Women and children first  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

"Women and children first" is a saying that implies that the lives of women and children are to be saved first if the lives of a group of people are at stake. The saying is most famously associated with the sinking of RMS Titanic in 1912.


The practice arose from the chivalrous actions of soldiers during sinking of HMS Birkenhead in 1852, though the phrase was not coined until 1860. Although never part of international maritime law, the phrase was popularised by its usage on the RMS Titanic, where, as a consequence of this practice, 74% of the women on board were saved and 52% of the children, but only 20% of the men.

Unfortunately, some officers on the Titanic misinterpreted the order from Captain Smith, and tried to prevent men from boarding the lifeboats. It was intended that women and children would board first, with any remaining free spaces for men. Because so few men were saved on the Titanic, the men who did survive were initially branded as cowards, including J. Bruce Ismay.


Some analysts such as Dr Carey Roberts and Dr David Benatar have viewed the policy of "women and children first" (and conscription) as evidence of what Warren Farrell refers to as "male disposability," where preservation of a woman's life is given priority over preservation of a man's life. Further, this policy, particularly as applied to incidents like the sinking of the Titanic, resulted in high numbers of widows or orphans who might then face economic and social difficulty.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Women and children first" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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