce millions of sperm, which are replenished at a rate of roughly 12 million per hour. Women produce a fixed and unreplenishable lifetime supply of approximately 1 to 2 million ova. Of these follicles, most die. Only 400 ova mature to the point where they are capable of being fertilized.”[10] Since both a sperm and an egg are required to produce a new human, women have the much more scarce and thus valuable resource.

But that’s only the beginning. A woman takes nine months to gestate a child. And given a successful childbirth, she must then feed the child with her own milk, which requires a lot of calories. A male’s investment, on the other hand, need only be as long as it takes to have sex. A woman typically can only produce a handful of children in her lifetime, whereas a man can potentially sire children by as many women as he can seduce. Hence women are the limited resource, and as a result, in the game of reproduction, they do most of the choosing. “Those who hold valuable resources do not give them away cheaply or unselectively. Because women in our evolutionary past risked enormous investment as a consequence of having sex, evolution favored women who were highly selective about their mates.”[10](p.33)

Recent data from online dating apps confirms that women do most of the choosing. A study which analyzed male vs. female behavior on Tinder found that men liked 61.9% of the female profiles they looked at, whereas women only liked 4.5% of the male profiles [11].

Since women need calories and physical safety while gestating a child, their mate preferences are not really so mysterious. Women look not only for men with wealth, but with the skills to generate more wealth. This is why women often require men to waste large sums on expensive dinners and flowers and jewelry before giving them any serious consideration. If the male suitor shows any sign of getting worried about parting with his cash then he probably doesn’t have as much as he’s letting on, or any way of making more. Or he’s stingy, which is also unattractive.

The desire for protection is revealed in women’s preference for tall and muscular men, as well as men who are assertive and command the respect of other men. An imposing physique combined with social status is a good bet when it comes to protection from aggressors, especially rapists.

Although men cannot change their physical stature, they can usually influence their social status and personal wealth. Hence the psychological basis for male competitiveness and predilection to form status hierarchies. Men are inclined to insist on strict rules rules of play and policing against cheaters. This where many feminists point to and accuse men of creating patriarchal structures which are designed to exclude women. Evolutionary biologist David Buss disputes this: “Structural powerlessness has an element of truth in that men in many cultures do control resources and sometimes do exclude women from power. But the theory cannot explain several facts: men strive to exclude other men from power at least as much as they do women; the origins of the male motivation to control resources remain unexplained; women have not evolved bigger, stronger bodies to acquire resources directly; and men’s preferences in a mate remain entirely mysterious. Evolutionary psychology accounts for this constellation of findings. Men strive to control resources and to exclude other men from resources to fulfill women’s mating preferences. In human evolutionary history, men who failed to accumulate resources failed to attract mates. Men’s more powerful status and resource acquisition drives are due, at least in part, to the preferences that women have expressed over the past few million years. To paraphrase the evolutionary anthropologist Sarah Hrdy, ‘Men are one long breeding experiment run by women.’ ” [10] (pp. 70-71)

And the failure to find a mate is often more than just a disappointment, as in the sad young man who cannot find a girlfriend. Many societies ridicule and persecute bachelors. In ancient Sparta for example: ” Celibacy in Sparta was a crime; bachelors were excluded from the franchise, and from the sight of public processions in which young men and women danced in the nude. According to Plutarch the bachelors themselves were compelled to march in public, naked even in winter, singing a song to the effect that they were justly suffering this punishment for having disobeyed the laws. Persistent avoiders of marriage might be set upon at any time in the streets by groups of women, and be severely handled. Those who married and had no children were only less completely disgraced; and it was understood that men who were not fathers were not entitled to the respect that the youth of Sparta religiously paid to their elders.”[12]

In the era of witch trials, homosexual men (among others) were burned at the stake. The term faggot literally refers to a bundle of sticks one tosses into the fire, but it was also a derogatory term used for men who failed to make themselves into worthy citizens, which includes taking a wife for procreation. For that they were given the death penalty[13].

