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California city to ban gendered language such as 'manhole' and 'firemen'

Sarah Young

The city of Berkeley in California has passed an ordinance to ban the use of gender-specific language in its municipal code.

The new regulation will mean that terms like “manhole” and “firemen” are replaced with gender-neutral vernacular.

In March, council member Rigel Robinson, who graduated from UC Berkeley last year and at 23-years-old is the youngest member of the City Council, first introduced the ordinance stating that it was time to change Berkeley’s municipal code which makes it sound as though “men are the only ones that exist in entire industries or that men are the only ones on city government”.

“As society and our cultures become more aware about issues of gender identity and gender expression, it's important that our laws reflect that,” Robinson said.

“Women and non-binary people are just as deserving of accurate representation.”

The ordinance includes a list of gendered terms in existing city code and the new gender-neutral terms that can be used to replace them.

Under the new rules, a “bondsman” will now be referred to as “bonds-person,” “firemen” and “firewomen” will be “firefighters,” and “manpower” will be replaced with “human effort” or “workforce.”

Sororities and fraternities will also be changed to “Collegiate Greek system residence” and a pregnant woman will be referred to as a “pregnant employee.”

The ordinance will also mean that pronouns such as he, her, she and him will no longer be used in city code.

Instead, if a professional such as an inspector is mentioned, they will always be referred to as “the inspector” and not by their gendered pronoun.

The ordinance was approved on Tuesday and an official reading of the new guidelines will take place next week before being put into action in August.

Reaction from Twitter users has been mixed, with some praising the progressive move while others have suggested the city council has its priorities wrong.

One person in favour of the change stated that Berkeley was “truly at the forefront of gender quality”, while another called the new ordinance a “victory”.

However, not everyone was convinced, with a number of people suggesting Berkeley council should be spending their time on other matters.

“Wow. Nevermind the homeless population or the sidewalks filled with needles and faeces, I’m just glad they are solving the important ‘issues’,” one person wrote.

Another added: “This does absolutely NOTHING to empower women. If anything, this distracts from the real issues women are facing. Who agrees with me?”

While a third person simply commented: “The insanity never ends”.

Berkeley isn’t the first city to change its approach to gender-specific language, with both Maine and Washington DC having also made moves to recognise gender-neutral individuals on drivers licenses.

Similarly, in 2017, California became the first state to allow non-binary gender markers on birth certificates.