If you had been on Costa Concordia when the ship capsized, I asked my friend Moustafa, an Egyptian-born U.S. citizen and a devoted family man, which escape strategy would you prefer: all families together or women and children first?
He didn’t hesitate. “Definitely, women and children first. I would want to ensure that my children and my wife get to a safe place before me.” Moustafa is a traditional guy, so his answer didn’t surprise me. More startling was the response that we got on our Facebook page, where we asked the same question. Almost 90 percent of respondents said if at all possible families should stay together. Mom and Dad. Vanessa Devolin said it best: “Families for sure should go first and I believe that is men and women. Not just women raise a family.”
The seafaring tradition in which women and children were prioritized in the rare instance of an emergency evacuation got its start, reader Craig Baum explained, because “ships rarely had enough lifeboats for all passengers. Hence, those deemed stronger to survive in the water went last.”
The argument that women have fought successfully for equal rights — and should also have equal responsibilities — certainly weighs into the “family” vs. “women and children” debate. Women are no longer the fragile flowers (if they ever were) of olden times.
Then there’s the question of chivalry, which many readers seem to think is in decline, especially in light of the fact that chaos reportedly reigned onboard and the captain himself abandoned ship before hundreds of passengers had been rescued. However, in one of the most inspiring stories to come out of the Costa Concordia tragedy, it’s a woman who proves that, at least in some instances, chivalry is alive and well. I’m referring to 23-year-old Rose Metcalf from England’s Dorset. A dancer onboard, she gave up her own spot in a lifeboat, according to a report in the Telegraph newspaper, climbed to Deck 5 to flag down a passing helicopter, handled her assigned emergency roll call at her muster station and was part of the “human chain” that helped people to safety.
What would you have done if you were onboard Costa Concordia? Pushed your loved ones ahead of you? Or gathered together to await rescue? Even Moustafa — who spent 30 minutes reconsidering his original, instinctual response when pressed — noted that “until you are in that situation it’s really hard to know how you’d actually react. But I still think I would want my family to go first.”