Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Tell It Like It Is

Originally uploaded by rolling2hills
Do you remember the uproar when Mattel produced a Barbie that whined in a gratingly chipper voice, “Math is hard!”? I remember. I remember virtuously supporting the NOW call to action, boycotting the errant toy company, and prohibiting Barbie shoes in the house. Okay, truth be told the Barbie shoe prohibition technically predated the Barbie Math fiasco. Those high heeled shoes with their strong affinity for the bottom of bare feet should be classified as one of America’s most powerful cultural weapons.

The thing is… in retrospect this particular social tempest not only did not deserve a teacup, it also missed a key point. Math is hard. So is biochemistry, astrophysics, and getting the top off a bottle of Advil. Somehow Barbie stating the obvious was offensive because a woman admitted it – a pretty woman with small feet and big breasts.

In much the same way, there is a strong social pressure among those of us preparing to cut the lines to avoid admitting to Regular People how difficult it is to leave. It is easier to perpetuate the myth that the cruising adventure is a lark, a whim – expensive navel gazing combined with extended camping trip and lots of rum.

It is also probably easier for the shore-bound to watch us go if they believe that cruisers are not like Regular People. Regular People would find the whole process of selling everything, saying goodbye to everyone, and leaving all that is well known and understood daunting to the point of intestinal clenching terror.

But here’s your Barbie moment straight from Toast: Leaving is hard.

In for a penny, in for a pound, let me further state that: Leaving is harder for women.

There you have it. I’ve said it. I’ve obviously lost my mind, my feminist credentials, and my captain’s license. I brace myself for the pending boycott from the Seven Seas Sailing crowd. Shoot me. Drum me out of the women’s seminars at Strictly Sail. The real shame is I don't have big breasts. Nor do I have small feet, more's the pity.

But stating the obvious, gut churning truth does not make it any less true, because the bottom line is that wannabe cruisers are regular people with a bug up their ass. Whatever our current motivation, most of us start out with careers, real estate, and white-picket-fence goals. By far the majority of cruisers do not self-identify as heroic, brave, or adventurous. We send our kids to school, we go to the Church of Home Depot on Sundays, and we carefully deposit a small amount into our 401(k) each month. Our starting point is so banal, it is unimaginable that in a mere few years we’ll be thousands of miles away hauling in a tuna off an azure coast to the dulcet strains of our children’s urgent screams of encouragement.

And why is it harder for women? I've heard a variety of theories. The one that resonates most strongly for me is the lack of a bathtub on a boat. However, perhaps you identify with the hypothesis that for men there is more support for reaching for the “exotic adventure.” Or maybe you're in the “woman are nesters, men are not” camp. Some of you might find compelling the claim that “women have stronger social ties and rely on them more deeply than men.” Or maybe you've been surrounded by folks who support the theory that children are proof of fragility. Obviously, if you are a mother, you can't be strong, self reliant, and highly capable.

Whatever your personal pet theory, there is broad consensus among the female sailing community that the whole letting go thing is much harder for women. Mind you, there is not unanimity! You can't put five sailors of any gender in a dinghy and get them to agree on the time of day, let alone something as fundamental as this. However, I've got the anecdotes to support my theory. And if you doubt me, go take a poke at the startling volume of cruising literature devoted to the dragged aboard spouse.

But women are not fragile. Women make great sailors. Women are spectacularly adept at making a life of value and passion and interest even under the worst conditions and in the mankiest of boats. And if women were afraid to do hard things, the species would have long since withered away.

Wow, this is starting to sound like a motivational video. So I’ll conclude with a a gratingly chipper shout into a virtual mike as I bounce at the front of the class, “Leaving is HARD! Feel the burn, ladies!! No pain, no main!!!”

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