PC Culture

Berkeley Removes Gendered Words Such as ‘Manhole’ from Its City Codes

A man-hole cover in Detroit, Mich. (Rebecca Cook/Reuters )
But why?

The city of Berkeley, Calif., is going to replace all gendered words in its city codes — such as “manpower” and “manhole” — with gender-neutral ones such as “human effort” and “maintenance hole.”

It will also replace all gender-specific pronouns (like “she” and “he”) with “they.”

The new ordinance passed easily and without discussion, according to a piece in CNN.

“There’s power in language,” said Berkeley city-council member Rigel Robinson, the main author of the bill. “This is a small move, but it matters.”

Here’s my question for you, Robinson: To whom does this actually matter?

First of all, I think it’s important to point out that Berkeley is not the first place in the world to make words with the syllable “man” in them an issue in this way. Last year, I wrote a piece about how the European Union had moved to do away with seemingly innocuous words such as “mankind” and “manpower” for the same reasons.

At the time, I wrote that I didn’t understand why these changes were being made — because I, a woman, have absolutely never been offended by these kinds of words. In fact, I feel the exact same way about Berkeley as I did about the EU: completely confused as to how this is helping me even the tiniest bit. I mean, honestly, when I sit and think about the problems in my life (both as a woman and as a person), people using the word “manhole” has absolutely no place on the list. After all, I understand that the word “manhole” simply means “a hole, usually with a cover, through which a person may enter a sewer, drain, steam boiler, etc., especially one located in a city street”; that that has nothing to do with anyone’s gender, and that it would therefore be a pretty insane thing to be upset about — and to have taxpayer-funded politicians spending even a second of their taxpayer-funded time on.

That is, of course, not to say that there’s nothing that I’ve ever worried about specifically because of my gender. I’m not bothered by this move not because I think that gender-based problems, such as sexism, don’t exist; I’m bothered because they do.

As a woman, I have faced issues that men do not have to face — sexism included. I think that all women have, and that is totally unacceptable. The problem with ridiculous moves like Berkeley’s here is that this kind of laser focus on such silly little innocuous things runs the risk of making the entire feminist movement seem silly and innocuous, too. Actually taking the time to tackle this “problem” makes it seem as though feminists must not have any real issues to deal with — and that upsets me because, unfortunately, that’s far from the truth.

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