Berkeley bans gendered words — it sounds severe, but it’s a move toward respect and inclusion for women and non-binary individuals. On Tuesday night, the city of Berkeley, California, voted to remove words like “manhole,” “manpower” “chairmen” and “policeman/woman” from its city codes.
Any word that expresses a certain gender will be replaced with a gender-neutral term, like “maintenance hole” instead of manhole, “artificial” instead of manmade, and “human effort” instead of manpower. The phrase “men and women” will simply become “people.” The bill met no controversy, and passed easily, without much discussion. The changes will be reviewed next week, and go into place sometime in August.
City Council member Rigel Robinson, the primary author of the bill, tells Parentology although he’s less affected as a cisgender male, women and non-binary individuals are equally entitled to accurate representation.
Robinson mentioned several interns and city commission appointees who use they/them pronouns, adding that the gendered language matters deeply to them — and to him. “Our laws are for everyone, and our municipal code should reflect that,” he
The new city documents will not only do away with gendered terms, but also replace all gendered pronouns — “he” and “she” will now be written as “they” to maximize neutrality. Currently, Berkeley’s municipal code contains mostly masculine pronouns, the office of the city manager said in a letter to the mayor and city council. “Having a male-centric municipal code is inaccurate and not reflective of our reality,” Robinson says.
Berkeley has a long history of progressive action. The city is furthering California’s efforts to include non-binary people — those who don’t identify as men or women — in state policy. In 2017, California became the first state to allow non-binary gender markers on birth certificates, and the second state after Oregon to allow residents to use a gender marker other than “F” or “M” on their driver’s licenses.
In 2018, gender-neutral language legislation was introduced to the California Assembly, but never got off the ground. Perhaps Berkeley’s inclusive movement will help motivate the rest of the state, and country, to follow suit.
“There’s power in language,” Robinson says. “This is a small move, but it matters.”