One thing that I often think about as woman working at sea, is that being onboard seems to be much more mentally exhausting for a woman than it is for the men onboard. As a woman in minority onboard there’s always a constant need to analyze and respond to what people may say to you, and to evaluate the outcome of certain situations. If someone blurts out a sexist comment or acts inappropriate, you must give them a response that assures them that their behavior is unacceptable. If you don’t, there’s a risk that the situation might escalate.
In the beginning of my career I was equally disappointed every time I discovered that crewmembers that I thought were my friends, were just being nice to me to get into my pants.
Sometimes I’m almost jealous of the guys onboard, they seem to have it so easy! They don’t need to be on edge, ready to respond to stupid comments. They don’t have to worry about their relationships with other crewmembers becoming tainted by unwanted sexual advances. They don’t have to be disgusted when prostitution and whores are discussed over dinner. They don’t have to excel in their jobs, just to be considered “good enough”. They don’t have to worry that that one lousy male engineer will be seen a representative for all male engineers. They don’t have to lock their cabin doors, worried that someone might come in at night. They don’t have to worry about leading someone on by just being friendly. They don’t need to think about any of these things, they just do their jobs and that’s it! Sometimes I wish I could try it for a month and see what it’s like.
I think the most important actions to take for gender equality at sea is with the shipping owners/manning companies/HR-departments. A lot of people are afraid to speak up when they’re being harassed onboard. Especially for cadets it can be very hard to report things to the office, since there’s a chance that you might be seen as “trouble” and miss out on job opportunities. It is the HR-department and senior management that sets the standard for what kind of behavior that is ok onboard. It is crucial that they are actually aware of this, and that they do their best to prevent harassment and that they take proper action when harassment actually happens onboard their ships.
My name is Klara, I’m from Stockholm, Sweden. I’ve started working at sea as a motorman ten years I work in the engine room as a third engineer.