Home > Film > The Titanic – Children and whom first?

The Titanic – Children and whom first?

The Titanic is a tale of amazing power which has continued to carry great strength almost a century after the mighty ship sank. To be honest, the only film version I have seen is the 1953 edition (Yeah, yeah. Don’t ask.), but what I want to talk about is one of the things which is at the core of any and all re-tellings of the story of the Titanic:

Male sacrifice.

The men of the Titanic are famous for their willingness to forfeit their own lives so that the women and children aboard might live. It is one of the most noble displays of chivalry in recorded history, proving absolute selflessness on the part of most of the men, and it is this general concept of male sacrifice for women which I want to talk about.

The idea that the lives of men are somehow less valuable than women is pervasive through American (and probably western if not global) media. In almost any instance, if escape is limited, the women go before the men. Sometimes the character discuss the correctness of this, but most of the time no one complains (not that I can blame them).

Most people accept the idea that men should put themselves in harms way to save women because, (a) it is an ancient tradition, and (b) it seems to make some intuitive sense. Women are the ones who bear children, so, as feminists like to say when you ask them about male sacrifice, it is only natural for women to be ensured safety at any cost.

However, as is the case with so many concepts of modern gender politics, the math on that theory just doesn’t quite work.

The problem with the idea of women being more important to the species arises when you realize that western society is quite thoroughly monogamous. That is to say that any given person only has a single spouse at a time, and our society is usually pretty strict about this. For that reason, each and every woman needs a male all to herself in order to breed. That’s where the math stops working for the ‘women are more valuable’ theory.

Let’s look at an imaginary sample population of humans (this is all hypothetical). We have 20 people, 10 male and 10 female. This is the adult population, all of child bearing and rearing age.

Now, assuming everyone gets along well, each adult is part of a happy mating couple. 20 adults, 10 couples each of 2 adults. That’s how a monogamous society works.

Now, let’s say someone dies. If a woman dies, she can no longer bear any children, so the community loses that production.

However, since they are monogamous, if a man dies the same thing happens. A dead man leaves a woman with no breeding partner, so society loses that production.

This same idea applies to our own society at large. Adults form mating couples, one female to one male. If we were polygamous, then few men could mate with more women, so a decrease in male population wouldn’t be such a problem, but in our society a loss of an adult of either gender reduces the number of maximum possible mating couples by 1.

Of course, in a real society not everyone is coupled up. There are always unmarried women and men. However, the goal of the species, from a Darwinian view, is to breed as much as possible. Since the speed of reproduction is limited primarily by the speed at which women can bear children, our goal would be to make sure they were all breeding as much as possible.

Now, in a polygamous society, that would be done by ensuring that literally every woman was married, often many to the same man. But in a monogamous society, each woman needs her own man. And since humans are naturally picky, it can be hard to get every woman matched up with a man she likes. Therefore, the more men we have, the more likely each and every woman will find an acceptable mate.

Therefore, a surplus of males can actually help breeding, while surplus females go to waste in a world of monogamy. A scarcity of females would actually increase the likelihood of the remaining women breeding, since they would have plenty of men to choose from.

Not to mention the fact that widowers are more likely to remarry (and therefore keep breeding) than widows.

But that’s just a counterargument. Naturally, or at least I think naturally, we should all work to have all humans valued equally, regardless of chromosome configuration.

Nonetheless, the sacrifices men make are truly noble and deserve a heart felt salute, but the concept which drives such behavior is obsolete in the modern world and should be done away with for the betterment of all. The math just doesn’t work, so retaining such traditions is, if I might be allowed to say so, like hanging onto a sinking ship.

Of course, there is some logic to men being quicker to die since there are more boys born than there are girls (105 to 100, global average). Or maybe that isn’t to account for war, but for women’s tastes.

Categories: Film Tags: , , ,
  1. Taliesin
    March 9, 2010 at 1:33 pm

    And then there was money, now really, men not only make more money one average, but also spend less, so, well I’m just saying…

  2. AQ
    March 9, 2010 at 6:19 pm

    “Naturally, or at least I think naturally, we should all work to have all humans valued equally, regardless of chromosome configuration.”


    I suspect the reason for men “going down with the ship” may be largely based on that old idea that women are inherently weaker and less able to take care of themselves than men. Women and children were included in the same category, as neither group was deemed to have full personhood; both were the property of men and men were expected to be responsible for their property.

    • March 9, 2010 at 6:56 pm

      That is a good point.
      The only reason I really bring it up anymore is that many people now try to justify such behavior by claiming that women are more important to the survival of the species.

      They certainly aren’t property anymore, so instead they are view as more valuable.
      Even back when the Titanic sank, there were people rationalizing it that way.

  3. March 10, 2010 at 12:12 pm

    Do you really think – in your math – that if there were 10 men and 30 women, only 10 of the women would reproduce? I doubt that monogamy would make much sense if we weren’t so over populated. Look into polyamory, not just polygamy, and then the potential for complex reproduction patterns gets pretty curious! Paternity goes out the window ..

    It makes me wonder how you preceive the women in your own family in regards to gender equality… do the women bow to a man’s authority? or do some of the women insist on their own autonomy and personal path? Do you see the women supress or control the men? Do the men try to control or supress the women?

    Which leads me to ask: could you write us a description of what you think is a healthy form of relationship? Rather than just commenting on what is ‘wrong’ – what is ‘better’? And how would this best be shown in the media?

    • March 10, 2010 at 1:11 pm

      As I said, repeatedly, my reasoning applies only to a monogamous society, which ours is, rather obsessively. Polygamy isn’t even legal, so it can’t be considered for social theory. The math would be different if men could take multiple wives, but they can’t.

      As for a healthy relationship, how about this:
      Actual love and equality.
      No chivalry, no submissiveness.
      Each lives in the fashion which makes them happy.
      Neither gives orders to the other.
      Neither manipulates or intimidates.

  1. June 2, 2010 at 11:59 am

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