The Scottish Maritime Museum in Irvine, Ayrshire, has decided to introduce gender-neutral terminology for ships and boats after an anonymous visitor scratched out the words ‘she’ and ‘her’ on an information plaque – the second time the sign has been targeted this year.
The museum says it will now phase in the introduction of ‘it’ and ‘its' on its signage in place of female pronouns.
“For the second time this year, we have been targeted by a vandal who has destroyed one of the interpretation signs which follow the universally adopted and centuries-old maritime tradition of referring to vessels as female,” explains the museum’s director, David Mann.
“Like other maritime institutions, we recognise the changes in society and are committed to introducing gender-neutral interpretations.
“However, being a small charity, we will do it in a phased way so that we aren’t taking our limited funds away from important preservation activity.
“We will therefore introduce gender-neutral signs as and when new interpretation is required.”
The decision has been met with criticism from some of the museum’s followers on social media.
One tweeter accused it of trying to “erase history”.
Another said that the person who defaced the sign “displayed a lack of maritime knowledge and disrespect for tradition – and a tendency to vandalism”.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Alan West, a Royal Navy admiral and former sea-lord called the museum’s decision “stark-staring bonkers and an insult to generations of sailors”.
The decision has, though, divided opinion amongst some feminists.
Ella Tennant from Keele University’s Language Centre says the tradition of labelling inanimate objects as feminine is “derogatory and patronising”.
Meanwhile, Lissy Lovett, editor of feminist magazine The F Word, says she “just can’t see this as being a big issue – given the other challenges women face in society today”.