When Mom and I boarded the Royal Caribbean's "Monarch of the Sea" a few weeks ago, unbeknownst to us, we were crossing paths with history. Turns out, we were in the capable hands of Captain Karin Stahre Janson, the world's first female captain of a major cruise ship - EVER.
I was thrilled when Captain Karin held a champagne reception for all the guests and delivered a funny, warm speech. While she did not speak to her history-making achievement directly, she seemed keenly aware of her place in nautical history. She talked about her early interest in the ocean and the many years of hard work as a deck hand. "I love this life," she gushed.
At 5'11", this 39-year-old Swede is no slouch. Mom and I had our photos taken with her and she towered over us. She mentioned the great majority of males along the way who cheered her on and gladly helped her achieve this position but there was just one old man who chided her ambition: "You should be looking for a husband and making babies." She simply patted him on the head and continued on her path to the helm.
What struck me most about the Captain was her humor and warmth. After her speech, she brought key members of her staff up on stage (including the "Environmental Officer" ...!) and bragged about each person's unique skill. Other cruisers told me that while cruise ship captains often do this, they usually have notes in hand; this Captain needed no prompters. Each word came from the heart and it was easy to see that the gratitude and admiration worked both ways. The Monarch's crew loved their Captain and she loved 'em right back.
When I tell people about Captain Karin, I get the same reaction: "You mean, it's taken this long? It's just happening now???" They were annoyed at some imagined injustice - the 'glass bridge' perhaps.
But from what I gleaned from the Captain's speech, the lack of women in this position is not due to unassailable obstructions or ignorant sexism, it's primarily due to a lack of female interest. Evidently, there's just not a ton of ladies who are dying to be ship captains. Sometimes, my generation gets so used to breaking down walls and resetting expectations, we forget to give the world some credit.
"Like anything, you just have to want it bad enough and then one day, it's yours," she said. Aye, aye, Cap'n!