The world today is talking about equality. Why are we leaving the men behind?

A seafarer’s job is considered to be one of the toughest jobs in the world. These are the people who leave their homes and make plenty of sacrifices to sail the massive vessels through rough seas. It is due to the efforts of these unseen individuals that most of the goods traded around the world are carried over the waves.

The job might be lucrative, but not an easy one for sure. A form of pressure that the Seafarers have to deal with is, ‘Toxic Masculinity”. The dictionary defines this as – A set of attitudes and ways of behaving, stereotypically associated with or expected of men, regarded as having a negative impact on the individual.

Recently, we interviewed a Chief Officer on a Chemical Tanker and discussed how Toxic Masculinity impacts Seafarers. Identity has been masked at the request of the Seafarer. The excerpts…

How has life been, being a Seafarer? Does it hurt being away from family and friends and do you find the environment onboard, hospitable?

This seems like a rhetorical question to me. Being away from your loved ones even in the most hospitable places is painful. Talking about life as a Seafarer – it has never been easy. On the face of it, the company takes care of all of our physical needs – food, accommodation, and other physical needs but that does not compensate for the emotional disconnect. There is always an underlying fear – a fear that what if they need you? Getting to them often seems lightyears away, they cannot even call you when they want. So yes, it does hurt and very much!

When it comes to personal and professional issues, are you comfortable with sharing those with your peers, or seniors?

Sharing is not really a thing on the vessel and it is not the question of comfort, it is more because of the way of life or the way of the day-to-day affairs. We work in shifts and have a limited number of hours to sleep, everyone is not free at the same time and the biggest reason is that the crew keeps changing. By the time you get to know someone, it’s time for either you or the other person to sign off. Amidst this dynamic state of affairs connecting with a fellow sailor at a personal level is not always possible.

As far as professional discussions are concerned, there is complete transparency. If there are issues we do discuss them with our seniors and if needed all work together towards solving the problem.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how would rate the existence of ‘Toxic Masculinity in the Shipping industry, especially where mental health amongst the seafarers is concerned?

It would be somewhat close to 7 or 8. It may be noted that this score that I just gave pertains to the general psychology of all males. Shipping has a higher rate because the number of males is definitely higher than in other professions. Unlike women, men have a particular mindset and construct placed upon them by cultural and societal norms, which makes it difficult for them to be able to share their feelings. The whole gamut of Toxic Masculinity is a result of these societal and mental constructs; but the fact is that yes, it certainly exists.

Please cite a couple of instance/s when you faced such a situation?

There have been a number of situations during my 10 years of sailing but two incidents were the most difficult ones. Once was when I went sailing for the first time. It was so difficult. Those were the days with no mobile phones let alone the internet. I was away from home among strangers. The crew always goes above and beyond to make any new member comfortable but warming up to a team of new people is not an easy task, especially when you consider the language barriers we face due to the multi-cultural nature of our industry.

The second time was later in my career. These were days when the internet on the ship had just started. I slipped on one of the stairs and badly hurt my leg and a little on the head. My captain and crew did all they could to ensure I was okay but I really wanted to cry. It hurt so bad, I wanted to have the comfort of my family but as it has been ingrained since childhood – Men don’t cry and so I did not – not at all, never in front of my seafaring colleagues. It’s seen as a sign of weakness. You are not seen as a man if you share your emotions, it is often soul-destroying, especially when you just need someone to give you a hug and tell you everything will be alright.

How did you deal with not being able to share your true feelings? Did it make you feel uncomfortable knowing you were under scrutiny for not being able to handle, what your peers may deem as a stressful situation?

I wouldn’t put it that way but would not deny the fact completely. Certainly, your expressive nature – talking about how you feel bad or sad does put a question on your ability to handle stress. There is a general stigma around mental wellness, again, not seen as being masculine to admit you need help. This actually goes hand in hand with this line of work. One has to be strong-headed because you have to be out there at sea for months, focused on your job, often with only the empty cabin walls to provide solace as you drift off to sleep. It doesn’t matter how cooperative and caring your crew can be, nothing can ever replace the warmth and love of your family and home, and just because I am a man – nothing ever gets easier.

What would be your suggestion about having facilities onboard, to destress?

Just one – unlimited access to connectivity at any given point of time.

What would be your advice to young seafarers to handle Toxic Masculinity?

There is nothing wrong with saying that you feel bad. As long as you are doing your job to the best of your abilities, you will not be judged. Talk about it because the one in front of you is sailing on the same ship and feeling the exact same feelings that you are. Sharing definitely helps. Manhood comes with too many expectations, its ok for men to be compassionate and kind to one another, protectiveness is our way and nature. We have to protect and look out for one another. Never be afraid to share and speak out, don’t bottle things up, nobody wants things to end in an explosive way. Remember, being kind starts with being kind to yourself.

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this interview you can download the onship app here to gain access to free advice and support via the 24/7 ISWAN support line today.