The phrase "women and children" attributes to women the same dependence and moral simplicity we find in five-year-olds. Such an attitude perhaps made sense in an era dominated by male privilege. Given the disabilities attached to womanhood in 1912, it was only fair that a new standard of gender equality not suddenly be proclaimed just as lifeboat seats were being handed out.
Children are entitled to special consideration for two reasons: helplessness and innocence. They have not yet acquired either the faculty of reason or the wisdom of experience.
Consequently, they are defenseless (incapable of fending for themselves) and blameless (incapable of real sin). That's why we grant them special protection.
But is not grouping women with children a raging anachronism? Should not any self-respecting modern person, let alone feminist, object to it as insulting to women?
Yet its usage is as common today as it was in 1912. Consider these examples taken almost at random from recent newspapers:
Although the original incentive was gone, I continued poring over the encyclopedias, as well as an increasing number of other books. Having tasted of the wine of knowledge, I could not now alter my course. For:
"A little knowledge is a dangerous thing:
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring."