The City of Berkeley has voted to remove gender-specific language from its municipal code, which includes words like “manmade,” “manhole" and “fireman,” in order to replace them with gender-neutral terms with more description. The change is set to go into effect in August, and will cost the city $600.
Said the bill’s primary author, Berkeley City Council member Rigel Robinson during an interview with CNN, as reported by the Washington Times: “Having a male-centric municipal code is inaccurate and not reflective of our reality,” Mr. Robinson said. “Women and non-binary individuals are just as entitled to accurate representation. Our laws are for everyone, and our municipal code should reflect that.”
What Kinds Of Words This Grammatical Move Includes
Examples of the switch from mostly masculine references to a more people-focused or object-focused reference include, according to the City of Berkeley’s Code Revision document:
“manhole” to “maintenance hole”
“manmade” to “human-made” or “artificial” or “manufactured” or “machine made” or “synthetic”
“manpower” to “human-effort” or “workforce”
“patrolmen” to “patrol” or “guards”
“policeman” or “policewoman” to “police officer”
Where Are The Words Around Us In Beacon?
Remember that time when the pronoun “his” was written into proposed legislation to legalize Airbnb? With reference to an inspection by the city’s building inspector, who at the time of that writing was a man? Here was the sentence: “The Building Inspector or his designated agent may also present evidence.” The pronoun was removed in later drafts of the legislation, which did not pass.
Gender-specified language is so ingrained into the English language and uses of it, it may be hard to spot. Like this sign pictured above, posted on Wolcott (Route 9D) near a group of renovated Victorian homes, near the Rose Hill childcare center. The sign reads: “City Of Beacon Greenway Trail: VICTORIAN HOUSES Built by local businessmen in the 1800s.”
Gendered language can have the unintended consequence of reinforcing stereotypes about the opposite gender, as highlighted by The World Bank. In a study, they pointed out that: “Gendered languages are associated with worse labor market participation rates for women and more regressive gender norms.”
Attitudes toward women are also influenced by gendered languages—helping to explain how gendered languages could translate into outcomes like lower female labor force participation. Drawing on data from the World Values Survey, Ozier and Jakiela found that those who speak a gendered language are more likely to agree with statements like, “On the whole, men make better business executives than women do,” or “When jobs are scarce, men should have more right to a job than women.” Perhaps even more surprisingly, women are just as likely as men to hold these attitudes, suggesting just how pervasive the effect of language is on beliefs.
From a Policy Research Talk on Gendered Language
from the World Bank in October 2018