Current Affairs

Making ships gender neutral is ‘insult to generations of sailors,’ says ex-Navy head

Reiss Smith April 24, 2019
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The HMS Queen Elizabeth anchored in Portsmouth, England

The HMS Queen Elizabeth anchored in Portsmouth, England. (Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

An argument has erupted over the Scottish Maritime Museum’s decision to refer to ships as “it” instead of “she.”

The museum announced on Tuesday (April 22) that it would no longer gender ships it exhibits, after the pronouns “she” and “her” were scratched out of signs by vandals.

“We are moving in line with other maritime institutions,” said the museum’s director David Mann.

“The debate around gender and ships is wide ranging, pitting tradition against the modern world. But I think that we have to move with the times and understand the way people look at things today.”

Former Navy head Alan West calls gender neutral ships ‘bonkers’

Admiral Lord Alan West, who served as first sea lord from 2002 to 2006, called the decision “stark staring bonkers” and “political correctness gone mad.”

In a surprise intervention, he phoned in to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Wednesday morning (April 24).

“It’s a sort of insult to generations of sailors,” he said.

“The ships are seen almost as a mother to preserve us from the dangers of the sea and also from the violence of the enemy. To change it in this trite fashion is just absolutely stupid.

“We’ve done it for centuries as that’s how we refer to them, we have to be very careful with little tiny pressure groups that make people change things. It’s a very dangerous road we are going down.

“We have to be very careful with little tiny pressure groups that make people change things.”

—Admiral Lord Alan West, former Navy first sea lord

“I don’t think it’s dated at all, sometimes things that are dated are there for very good reasons and I am very proud of some of those facts.”

Gender neutral ships are nothing new

The shipping newspaper Lloyd’s List was among the first to abandon the use of “she” in 2002.

Julian Bray, its then-editor, wrote at the time: “The shipping industry does need to move forward if it is not to risk becoming a backwater of international business.

“They are maritime real estate. The world moves on.”

The Royal Navy has confirmed that it will continue to refer to its ships as “she.”

“We have a long tradition of referring to its ships as ‘she’ and will continue to do so,” a spokesperson told The Telegraph.

The Royal Navy won the Public Sector Equality award at the 2018 PinkNews Awards.

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