I had a bad feeling as soon as I got onto the boat.
It was a small rented sailboat that was piloted by two women. The women had taken a few sailing lessons and wanted to try out their nautical prowess on the Potomac River. I and two other fellows went along for the ride.
And what a ride it was. Shortly after we boarded, one of the women, a lawyer, began lecturing us on sailing techniques. She told us about the jib, the small sail up front, and how to move it from one side to another by releasing one jib rope and pulling the other.
She explained what it meant to "tack," or shift the sails from one side to another to catch the wind and change direction. She lectured us with a seriousness you’d encounter at a sexual-harassment seminar.
No sooner did her lecture conclude than the winds whipped up and grabbed the sails. We were yanked out to the great unknown at the neck-snapping speed of two miles per hour.
"Let go of the jib!" she shouted to one of the men, who, being a man, felt the need to do something, so he grabbed the jib rope. I later learned he was her ex-husband and they still lived together.
"But if I pull the jib tighter, it will catch more wind," he speculated. Men speculate. A lack of actual knowledge never interferes with our perpetual quest to resolve problems.
"Release the jib now!"
"But if I …"
"I said let go of the damn jib!"
He let go of the damn jib. His surrender, and the embarrassment we felt for him, set the tone for the rest of the torturous outing.
No matter where you sit on a sailboat piloted by women, you are in the way. Your head is perpetually getting struck by ropes, pulleys and sail rods. If you attempt to do nothing, the women yell at you to pull the damn jib. If you pull the damn jib, they demand you release it. If you release it, they demand you pull it tighter.
I got to thinking about this episode after reading about Women’s Equality Day, to be celebrated Aug. 26. Congress established it in 1971 to spotlight women’s efforts at achieving equality. It is celebrated every Aug. 26 because that’s the day women won the right to vote back in 1920.
Things sure have changed since 1920.
It used to be that women were held back in this country. They had few options but to marry and become mothers, and they were then expected to stay home while the men went off to run the country.
Today, the potential of women has been unleashed and we’re all better off. Women are excelling in every profession. More women than men are enrolling in college and more are earning advanced degrees. Nearly 40 percent of all businesses in America are owned by women.
It’s true that women have not yet achieved parity at the top levels of corporate America. It’s also true that women earn 75 percent of what men do, though doesn’t this have more to do with the choices women can now make than discrimination?
Women can stay single and climb the corporate ladder. Women can marry, have a family and hire a nanny to watch the kids. They can suspend their careers to stay home with the kids, which will reduce their earning potential when they return to work. There are a million choices available and women are choosing every variation under the sun.
And they’re piloting sailboats.
It used to be that when five people got onto a sailboat, the men sat in the back barking orders. They’d soon get to bickering and turn an otherwise delightful outing into a miserable affair.
Now women are doing that. While they focus intensely on their piloting duties, it’s the men who are adrift at sea.
We’re not sure whether we should pull or release the damn jib.