Les Femmes

I’m in Tahoe for a few days on my off week. I’ve spent a lot of time in Tahoe this summer to make up for the time I’ve spent away on tugs between Puerto Rico and Alaska in the last few years. From solo camping to swimming with my dad, brothers, and best friends, I think I’ve caught up pretty well.

When I was hanging with dad at the cabin a year ago, he broke out his old Hawsepipers (the California Maritime yearbook) in advance of his upcoming 50th college reunion. I pored through the books myself, and in the 1964 and ’65 books I came across something that gave me pause. There was a spread in each book, and on the pages were portraits of young women – 1960’s beauties with bouffant hairdos and the names to match: Donna, Peggi, Brenda. First names only. The ’65 book gave no other details. But in the 1964 Hawsepiper, there was a caption:

“Every year the Golden Bear pulls away from the pier in Vallejo, leaving behind scores of young girls who will not see their boyfriends for three months. Some of them become impatient and write a “Dear John” letter just before the homesick middie returns. Those on this page did not write that letter.”

These are the girlfriends. And of course their last names were not included – their last names didn’t matter. They wouldn’t matter until they married their middies and kept homes for them. If they chose a different pursuit or chose not to marry altogether, they weren’t worth mentioning. If you know me, you will probably know that reading this caption made my stomach turn with disgust. This is not to bash Cal Maritime; this was just the prevailing attitude toward gender roles at the time. It is meant to romanticize the relationships between the handsome young sailors and their faithful girlfriends waiting for them at home. But I can’t imagine living during a time when I would only be valued and awarded a place in the yearbook because I hadn’t broken up with my boyfriend. A boyfriend who would ostensibly be offshore, pursuing opportunities closed to me because of my gender. Dad graduated in 1966; women wouldn’t be admitted until 1973. This did make Cal Maritime the first maritime academy in the country to admit women. But why did these changes take so long? How could anyone justify keeping women out for so long?

I know I’ve gotten a bit ranty here, but I think it’s pretty important to remind ourselves how much attitudes toward women and their abilities have changed in the last fifty years. I have been given awesome opportunities that are now unquestionably open to women as well as men. I have the privilege to witness so many incredible women around me on the water, doing what they love to do. They’re still coming up against resistance, but at least the resistant parties are a shrinking minority. Let’s keep things moving forward.

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