Yet it is a simple biological and psychological fact, the result of our evolution as a species, that some non-negligible percentage of men, even excluding those who are homosexual, will fail to attract a mate. Geneticists have determined that we have twice as many female ancestors as male[14], indicating that most early human societies were polygynous–high status males had several wives while an underclass of men had nothing. It is also evident from history that being sexless and disenfranchised frequently turns young men into dangerous troublemakers. In a recent piece in UnHerd, Mary Harrington writes: “Bare branches also make for enthusiastic terrorists. ISIS used sexual slavery as a key plank in its recruiting pitch for foreign fighters. Like the ‘Wikings’, men who don’t have many prospects at home will take considerable risks if they think it’ll get them laid, and (again like the actual Vikings) never mind whether the girls are willing or not. “

Harrington points out that societies of the past often simply exported the problem of “bare branches”–ineligible bachelors–to other tribes and nations and let them cause havoc there. She continues: “Angry incels closer to home should worry us too. Tempting though it may be to imagine that in the West progressive values have somehow abolished our evolved tendencies to intrasexual and inter-sexual competition for the best mates, evidence suggests otherwise … To compound the problem, social norms in favour of monogamous marriage have loosened over the decades since the 1960s — but this hasn’t made women less choosy about their partners. The number of American men under 30 who have never had sex tripled between 2008 and 2018 — but hasn’t risen nearly as rapidly for women. The only plausible explanation is that women are still having sex, but they’re competing for a smaller pool of desirable men and leaving the rest on the shelf.”[15]

And while present day Western democracies are generally more tolerant than ancient Sparta or 17th century Europe, just scan through any mainstream reporting on the Incel phenomena and you will see scorn and derision heaped on these desperate men. It should be no wonder that they occasionally lash out, as in the case of Elliot Roger.[16]

Of course women also have their challenges with mating. Compared to men they have a shorter time frame to get the matter sorted. Typically a woman is only fertile up to around forty years old. And men, in so far as they exercise choice in mate selection, primarily select for visual cues of fertility, for youth and beauty, which is also a selection for good genes (let us remember that the primary function of sexual reproduction is to purge harmful mutations from future generations). Which is a brutal truth for women whom nature has not been kind to. But then men are also judged by their appearance. Short men, for example, are consistently regarded as unattractive by women. Moreover, though men can increase their mate value by increasing their wealth and status, all known human societies have favored tall men over their shorter brothers. Very few US Presidents, for example, have stood under six feet. [10](p.58)

But I have already strayed quite far from the topic at hand. I hope, however, that I have succeeded in making the point that manhood–contrary to what we so often hear about male privilege– is more a condition of precariousness than power. In the fight to survive, which until very recently, before mechanized agriculture and modern medicine, was a chronic problem for nearly all humans, fertile women could not be spared. Males on the other hand could and often had to be sacrificed to fend off threats. And some societies sacrificed men deliberately. As Warren Farrell (author of The Myth of Male Power and The Boy Crisis) famously put it, men are the disposable sex.

Though everyone’s life has been made easier by the nearly miraculous inventions of modernity (invented almost entirely by men), still men are expected to earn and produce. Those who do not are “failures to launch”, and few have any interest in helping them. William Collins, in his book The Empathy Gap , details the multitude of male disadvantages in present day Western societies, from health and education to criminal justice and parental rights. What’s worse for men is the persistent denial that men could actually be disadvantaged at all.

Part III: According to their Kinds

I concluded Part I with a promise to explain why there are so few women occupying the top tiers of competitive sports (and success hierarchies in general). We started off talking about the amazing debut of Tracy Edwards and her all-female crew of Maiden in the 1989-90 Whitbread Round the World race. Following the familiar feminist script, many forecast that this breach of the glass ceiling–of the ancient chokehold of the patriarchy–would lead to women proving themselves the equals of men in competitive sports, perhaps even proving themselves superior to men. Yet so far that has not happened. At least in the Whitbread, now Volvo Ocean Race, it has not. Despite several successions of rule changes to favor all-female or co-ed crews, women have failed to measure up to men.

In Part II I offered an explanation as to why feminist predictions are not coming to pass. This turned into an admittedly lengthy digression into evolutionary biology and psychology, yet for our pains we gained a cogent explanation as to why the average man is physically bigger and stronger than the average women, and why he is more competitive, often imbued with a win-at-all-costs mentality. We learned how it all begins with human mate selection, where females have evolved to look for high social status in a male as the best indicator of meeting her reproductive needs. As a result humans are naturally polygynous, with women often refusing to mate with the lower status males. Sexually rejected males are often socially rejected as well. Even the so called tolerant Western democracies of today have little patience for men who don’t make the cut.

