Article in The Boroondara Standard Friday 21 August 1891
The Ladies' Column
Under the heading "Should Women be Sailors" an article recently appeared in the Pall Mall Budget which has been widely reprinted and discussed. The article purports to be written by " an Able Seaman". Jack Tar is not, as a rule, given to evolving "screeds," and when he does they smell not of the oil, but rather the brine, nor are nautical expressions uncommon. The "Able Seaman" who has raised the question "Should Women be Sailors" has written so much like a land-lubber that one would never suspected his avocation had he not announced it. In spite of this it takes all my faith to read his production as the emanation of a nautical man. He cites the case of a captain's wife bringing her ship to land under great difficulties, when her husband and the crew were prostrated by illness. True. Under extreme pressure women have done, and will do, many things that not only may not be desirable as a rule, but well-nigh impractical. I happen to have seen one women who performed just such a feat as this, and my opinion is that she possessed an amount of doggedness that the average woman would be as little likely to have in her character as the average man has the qualities of Napoleon. The writer continues that women have shown their capacity for "doing hard sums," and might safely be trusted with "the simple problems necessary to work out a ships course." That is not the point. Before a woman can arrive at the position that she has merely to work the "simple problems," she must have "been through the mill." I have never met a captain nor officer yet who has not been "before the mast." I have been there myself in the sailors' quarters, seen their food, their manner of feeding, their sleeping quarters, their comforts and discomforts, and do not think it would be possible for any woman with intelligence and an iota of refinement to endure the life while she qualified herself in a practical manner for a better position. Were the best positions given to women without probation, it would not only be unfair to the men, but militate against perfect efficiency. The writer continues "The work on board ship is by no means hard, skill rather than strength being requisite. Certainly it cannot be said that steering and keeping a look-out, splicing, serving, and knotting ropes, trimming, furling, and bending sails, washing, scrubbing, painting, tarring, and scraping, which comprise the general work of a ship, call for greater expenditure on energy than many employments at which women are now engaged, as in some factories, attending at the pit brow, or the common labour of charing." All of which confirms my opinion that the writer never tried the work he writes about: some is fairly light work, the rest is hard enough. There is no comparison between scrubbing and scouring a ship and cleaning a house. Many a woman who could do the latter would not attempt the former. Still, no doubt, some women of the lower classes would be both able and willing to go as able seamen instances are on record where, donning masculine attire, they have done so but as an employment for women above the scum of society it is not to be thought of. Women should rarely, if ever, embark in work that they are not by nature better fitted to carry through with success than men. If they do, though they may succeed in outshining a few masculine noodles, they can never hope to vie with representative men in the various arenas they enter. Above and beyond which a woman is very foolish to undertake work that in any measure destroys her femininity. One should hardly, by any stretch, admire a lady captain as a woman if she possessed the skin some old salts do. Then illusion is made to the healthfulness of a seafaring life. The strengthening effects of the life on our sex would be very great, several maladies women are subject to would be ameliorated or cured by the life; but against this it must be remembered that weakness, hysteria, and some other things are hardly known amongst women of the working class, whose illnesses are usually actual disease, rather than mixture of indolence, imagination, and affectation, Which latter would certainly be cured by women turning sailors. The writer concludes by saying it may be added that to such of ..