Sometimes I write columns I know are going to get me in trouble with some readers.
Granted, the extent of the reaction may surprise me. One blog last week called me a "terrorist columnist" and a "Fabian socialist" assisting in "setting the stage of communism in America" because I had the temerity to criticize the way Northampton County Controller Steve Barron approaches his job. But the fact that some people don't agree with the political columns isn't surprising at all.
Surely this was the most inoffensive of subjects. Nice guy, interesting retirement pursuit, glamorous ports of call. He's part of a team of personable older men who serve as dance partners, conversationalists and tour guides for unaccompanied women on cruises. Absolutely no hanky-panky permitted. What could be less controversial?
I've just finished reading your article on the cruise ship host Jim Wood.
I am APPALLED. Why is it that a man can get free cruises to be a host and not women? You know what a woman would be called that had that chance? A Whore!
I am not a sexist. I am happily married for 30 years and could never be able to do that job. But I have a friend, female, who is a widow who loves to travel and pays for every vacation cruise she goes on. A cruise ship would NEVER consider giving a woman a job like this. Why? Because they are being sexist!
It makes me very angry to see this role playing for men only. I appreciate that he is just a host and provides companionship to single women and doesn't sleep with them, but couldn't the same be done for a job for a single, widowed woman?
I think not. Why don't your write about this reversal of male and female roles on cruise ships! It is just not fair, and I think many women probably thought the same thing but just didn't say anything or voice their opinions. Thank you.
If there were lots of women out there thinking that they were being short-changed by these arrangements, I should have explained it better. Here's how Wood put it in his book, "The Man Who Danced Around the World: Confessions and Life Lessons from a Cruise Line Dance Host" (available at Amazon.com):
"In the mid-1980s, it became apparent to the now defunct Royal Cruise Line that there were an increasing number of unescorted ladies taking cruises. Many were widows fulfilling the dream they had shared with departed husbands. Socializing is a great part of cruising, and that includes dancing. To accommodate and encourage these ladies and other unescorted women, Royal sought out retired men who could dance and interact socially with their guests. In exchange, these gentlemen received a free cruise."
Here's the important part of that explanation. This program was not created so retired guys could get free cruises. It was created because these cruises were full of widowed and single women, in many cases traveling with groups of female friends. The cruise lines wanted them to have fun.
Setting aside the fact that women live longer and therefore are more likely to be around to take a cruise when they're older, unescorted men are far less likely to opt for a cruise vacation. I realize there are exceptions, but if some older guys want to take a vacation together, they're far more likely to go to a golf resort or Las Vegas, for example, than to book a cruise.
And if they're the exception, and they love to dance, they'll find a zillion unescorted women on the ship looking for someone to trip the light fantastic with them. So they STILL won't need a female dance host. In fact, Wood told me the male hosts defer to guys in that situation, so they get their pick of partners.
When I first wrote about Wood 10 years ago, I interviewed Mimi Weisband, a Royal employee when this idea was conceived and later director of public relations for Crystal Cruises.
I called Weisband, now Crystal Cruises' vice president of marketing, to run this reader's letter past her. She responded, "It's just a reality that there are more unattached women, and even women whose husbands don't like to dance. There are more women who enjoy dancing than men." She added that dancing to live music is a big part of their entertainment program, and that despite the hosts' other duties, dancing is the reason they're on board.
There are all kinds of places a single woman can go and things she can do on a cruise, Weisband said. "But you cannot ballroom dance by yourself … . We found that we filled a void."
So here's the bottom line, for anyone who reacted as this reader did. When a cruise line brings in Jim Wood instead of this lady's friend, it's not discrimination. It's making a business decision designed to make sure its customers have an enjoyable time and keep coming back.
I may be a terrorist and a communist, but I'm not a sexist.
Bill White's commentary appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.