Most men have to prove themselves. They start from zero. If they didn’t already learn that from mom and dad, they will soon get the lesson applied with a sledgehammer by the women they attempt to seduce. Females, conversely, are handed a great bounty by nature (excepting the poor few ugly ducklings) in their blossoming into womanhood. There’s no need to duke it out with the boys in sports, engineering, corporate law etc. if she wishes to improve her prospects of finding a quality mate. And mate selection is a big deal, especially for women. Not only will it affect the genetic quality and health of any children she has, it will also have an immense influence on her circle of friends and place in society. For many it is friends and family, having money and social cachet, that constitutes most of life. In the past girls would attend courses in home economics and develop their femininity with the express intent of finding a good husband. A woman could then start a career of her own later on, after the children leave home. Feminists hate to hear it, but this is a time-tested female life strategy.

On this point, some interesting research has been done on female happiness in the West. A paper published in 2008 by Justin Wolfers and Betsey Stevenson finds a consistent downward trend in women’s subjective well-being in the United States since the 1970’s, both in absolute terms and relative to men[17]. As feminism became ever more accepted and pervasive; as women were unshackled from the kitchen and moved out into the world of work and careers; as birth control enabled women to engage in carefree casual sex; as women became increasingly independent of men–women’s sense of happiness and well-being has steadily declined. What’s more, despite men taking a browbeating from academics, politicians and the media, despite their common portrayal as utter morons in popular sitcoms, men’s sense of overall well-being has improved since the 1970’s.

Of course there are women who are driven to succeed like men and will do so regardless of any pro-woman social movement. All fine and good. The plain fact is, however, that the majority of women have no interest in becoming men, and vice versa. Our aversion to a gender neutral society–of “true equality” as we sometimes hear its proponents say–is a result of human evolution. Those who deny the natural dimorphism of our species, of the distinct differences and complementary nature of men and women, will leave little if anything to future generations.

References

[1] Edwards, Tracy; Madge, Tim. Maiden (p. 343). Tracy Edwards MBE. Kindle Edition.

[2] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/1989%E2%80%931990_Whitbread_Round_the_World_Race

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wQGoy_wTHJs (25:33)

[4] http://www.sail-world.com/3596

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2005%E2%80%932006_Volvo_Ocean_Race

[6] https://www.yachtingworld.com/news/volvo-ocean-race-rule-set-to-force-change-for-women-sailors-97932.

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2017%E2%80%932018_Volvo_Ocean_Race

[8] https://www.stuff.co.nz/entertainment/film/114578673/when-maiden-bowled-them-over-why-we-can-never-let-up-about-women-in-sport

[9] Randy Thornhill, Crag T. Palmer. A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion (MIT Press, 2000), pp. 124-125

[10] Buss, David M.. The Evolution of Desire (p. 32). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.

[11] https://usustatesman.com/economics-of-dating-2-the-brutal-reality-of-dating-apps/

[12] Durant, Will. The Life of Greece: The Story of Civilization, Volume II (pp. 162-163). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

[13] Farrell, Warren. The Myth of Male Power . Dr. Warren Farrell. Kindle Edition, p. 109.

[14] Baumeister, Roy F.. Is There Anything Good About Men? (p. 63). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

[15] https://unherd.com/2020/06/incels-could-become-the-new-vikings/

[16] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-43892189

[17] https://law.yale.edu/sites/default/files/documents/pdf/Intellectual_Life/Stevenson_ParadoxDecliningFemaleHappiness_Dec08.pdf

3 comments

  1. Heavy (and well documented) lecture. The way you write it gives me an impression about your opinion in this matter, which could well be my own if. And I am a very neutral person. Thanks Kevin.

    Like

  2. whats this? all the impressive male sailors you name are kinderganten toddlers sponsored by oil that is the basis of todays “modern” composite construction and has made of sailing a 3000bc red sea bazaar of hundreds of propietary breakable gear pieces while the last half century keel boats that come from competition are just corporate manslaughter by design. besides that the age of sail happened 3000 years ago in the pacific and today cruising sailors are mostly cultural supremacist neokings or neogentry with floating castles that don’t give a flying pig about the places they visit and their people, included women that even have a disgusting hierarchical and sectarian women-only forum in facebook. that’s a lot of “first world” hype

    Like

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