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Is Below Deck Med’s Season of Female Leadership Really Feminist?

I love the Below Deck franchise, but I generally don’t expect a lot from Below Deck (or any other reality TV show) in terms of being feminist. However, the opening scene of Below Deck: Mediterranean included a segment celebrating the female leadership on board this season. All three of the main leadership positions on board were held by women: Capt. Sandy as Captain, Malia as bosun, and Hannah (and later Bugsy) as the Chief Stewardess. 

I think this is a really great development. The yachting industry is a traditionally male-dominated field, especially for captains and the deck crew. Most previous seasons have included a male bosun leading a mostly male deck crew. I was hoping to see this ‘boys club’ atmosphere changed. It’s important to show women in positions of power on TV, but I question how well the show is actually executing its self-proclaimed message of female empowerment. 

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There have been some great moments, as we get to see the leaders of the boat succeeding in their positions. Capt. Sandy, with the help of the deck team, dock the boat in incredibly tight spaces with feet to spare. Malia jumps in the water and rescues someone after falling off a jet ski. Hannah and Bugsy deliver exceptional service and manage the charter guests’ many demands. 

Additionally, deckhand Pete repeatedly called his boss Malia “sweetheart.” Malia told Capt. Sandy that she felt uncomfortable, and Capt. Sandy reprimanded Pete, telling him the situation was completely unacceptable. Pete didn’t seem aware that he was calling her that and initially denied it, but he eventually apologized and corrected his mistake. Capt. Sandy also supported Malia when the deckhands disobeyed her direct orders. 

While Capt. Sandy seems to be on Malia’s side, she didn’t always do the same for Hannah. The second stewardess, Lara, was incredibly disrespectful to Hannah: refusing to work, disobeying Hannah’s orders, and being rude and snarky. However, when Hannah tells Capt. Sandy about the situation, Capt. Sandy basically tells them to work it out. Granted, Capt. Sandy has said that in watching the show, she didn’t realize how bad the situation was, but she still didn’t fully listen to Hannah or acknowledge the problem. 

[bf_image id="q7iclg-41mvts-13cnae"] The show also shows a major dispute between Capt. Sandy, Malia, and Hannah. Hannah gets fired for not registering her legally prescribed valium and CBD pen, presumably because Malia reported Hannah to Capt. Sandy after the two had a fight about cabin arrangements. I don’t know enough about maritime law to say if not reporting medication to the boat is a fireable offense, but I do think the way in which Hannah was fired was problematic. Capt. Sandy doesn’t let Hannah explain herself and also calls her unstable because she had one anxiety attack. She’s unprofessional and curses at Hannah. 

The whole situation is painful to watch. Hannah could clearly do her job, and it was unfair of Capt. Sandy to say that she doubted Hannah’s ability to work because of her anxiety. The show villainized all three of the women it was originally trying to extol, portraying Capt. Sandy as cold, Malia as petty and vengeful, and Hannah as unstable and crazy.

Despite the more problematic moments, I do overall think this season of Below Deck: Mediterranean is doing a good thing. It may just be reality TV, but it’s also starting a conversation about working in a male-dominated field. Granted, there’s still a long way to go, and I hope that future seasons of the show do more to acknowledge the sexism on board. 

Allison Brookhart

U Mass Amherst '23

Ally Brookhart is a senior at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She is majoring in biochemistry and is interested how science interacts with society. Ally enjoys exploring new places, reading, working out, and playing volleyball.
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