On sail­boats and equal­ity

The Covington News - - OPINION -

I had a bad feel­ing as soon as I got onto the boat. It was a small rented sail­boat that was pi­loted by two women. The women had taken a few sail­ing lessons and wanted to try out their nau­ti­cal prow­ess on the Po­tomac River. I and two other fel­lows went along for the ride.

And what a ride it was. Shortly af­ter we boarded, one of the women, a lawyer, be­gan lec­tur­ing us on sail­ing tech­niques. She told us about the jib, the small sail up front, and how to move it from one side to an­other by re­leas­ing one jib rope and pulling the other.

She ex­plained what it meant to “tack,” or shift the sails from one side to an­other to catch the wind and change di­rec­tion. She lec­tured us with a se­ri­ous­ness you’d en­counter at a sex­ual-ha­rass­ment sem­i­nar.

No sooner did her lec­ture con­clude than the winds whipped up and grabbed the sails. We were yanked out to the great un­known at the neck-snap­ping speed of two miles per hour.

“Let go of the jib!” she shouted to one of the men, who, be­ing a man, felt the need to do some­thing, so he grabbed the jib rope. I later learned he was her ex-hus­band and they still lived to­gether.

“But if I pull the jib tighter, it will catch more wind,” he spec­u­lated. Men spec­u­late. A lack of ac­tual knowl­edge never in­ter­feres with our per­pet­ual quest to re­solve prob­lems. “Re­lease the jib now!” “But if I ...” “I said let go of the damn jib!” He let go of the damn jib. His sur­ren­der, and the em­bar­rass­ment we felt for him, set the tone for the rest of the tor­tur­ous out­ing.

No mat­ter where you sit on a sail­boat pi­loted by women, you are in the way. Your head is per­pet­u­ally get­ting struck by ropes, pul­leys and sail rods. If you at­tempt to do noth­ing, the women yell at you to pull the damn jib. If you pull the damn jib, they de­mand you re­lease it. If you re­lease it, they de­mand you pull it tighter.

I got to think­ing about this episode af­ter read­ing about Women’s Equal­ity Day, to be cel­e­brated Aug. 26. Congress es­tab­lished it in 1971 to spot­light women’s ef­forts at achiev­ing equal­ity. It is cel­e­brated ev­ery Aug. 26 be­cause that’s the day women won the right to vote back in 1920.

Things sure have changed since 1920.

It’s true that women have not yet achieved par­ity at the top lev­els of cor­po­rate Amer­ica. It’s also true that women earn 75 per­cent of what men do, though doesn’t this have more to do with the choices women can now make than dis­crim­i­na­tion?

Women can stay sin­gle and climb the cor­po­rate lad­der. Women can marry, have a fam­ily and hire a nanny to watch the kids. They can sus­pend their ca­reers to stay home with the kids, which will re­duce their earn­ing po­ten­tial when they re­turn to work. There are a mil­lion choices avail­able and women are choos­ing ev­ery vari­a­tion un­der the sun. And they’re pi­lot­ing sail­boats. It used to be that when five peo­ple got onto a sail­boat, the men sat in the back bark­ing or­ders. They’d soon get to bick­er­ing and turn an oth­er­wise de­light­ful out­ing into a mis­er­able af­fair.

Now women are do­ing that. While they fo­cus in­tensely on their pi­lot­ing du­ties, it’s the men who are adrift at sea.

We’re not sure whether we should pull or re­lease the damn jib.

Tom Pur­cell can be reached at Pur­cell@caglecartoons.com.


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