Boat jobs are colorblind

Most boats have a division of labor. How do we split responsibility along “pink” vs “blue” jobs, or  “kid jobs” for those of us with children aboard?

Looking manly
Just hanging out looking manly, wondering what blue jobs to do

Confession: I think this is a crock. It bothers me that “pink and blue jobs” rates as a theme to address. Then again, step near the toy aisles of any mass merchant, and there is an alarming degree of color coding that leaves no room for speculation over which row of froth is intended for girls, and which row of action is intended for boys. Ridiculous.

Shouldn’t we have outgrown all of this a very long time ago? Why do areas of responsibility have to be drawn along gender stereotypes to such an extent that without any listing on my part, you imagine exactly which jobs are supposed to be pink and which jobs are supposed to be blue? Shouldn’t we be talking about individual strengths? About what we want to do, and what we want to learn?

So, I’m not going to talk about it at all, but I will do more than just rant that the discussion of labor division on board should be reframed, and gender/color coding needs to go the way of the dinosaurs.

It is inevitable that tasks in running a household, whether it floats on water or sits on soil, will be divided for efficiency and economy. Whoever can handle a given area of responsibility faster or better is probably going to be doing it 90% of the time: we play to our respective strengths, regardless of gender.

If we want to examine the division of labor on board, there are a few more important questions to consider.

Is it divided fairly in terms of effort required? If one crewmember feel they carry too much of any one burden, it could foster resentment.

What happens if one crew member is incapacitated? It’s clearly a problem if there are tasks that only that person knows how to do.

Do you appreciate the work your partner tends to do? Make sure you swap responsibilities around now and then, not only to make sure there is baseline capability on both sides, but to understand what’s involved for a task that one person tends to do. We might all make assumptions about what is hard (or not) from the outside.

Are there things you should both do together? Do you want to learn jobs that are your partner’s expertise? What are things that either of you can do, that you should make sure you trade off?

One of my cruising mentors is the awesome Nancy Erley, who I took training classes from back in 2005. She’s circumnavigated twice, as captain of her boat, with all women crew- if we need any reminder that “blue jobs” are an artificial distinction. One of many things I learned from Nancy is that if there is something on the boat that I cannot do based on my physical size or strength, the limitation is not mine. It is not necessary to default to the larger / stronger man on board to handle that job. The real problem is the boat needs to be modified so that I can accomplish the job.

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The Monkey's Fist

6 Responses

  1. We are within the two year countdown to the intended departure date and this is a consideration of significant importance. On terra firma, I do the majority of menu planning, shopping and cooking, cleaning, house upkeep, finances. Aboard will also be captain, engineer, navigator. This is all because I am an engineer and my work style spills over into my domestic style, much to my wife’s chagrine. Now, since she does not like to do any of the above in the first place, I am challenged to convince her some of the above has to fall to her. Perhaps more of an issue is she loves boats and the water, but does not like to heel over. Does this sound like a solo cruise or what?

  2. In our land based life, I cook. I enjoy it, I’m good at it and if I didn’t our food budget would quickly be blown on take out. We both do laundry and dishes. We both change diapers. My wife does the lion’s share of lawn mowing – which used to get a few smirks from a variety of our neighbors but has prompted one such chronologically gifted madam to hop on her own lawn tractor (bravo!). Somehow, I’ve gotten suckered into “inside spider removal” duties. I suppose this is less a function of pink/blue and more of a function of someone has to do it and she screeches a lot better than I do. This is just a long winded way of saying we agree. Our jobs are split according to aptitude rather than attitude.

  3. I normally agree with your point of view Behan, but in this case you are way off. I totally disagree with Nancy Erley’s sentiment that you adopted. There is no way we are going to modify our 55-hp Yanmar engine so that my big hands and body can contort into the small, awkward space so that I can remove the raw water impeller or pump, this will remain Windy’s job. Michael

  4. We are 8-12 months to launch. Phil and I have disscussed division of jobs to be assigned to one or the other based on strengths and capibility. Some jobs will flip flop to each other depending on the circumstance. We are actually teaching each other how we would do certain taskings and others we are learning together. While lots of these “jobs” can be done by either ie cooking,cleaning, etc; With our backgrounds we have learned that someone must be responsible for ensuring that things are completed! Having said that, it doesn’t mean that the area of responsibility has to be completed by that person, the taskings can be completed by either or both, but ensure that it is done!

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