Main Spaceship Girl Discussion

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09:22:32 AM Sep 7th 2010
This page really rambles for a long time before getting to the point, doesn't it?
10:51:04 AM Sep 7th 2010
I've been wanting to split it for some time into "spaceships are metaphorically female" and "this spaceship is actually a girl." I have not been successful in garnering popular support.
10:14:06 AM Dec 19th 2011
This really needs fixing.
11:35:08 AM Jul 4th 2014
edited by
Ask and ye shall receive, Falco. I've cut this section out of the intro:

Throughout history, ships and other seafaring vessels have always been referred to as "she" (at least in English), and spaceships are just an extension of the metaphor. Knowing how to treat a ship is like knowing how to treat a woman, The Captain will say; take care of her and she'll take care of you. She may have to be tamed, or she may take a gentle touch. The analogies go on and on. Strangely, this even applies to ships named after men (e.g., the USS Ronald Reagan). It also applies to aircraft. This has been reflected in the appearance of older sailing vessels and many military aircraft — with scantily clad figureheads for the former and scantily clad women painted on the latter.

The tendency to see great vessels as female could have something to do with the crew and passengers feeling that they're being carried in its belly through hostile environment and subconsciously seeing it as motherly. Maybe. Note, however, that the use of the feminine is not universal. Latin did, and thus romance languages directly and English indirectly do the same; on the other hand, in Russian, the word "ship" is masculine.

The disguised, contradictory discussion here has been ongoing for a long time. Originally, the trope also included accusations that personifying ships is inherently sexist—parts of which remained for years until I removed them just now. I figure Silent Hunter's knowledge on the topic (as he is the one responsible for these claims) only goes as far as Titanic, where Margaret Brown claims it's sexism and that "it's just another case of men settin' things their way." I've seen claims of this elsewhere on the web, often quoting Titanic directly as evidence—such as in old Manuals of Style discussions on Wikipedia.

As other Tropers have already pointed out both in the disguised Main Page discussion and here in the discussion page, the cultures of the world do not universally consider ships female. Some gender ships by their type, others consider them all male. Others don't personify them at all. And sometimes, a specific ship is given a gender that's different compared to how a culture normally treats its ships.

As I've come to understand the more I read about this topic myself, ships were practically considered a member of the crew by English-speaking captains and seamen during the Age of Sail. Ian W. Toll noted accounts in his book, Six Frigates, where captains would actually talk to their ships, asking (for example) how much sail they'd like to carry that day. They were treating them as people rather than an object to be controlled. "A ship can do everything but talk, and sometimes she can do even that," as one captain put it. One Piece fans might recall the final moments between the Straw Hat Pirates and their first ship, the Going Merry—it's not far off the mark as to how real sailors viewed their ships.

Modern answers to the question "why are ships considered female" can vary from endearing ("a ship carries its passengers inside her like a mother carries an unborn child") to sexist ("because it costs a lot of money to keep her in paint and (gun)powder"), but historically sailors and captains were elevating ships to personhood, treating them as much of a human as they were—not reducing women to objects.

Also, Silent Hunter's claim that figureheads were typically of "scantily clad women" is, frankly, nonsense. This Flickr gallery by Mike Fitzpatrick of the figurehead gallery at the Naval Academy Museum in Anapolis shows that scantily clad women were not the norm. Many of the figureheads were in the likeness of the ship's namesake (John Hancock was the figurehead of the Hancock, a Macedonian soldier adorned the Macedonian, etc.). Others that were named for a concept didn't default to scantily clad women, either—Constitution had a scantily clad Hercules holding up the Constitution, followed by several figureheads of Andrew Jackson in later years.

Since I've gone and removed what remains of Silent Hunter's rant that personification is sexist (as well as other tropers' counterarguments), I'm also going to clean up any examples in the main page that perpetuate Silent Hunter's claims as well. I'll also add some of what I've noted here in the Real Life section.
05:41:01 AM Jun 10th 2010
edited by Macallan
"The Germans avert it and refer to their ships as a 'he'." This is nonsense. The words for 'ship', 'submarine', 'airplane' etc. are all neuter, but it's a bit more complicated than that ( surprise, surprise ). If referring to a ship by name only it's always female even if the name is not. If referring to a ship by class, type etc. it picks up whatever gender the class, type etc. has. For example "the ice breaker 'Polar Star'" would be male because ice breakers are male. "the polar star" would be male because stars are male too. "the 'Polar Star'" would be female because now you're referring to a ship by name only. Likewise, "the battleship 'Bismarck'" would be neuter because battleships are neuter. "the 'Bismarck'" would be female.
04:38:09 PM Jul 1st 2010
Also, Portuguese (and I think Spanish too) is a romance language that refers to ships as a "he". Be it an ocean vessel, a small boat, an airplane. The exception is, oddly enough, space ships (because the Sci Fi translators/authors chose to use an ancient form for "ship" which was female).
09:38:44 AM Aug 9th 2010
Spanish and French (that lack the neuter gender) use the masculine gender for ships (UN barco/UN bateau), so it's definitively not something that is common in romance languages.

06:26:11 AM Dec 31st 2012
Exactly. I can't remember any other linguistic tradition other than English where ships are personified as women. This article is woefully ethnocentric.
05:12:18 PM Apr 20th 2010
Any chance we can change that Picture to one of Rommie from Andromeda? I think she's a better example since she's got all 3 forms (A computerized AI, a robotic body, and a hologram.)
05:14:28 PM Apr 20th 2010
edited by FastEddie
Try it on in the Image Pickin' Forum
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