Rude to Assume a Woman Was Responsible for the Stuck Boat

Sexism at sea? Photo: Getty Images

Well, well, well, what do we have here? An obvious smear by the (evidently sexist) wind lobby, I must assume. How else to explain this scurrilous rumor that a woman actually engineered the recent stuck-boat calamity? Marwa Elselehdar, Egypt’s first female ship captain, tells the BBC she wasn’t even anywhere near the Suez Canal when the Ever Given gusted sideways and wedged itself diagonally across one of the world’s more important shipping routes. And yet when she checked her phone shortly after the news of the beaching broke, she says she was “shocked” to see a headline pinning the blame on her. Rude!

“This fake article was in English, so it spread in other countries,” Elselehdar told the BBC. “I tried so hard to negate what was in the article, because it was affecting my reputation and all the efforts I exerted to be where I am now.”

In 2015, Elselehdar — now 29 — became the first Egyptian woman to cross the Suez when she captained the Aida IV through its newly expanded depths. But when the Ever Given lodged itself in the canal on March 23, she and the Aida IV were reportedly hundreds of miles away, in Alexandria. Nonetheless, screenshots of a recent Arab News profile on Elselehdar — originally published on March 22 and subsequently Photoshopped so that the headline read, “Cargo Ship Crashes Into Suez Canal. First Female Lloyd Arab Captain Involved in Incident” — began circulating online.

“I felt that I might be targeted maybe because I’m a successful female in this field or because I’m Egyptian, but I’m not sure,” she told the BBC. “People in our society still don’t accept the idea of girls working in the sea away from their families for a long time.” Elselehdar said she consistently experienced sexist attitudes from her uniformly male peers (“All older men with different mentalities,” outmoded mentalities, about women and seafaring, she said) during her time at the Arab Academy for Science, Technology and Maritime Transport.

According to the Arab News, “anti-feminist trolls” went so far as to create “several” fake Twitter accounts claiming to be Elselehdar, in service of what the outlet called “a baseless ‘this is what happens when you let a woman captain a ship’ argument.”

It’s a pretty wild claim to make, considering what we know about the Ever Given: namely, that it was probably too big to be comfortably navigating the narrow Suez to begin with and that the towering stack of shipping containers on its deck seemed to have functioned as a giant sail when a sandstorm picked up. The force appears to have jammed the ship’s ends firmly into the riprap lining the canal’s banks, stranding our beautiful behemoth for nearly a week before a bunch of tugs and the moon eventually freed her. The Suez Canal Authority has since admitted that “human error” likely played a role, but still: Seems like people really will go to any lengths necessary to avoid naming the obvious villain here, which is, of course, the wind.

Rude to Assume a Woman Was Responsible for the Stuck Boat