What is a proshipper? Meaning explored as term trends on TikTok, Twitter

Bruno Cooke January 19, 2023
What is a proshipper? Meaning explored as term trends on TikTok, Twitter
Group of people different ages with megaphone and speech bubble. Downloaded from Getty Images Creative.

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Internet users may have been surprised during the past week to see the words “proship” and “proshipper” used to mean something other than a “top-notch delivery person” – as per what is currently Urban Dictionary’s second-ranked definition of the term.

The meaning of the words proship and proshipper within the context of online conversations about lore, fandoms, art and/or controversial romantic pairings is very different.

And recently, they have taken off, with people on Twitter and TikTok talking about things like a “proshipper art style,” the so-called anti-shipper movement, and “anti-antis.”

Here’s a brief breakdown of what they all mean, so that the conversations about proshippers playing out on social media websites are (hopefully) less confusing.

container ship coming into port, low-angle view, composite

What is the meaning of the noun ‘proshipper’ and its corresponding verb ‘proship?

A proshipper, or someone who proships, is someone who is in favour of the practice of shipping – which, in this context, has nothing to do with the transporting of cargo, or FedEx.

In fandoms – communities of fans of works of art, particular narratives, or even just celebrities – shipping is the act of supporting, or wishing for, a particular relationship, romantic or otherwise.

It gets its meaning from the word “relationship.” The term originated among fans of the X-Files. Fans wanted to see a romantic relationship between characters Dana Scully and Fox Mulder. First they were “relationshippers,” then “R’shippers,” and finally simply “shippers”.

So to an extent, the meaning of the word “proship,” and by extension “proshipper,” is what its prefix suggests: someone who is for shipping. But it isn’t quite that simple.

Photo by FOX Image Collection via Getty Images

Doesn’t proshipper also have a more complicated meaning?

Well, yes. In the case of X-Files, shippers wanted the “ship” to develop between Scully and Mulder – two adults. Those who wanted them to remain platonic were NoRomos (as in, No Romance).

When the relationship eventually happened, it may have upset the NoRomos, but the fallout was limited. The relationship was uncontroversial and inoffensive beyond the fanbase.

In other words, to ship them was a socially acceptable thing to do. But there are other pairings, or potential pairings, that may cause offence to people. Especially if they existed in real life, that is.

For example, pairings where the two individuals are in some way related, or where one is a minor. Such relationships can be controversial on screen. But if they existed in real life, they definitely would be. So, over time, people who thought such relationships shouldn’t exist in fiction – because they may have an impact on the real world – developed a community. The anti-ship movement emerged. People started identifying as being “anti,” or “anti-shippers.”

The opposite of an anti is an anti-anti, which is a proshipper

If someone opposes the act of shipping certain types of relationships, they might describe themselves as an anti, or an anti-shipper. 

The prefix “anti-” denotes opposition to something. It follows, therefore, that someone who opposes the act of opposing the act of shipping certain types of relationships, is an “anti-anti.”

Proshipper and anti-anti appear to be basically interchangeable. They both describe someone who adopts a stance that supports the shipping of all types of pairings, even if they fall outside the bonds of what is socially acceptable in contemporary society.

The rivalry between anti-shippers and pro-shippers appears to have picked up steam in the last week or two. On Twitter, for example, people have been sharing memes about proshippers, blocking proshippers, saying people look like proshippers, and more.

On the one hand, some anti-shippers argue that the proshipping stance is morally questionable. Why? Because, the argument runs, what someone likes in fiction and/or art bears some relation to themselves in real life. Some proshippers, on the other hand, make arguments about detaching fiction from reality.

Group of people different ages with megaphone and speech bubble

A ship war for the ages

Reading what others have said or written about shipping, proshippers, antis and anti-antis may lock in the meanings of the terms in question.

YouTuber Sarah Z produced a one hour, 40 minute video on fandom’s “biggest controversy” last year. In it, she says that, “no matter how simple a fictional character pairing may seem, the truth is that it is almost never that simple.”

She is explaining the anti-shipper position. “There is almost always going to be discourse of some kind,” she says. “Be it because people find the ship offensive, because they find it unappealing, or because they don’t like the people doing the ship itself.”

On the other side of the coin, meanwhile, one user taking part in a discussion about the meaning of words like “proshipper” and “anti-anti” on Tumblr argues that, “specifically, there aren’t anti-antis.”

Instead, they say, there are “just antis, who are authoritarians, and the people who disagree with them.”

For obvious reasons, capturing the scope, depth and breadth of the debate around proshipping is beyond the scope of this article. Find more information on anti-shippers and proshippers on Fanlore.

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Bruno Cooke has been a freelance journalist since 2019, primarily with GRV Media. He was an early contributor to The Focus, and has written for HITC, Groundviews and the Sheffield University newspaper – he earned his MA in Global Journalism there in 2021. He’s the Spoken Word Poetry Editor for The Friday Poem, and self-published his debut novel Reveries in 2019, which his mum called both a “fine read” and “excellent Christmas present”. Bruno has lived in China, Sri Lanka and the Philippines and likes, among other things: bicycle touring, black and white Japanese films, pub quizzes, fermentation and baklava. In 2023, Bruno will set off with his partner on a round-the-world cycle.