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24 Apr, 2019 11:16

So, why exactly can’t we call a boat a ‘she’ anymore?

So, why exactly can’t we call a boat a ‘she’ anymore?

Even the protesters who keep vandalizing a museum plaque to scrub out female pronouns in reference to a yacht would struggle to explain what the exact offense committed here is.

The Scottish Maritime Museum has announced that it will replace all references to ships in its displays with gender neutral terms – ‘it’ instead of ‘she’ – after a display about a 19th-century steam yacht called Rifle was defaced twice in recent months.


Its director explained simply that “we have to move with the times and understand the way people look at things today.”

But some of us don’t understand – despite not being all that old.

What is it about using the centuries-old tradition of referring to boats by a female pronoun that denigrates women?

Julian Bray, former editor of esteemed maritime publication Lloyd’s List, gave it a try.

“I can see why ‘she’ would suit a magnificent cruise liner but to a rusting old hulk it could be rather offensive,” he told the Telegraph.

So, beautiful boats can be like women, but ugly ones cannot?

I think this misses the point. No one thinks a boat is a woman, or that a woman is a boat.

Ok, maybe some sailors in the past used to view their boat as a temperamental woman, so then let’s condemn those 16th-century pirates for their gender stereotypes. Not the Scottish Maritime Museum in 2019. Because unless we somehow feel that all water-based vessels are offensive, there is no one being insulted.

Also, if boats can’t be a ‘she’, what about other non-humans?

Most refer to a male dog as a ‘he’ and a female dog as a ‘she’. Should I call my female dog ‘it’ lest people worry that I think women are dogs?

What about lions? Can they have gendered pronouns? Wolves? Ferrets?

To speakers of languages in which most nouns are masculine or feminine – Russian, French, German – this all becomes even more “problematic.” In Russian, ‘Russia’ is a ‘she’, as is ‘America’, but ‘China’ is a ‘he’. What is better? Which has the worse connotations? Should we re-gender all our nouns in a hierarchy of how potentially unflattering they are to women, or change every word to ‘it’?

How about we don’t do that.

And we don’t let literal-minded, offense-taking vandals dictate how we run our museums.

By Igor Ogorodnev

Igor Ogorodnev is a Russian-British journalist, who has worked at RT since 2007 as a correspondent, editor and writer.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.