by Elizabeth Simenstad
On March 7, 2019, I was seeing posts on social media about the all-female tug crew hired by towing company Svitzer in the Dominican Republic. As usual for online media, there were many enthusiastic and supportive comments, peppered with detracting and sarcastic comments. One gentleman said “how is this helping equality?” Ohhh, instagram.
This is a typical response from those who really believe that women have reached any semblance of parity in the maritime world, but of course, studies still put the percentage of women in maritime at 2-4% worldwide. Personally, I’m very proud of these women and happy for their situation. I dream of working on a tugboat crewed by women, what fun that would be. While this is not the norm, I consider this all-female crew to be a symbolic achievement (especially in Latin America). I responded to his comment saying as much, without trying to be too combative, pointing out the fact that an all-male tugboat crew is totally unremarkable, so this is helping equality just fine. His response was surprising and interesting: it amounted to “I hear you, but to me it would have made more sense to have a 50/50 crew. But the best captains and officers i’ve worked with in maritime have been female”. Lesson learned: approach these comments not as adversaries, but as reasonable debates.
I happily applaud his acknowledgment of the competence of his female shipmates, and to his commitment to gender parity on board. I expressed gratitude and solidarity in my subsequent response, but I will not stop pressing on the fact that an all-women crew on one boat does not equal anything close to 50/50 in the big picture, though it’s a great start.
The way I see it, when an all-female tug crew ceases to be newsworthy, we will have done our job.