#MeToo Matters

17 January 2020 By Erica Lay

Another day, another case of sexual harassment in yachting. How can we tackle this in an industry where senior male crew still say things like “the #metoo bandwagon”? Bandwagon? What a privileged life you’ve had to never experience what most women accept as part of their daily existence. Just because you haven’t seen it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. I’ve never seen the earth from space, but I’m still a firm believer it isn’t flat.

Talking to a crew whose captain treats the stewardess not only like a personal slave but is emotionally abusive and a master manipulator left me wondering if there is any hope in this “old boys club” we all work in. I asked the crew how they react when they see the captain abusing his power and the responses were varied.

The more junior crew were fearful of causing upset, and therefore, jeopardising their own positions, but fortunately the more senior, such as the chief engineer, has and will continue to address it directly with the captain. As a result, the captain will only behave this way when said crew are not around, which doesn’t solve the problem. And we’re not talking “cheeky banter” — don’t get me started on using that as an excuse either. There’s a huge difference between banter and sexual harassment, and for those men who’ve told me, “Oh, I can’t say anything for fear of it being taken the wrong way,” well, spoiler alert, if you think it might be offensive to say, it probably is so don’t say it.

We are talking about a middle-aged man trying to push cocaine on a young woman not far off his daughter’s age, a man who “accidentally” showed her a picture of his erect penis, a man who once forced his fingers into her mouth at a guest dinner. What is wrong with people? Why did nobody say, “that’s enough”? And if it’s just “a harmless bit of fun,” then why don’t these men act like this in front of their wives, or treat female crewmembers like this in front of their partners? Because, quite simply, they know it’s wrong.

I have a stew telling me she wants to leave but feels trapped, a stew who says she doesn’t like who she has become as a result of the treatment of her captain, and a crew who are deeply troubled and unhappy. And, this part I found extremely concerning, reports of a deckhand who is idolising that captain and starting to treat women like objects too. My advice is always to leave a situation like this. No job is worth damaging your mental health. And for every person who says, “stick up for yourself!” Know this: it’s not that easy. It’s taken me many years (and learning a martial art) to be able to say “NO.” And then to have the confidence to insist!

I discussed this with another group of younger, mostly junior crew, and heard one man say, “If he did that to my girlfriend, she’d have punched him and left!” Only for his girlfriend to say, “Actually, no I wouldn’t. I’d probably leave but I don’t know what I’d say or do in that situation. Honestly it sounds scary.” We aren’t all Jessica Joneses, and what happens if you decide to slap or hit a guy and he hits you back? I would never recommend violence. Don’t assume a man won’t hit a woman back; if their behaviour is brutally misogynistic, they just might surprise you.

The conversation continued, and it was enlightening for all, especially some of the guys, to hear stories from each other about harassment and poor treatment from both in and out of the yachting industry. I left this discussion with hope, with all of them promising to look out for each other and to spread the message amongst friends and peers.

I also spoke to more senior crew, which was at first more disheartening. Far too many accounts of harassment and inappropriate behaviour, and worse, of these incidents being swept under the rug or completely dismissed. This is where I heard a chief mate of a 50 meter refer to #metoo as a bandwagon, which quite frankly enraged me. I shouldn’t have had to explain myself or the importance of women feeling they can speak up and be taken seriously, and not judged. We discussed the importance of being available for junior crew (or other seniors) to come to us with any concerns or worries and making ourselves more approachable. I was given hope when I learned that more and more yachts have active sexual harassment and/or bullying policies that are openly talked about in crew meetings on board, not just written out and left in a folder as a box ticking exercise, never to be spoken of again.

The number of female crew who have to leave a job because of a persistent male crewmember is ridiculous. Senior crew need to step up here and get involved — these are your juniors and you should be protecting them. I’m always hearing the term “my boat family” so act like one, even if the person at the top isn’t. If my little sister was being hassled by some obsessed boy, I’d be intervening before they got worse. I’m sorry if this makes people feel uncomfortable, but tough — we have a duty of care to protect each other. Why isn’t this stuff in the PSSR element of our STCWs? Social Responsibility to me means looking out for each other, does it not? Being aware of each other’s personal space and needs?

Which leads me neatly onto the matter of consent. Guys, no means no. It’s doesn’t mean maybe someday, secretly yes, it means no. You do not assume anything else and you should not continue to pursue someone in the assumption that “she didn’t really mean she’s not interested so I’ll just keep on chipping away until she finally gives in and falls for me.” This behaviour doesn’t make you “love struck” or “a hopeless romantic.” It makes you a creep, a letch, a pain, and in some cases a stalker. Leave. Her. Alone. Look at yourself, get over her, and move on.

So where do we turn when this happens? How many cases go by every year of unreported sexual assault, harassment, stalking? I’ll tell you how many — too many. It’s very easy to say, “Oh, she (or he) should report it.” But the reality is the victim has already suffered enough, and most of the time will be treated with contempt, accused of lying/attention seeking, and often lacks the strength to go through this rigmarole, especially when the outcome is often so uncertain. Reliving abuse is not cathartic, it’s horrific, and for those already suffering with PTSD, it can be too much.

So when I get messages about “nice rant, Erica,” just know this: I’m tired. So tired of hearing horror stories. Every time I post on Facebook that I’m going to write about sexual harassment in the work place, I am inundated with messages. #metoo is not a fad. It’s not a passing phase. It’s certainly not new. And it’s 100 percent not a bandwagon. It’s very, very real and we as an industry need to stop looking the other way. We need to be strong enough to say, “No. You don’t touch me like that.” “No. You can’t speak to me like that.” And we need to know that our senior crew, men and women, will stand behind us and have our backs. Until that happens, we will continue to see women leave this industry in droves.