Ships Go Gender-Neutral at Maritime Museum

For centuries, boats and ships have been referred to as “she.” But it appears that some people take offense to using the female gender to refer to a vessel.

The Scottish Maritime Museum posted photos on Facebook of the acts of vandalism by an offended museum visitor.

Across the Atlantic Ocean, the Scottish Maritime Museum has set off a firestorm with its decision to make all of its future signs gender-neutral. The museum acted in response to vandals, who not once, but twice, scratched out “she” and “her” on the museum’s exhibit plaques.

The Scottish Maritime Museum posted a photo of the most recent vandalism last week, with the following caption:

“2nd time in a year our signs referring to vessels as she/her have been vandalised. We are a charity and our signs are very expensive! We can’t afford to replace all signs but new signs are gender neutral. Get in a touch, we would love to discuss it!”

The museum’s director, David Mann, told Scottish media that the museum is simply keeping up with the times:

“Like other maritime museums and institutions, we recognise the changes in society and are committed to introducing gender neutral interpretation,” said Mann.

The vandalism and the museum’s response has sparked anger from some in the UK, who argue the museum has a responsibility to keep references historically accurate. Others say the female pronoun is a sign of reverence, and that dropping it would be disrespectful to the people who have served on the ships.

The former head of the Royal Navy, Admiral Lord Alan West, told BBC Radio 4’s Today that the decision was “stark staring bonkers” and “political correctness gone mad”.

“The ships are seen almost like a mother,” he said. “They preserve us from the dangers of the sea and, indeed, also the violence of the enemy. To change it in this trite fashion is just absolutely stupid.”

The Scottish Maritime Museum, which has locations in Irvine and Dumbarton, Scotland, holds the world’s first commercial ship testing facility, as well as historic vessels and shipbuilding artifacts.

-Meg Walburn Viviano