Titanic Social Expectations: Men Must Not Survive

I have been reading about the Titanic and its monstrous accident. The ill-fated ship that launched a thousand legends, movies, and a particularly catchy Celine Dion song.

We all know the tragic tale: a massive iceberg, a sinking ship, and the heart-wrenching scramble for lifeboats.

But there’s an often overlooked part of the story—the men who survived and the rough seas they faced long after they were rescued.

Spoiler alert: they didn’t all go on to star in epic love stories.

Men of the Titanic: Between a Rock and a Lifeboat

Picture this: you’re on a luxury liner, having the time of your life, and suddenly you’re thrown into a freezing nightmare. Amidst the chaos, you’re told:

“Women and children first!”

It’s a noble sentiment, sure, but if you’re a guy, you’ve just been handed a moral hot potato. Do you jump into a lifeboat and risk being labeled a coward for the rest of your life, or do you go down with the ship like some mustachioed, stoic hero?

For many men on the Titanic, it wasn’t a simple choice of bravery versus cowardice. It was a split-second decision in the face of death. And for some of those who did make it onto lifeboats, society’s reaction was like getting hit by an iceberg all over again. The expectation was not to survive. Because who daaz that!

Take J. Bruce Ismay, the chairman of the White Star Line. Here’s a guy who decided to stick around to make sure as many people got off the ship as possible before he found himself in a lifeboat with, wait for it, empty seats! But instead of getting a pat on the back, he got the cold shoulder from society and went into a deep depression from which he never recovered. Ismay was branded a coward, a man who saved himself while others perished. Never mind that he was following the lifeboat protocol; he was expected to go down with the ship just because he was a man in charge.

Then there’s Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon. A wealthy man who allegedly bribed crew members to row away from the sinking ship without picking up additional survivors. Though an inquiry cleared his name, the rumor stuck like barnacles on a hull. He survived the Titanic, but his reputation sank faster than the ship.

The Titanic Teaches Us: We’re just Men, Supermen are in Movies

The tale of these Titanic survivors teaches us a lot about societal expectations. Men were (and often still are) expected to be supermen, sacrificing themselves without a second thought.

It’s as if having a Y chromosome automatically enrolls you in a lifetime class of Heroic Self-Sacrifice 101. But let’s get real for a second. We all have survival instincts. In a life-and-death situation, thinking of your family, your future, or just plain survival doesn’t make you a coward—it makes you human. Today, we have a better understanding of psychological responses to extreme stress. We know that those moments don’t define a person’s entire character.

Should we die, then?

If we cannot afford school fees for our children in big schools anymore, should we kill ourselves? If our wives divorce us and society gives them everything we have shed blood, tears, sweat, and sperm for, should we die? If we are hurt and in pain, should we not cry because men don’t cry?

I am the father of a son, Callan. And I made it my life’s duty to teach him to be vulnerable, to express emotion, to speak, to be human. Masculine stoicism doesn’t do men well.

It’s time to update our views on masculinity. The expectation that men must always be self-sacrificing heroes is unrealistic and unhealthy. Strength can be shown in many forms, including survival. Yes, we are expected to be heroes, but recognize that heroes aren’t flawless beings from comic books. They’re real people with fears and instincts, just like everyone else.

June is Men’s Mental Health Month, a time to focus on the psychological well-being of men, but in reality, every day should be a man’s mental wellness day. We have lost too many men to depression already – over 500,000 men die by suicide every year.

The story of the Titanic’s male survivors is a poignant reminder of the pressures men face. The societal expectations placed on them can be overwhelming because mwanaume ni kujikaza. Recognize that men, too, have the right to fear, to feel vulnerable, and to prioritize their well-being.

Let’s honor the men who survived. Let’s break the stigma around men’s mental health and encourage a culture where men can seek help, express their emotions, and be heroes in their own lives, not just in the eyes of society.

Stay strong, gents. Society’s expectations may be titanic, but we’re all in the same boat. We will take care of our children and our women, and we will also redefine what it means to be a hero. Death is not heroic.

We will survive and we’re not sorry for surviving. We aren’t cowards, or maybe we are. My grandmother Kaumo used to say “Cowards live the longest”

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