More Signs of the Times

Like the little Spanish town of Fuenlabrada, Vienna has decided to make its signage more gender-neutral. Construction signs, exit signs, and road warning signs have all been redesigned to feature identifiably feminine forms. (As in Fuenlabrada, the accoutrements of womanhood—ponytails, skirts, high heels, and handbags—leave a bit to be desired, but it's a start.)

The prototypes designed to encourage people to rethink some of the Austrian capital's gender biases, kicked up a kerfuffle of criticism from men and women — but more from men.

…In the daily newspaper Heute, which is distributed free on every subway, Karl Morwald, a Vienna resident, was quoted saying: "Politicians are really great at making themselves ridiculous … changing well-known signs that have been familiar for decades."

A man from the small town of Zwettl wrote, "some town councilors seem to be really bored and always hunting for new foolish things — at the taxpayers' expense."
You know, Karl Morwald is right. Changing signs that have been familiar for decades is ridiculous. And sexism has been around for even longer, so changing that is even more ridiculous.


It's always interesting that something so "foolish," something so insignificant as to not even warrant spending a tiny wee amount of taxpayers' money, nevertheless is important enough to make people write letters to the editor about it. That changing the sex of the figures on street signs generates enough interest to make the international news ought to be the first clue that it's not the inconsequential silliness its detractors would have one believe.

As I've said before, telling a girl since birth that she is equal matters little if she travels within a culture that consistently sends signals contrary to that message, which is why changing even these "little things" is ultimately, cumulatively, very important.

(H/T Autumn Sandeen.)

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