We recently celebrated International Women’s Day. It’s been recognized since 1901 though most countries celebrate it on March 08. Since it’s a time to honor the achievements of women everywhere, I thought it might be a proper time to recognize some of women’s accomplishments in the realm of the sea.
In a recent post A Lifetime Commitment, I focused on the extraordinary sacrifices men and women of the armed forces made to keep us safe. In light of this special occasion, let’s look at some of the women who, for good or bad, impacted the world in which they lived.
Cheng I Sao, who lived between 1775 and 1844, rose from a life of prostitution to commander of twenty to forty thousand pirates when her husband Cheng I died. It was her wits and shrewd political maneuvering more than physical prowess that was her strength. And she was no one’s patsy. Part of the code she established was the beheading of anyone who gave their own orders or disobeyed those given.
Grace O’Malley, sometimes known as Grainne O’Malley or Granuaile was an Irish pirate of the 1500’s. As commander of three galleys and two hundred men, she was a force to be reckoned with. Not only was she fearless on the water, but when she met Queen Elizabeth face to face, she refused to bow or curtsey because she did not recognize her as the queen of Ireland.
Anne Bonny, on the other hand, was a died-in-the-wool Caribbean pirate, who sailed with Calico Jack Rackham. Rackham stole Ann from her husband and embarked on a wild ride of piracy as lovers.
Mary Read likewise served on Rackham‘s ship, shoulder to shoulder with Anne Bonny and the other pirates; Bonny was unaware Mary was a woman till Ann made a pass at her mistaking her for a man. Both fought as valiantly as any man on board. In fact, when Rackham and his crew cowered in a drunken state below deck during a brutal attack, the two women fought tooth and nail with the King’s troops before surrendering.
But the story of valiant women at sea doesn’t end there. Fast forward to the twentieth century. In 1943 Major Ruth Cheney Streeter became the very first woman to enlist in the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve. Can you imagine being the first woman to break that barrier? One reporter nicknamed the group BAM’s, an acronym for Beautiful Amerrican Marines. Marines unwilling to accept the women referred to them as Broad Ass Marines, but women were to have the last laugh.
Brigadeer General Lori Reynolds became the first female commander of the Marine Corps in Parris Island, S.C. in 2011, and this was after commanding troops in Afghanistan. Another first for women.
But wait! There’s more to this saga of women at sea. Kate McCue took over the role of captain on the Celebrity Summit last September with a crew of a thousand. When as a youngster on a cruise ship she told her father she’d like to be cruise director, he encouraged her to set her sites higher. You can be the captain of the ship if you want, he suggested.
And recently the cruise line Regent Seven Seas appointed Serena Melani to be captain of the Seven Seas Mariner with a crew of 450.
It seems hard to believe in the twenty-first century, women still have to battle for equality in so many areas of life. When men belittle women and try to subjugate them, I think it’s due partly to jealousy and partly to fear. Fear of losing control and fear of being shown up. I think that’s why Mary Read, when she was about to deliver the punishing blow with her sword, exposed her breast as if to say, “See who got the better of you, chump? It was a woman!”
Women still struggle against the glass ceiling, but it’s been cracking for a long time now. I wish women realized as Kate McCue did that the biggest glass ceiling to break through is their own attitude and their own vision. From Cheng I Sao to Grace O’Malley, from Anne Bonny and Mary Read to Lori Reynolds and Serena Melani, women have ignored the voices out there and listened to their hearts. “I’m not good enough” and “What’s the use!” were not in their vocabulary. Instead they heard the voice that said, “And why not me?”
Women should take a page from the story of Ann Bonny. When her sword was broken and before the smoke from her pistol could drift away, she was looking around for someone else’s sword and pistol.
If you’re a man, I’d like to ask you: “Who are the important women in your life?” and “What are you doing to empower them to become the women they were meant to be?”
If you’re a woman, I’d like to ask you: “What are you doing to take control of your life? What plans do you have to be the captain of your destiny?”
We’re all in this fray together, and like the mariners on the high seas of yesteryear, we’ll only survive standing shoulder to shoulder in the battles and gales of life.