“I’m not always good and I’m not always bad…” (via @hannahferrier234 on Instagram). On this week’s episode, she is in the wrong on a professional level for kissing a charter guest, no matter how powerful the connection between her and the millionaire bachelor. However, some of the criticisms that follow Below Deck Med Chief Stewardess Hannah Ferrier are rooted in the perceived incongruence between her behavior and how women are traditionally supposed to behave:
1) She’s accused of “pulling rank” when subordinates disrespect her. The reason why she needs to “pull rank” as often as she does is because others do not respect the fact that she, as the Chief Stew, is one of the higher-ups on the boat. In the show, she tends to do this by mentioning that she has “three stripes on her epaulets” and they have one. This seems to just be her slightly nicer way of saying “hey, I’m your superior, show me some respect,” and is necessary in the contexts in which it is used- such as when she was trying to tell Bobby he can’t bring a girl back to the boat and he resisted.
In season one, junior deckhand Danny gets involved in an argument between Ben and Hannah and tells Hannah she has an “ugly personality”. It doesn’t seem to matter to Danny that she is his superior, even after Bryan had already warned him not to get involved with the arguments between superiors. Despite the fact that Hannah makes very clear her expectations of others and her role, others often do not like to think they need to listen to her. In season one, the stewardesses respect Bryan as he is their superior, no matter how much of a jerk he is, yet Hannah doesn’t receive the same level of respect from the deck crew.
The issue: Men sometimes acquire a false sense of superiority based in masculinity and don’t handle it well when it doesn’t translate into the hierarchy of their workplace.
2) She is labelled as lazy and not hands-on enough. Hannah has high expectations of her stews and has a “no-BS” attitude. At times, she can be a bit impatient with people when she thinks they need to grow a thicker skin, and say in her confessional that she’s not up for dealing with their problems all the time. When Hannah decides to have someone else step in for dinner service because Lauren is having an emotional breakdown mid-dinner service, Bugsy says that if she was Chief Stew, she would be more hands-on in this situation. If one of the deckhands was having an emotional breakdown while they were trying to dock the boat, nobody would expect the bosun to confront the issue in that exact moment. That isn’t being hands-on, it’s putting the emotional needs of one crew member above the charter guests they are being paid to serve.
Hannah actually is quite hands-on and nurturing with her stews. In season one, when Julia was upset with how Bobby treated her, Hannah purposefully kept her on the boat in the cabins the next day, wanting to protect her. In season two, after Bugsy’s grandmother passed, she was there for her to support her wholeheartedly, and even told her a very personal story about losing her brother. As a woman in a leadership role on the boat, Hannah is up against the need to continue to do her job at a high level and also the gendered criticisms when she does not conform to traditionally female ways of behaving.
The issue: Society punishes women for the gender-incongruent actions that are often necessary for them to be successful.
3) She’s called a “slut” who “throws herself at everyone”. First, slut-shaming itself is a gendered problem, and Hannah is shamed for making moves on both Bobby and Ben within a season, yet Ben is not shamed for kissing Hannah and then sleeping with Tiffany the same night. Further, Ben clearly cared deeply about Hannah and was giving her mixed signals and she was shamed for still going for it, yet Julia explicitly told Bobby multiple times that she had a boyfriend and wasn’t interested and people still sympathized with him after he continued to guilt-trip and blame her for not returning his love.
As Hannah says multiple times throughout the show: “when I want something I go and get it.” This is a more traditionally male mentality; the expectation of women is that they will sit back and drop hints until a man makes the first move. Sure, Hannah can be quite forward especially when she’s drinking, but she never crosses a line where she is forcing herself onto someone. When she is turned down, she is shamed for making the move in the first place; in sharp contrast with when men are turned down, in which case women are shamed for “leading them on” or “not giving them a chance.”
The issue: Ambition and willingness to make the first move is something highly praised in men, but shamed in women.
An important final note is that Hannah’s mistakes, when she does make them, are often blown out of proportion by peers and viewers alike. The high expectations on her are in part because she is a superior, completely justifiably. However, people are more willing to give men the benefit of the doubt and more chances to prove themselves.
Hannah’s not perfect, but she’s often subject to undue criticism that exposes the prevalence of oppressive gender roles in the eyes of viewers and other crew aboard the Below Deck Med superyachts, regardless of their own gender.