A pregnant woman, a woman with a cane, a woman with an Afro, and two women holding hands are now appearing all over Geneva, Switzerland in the form of silhouettes like the ones that we see on pedestrian crossing signs all over the world, and 250 of the 500 signs in the city are being taken over by female signs. With an intention to reflect the city’s diversity and changing demographics, the move was lauded and as usual, criticized by the public. Did you know that the previous sings all featured a suited silhouette with a hat? Distinctly male, Geneva mayor Sandrine Salerno said in a statement, “The omnipresence of stereotypical male representations in the public space, notably through traffic signs, reinforces the idea that some people, in particular women but also minorities, who belong less than others.”
Is it better to go gender-neutral or gender-inclusive?
Geneva is not the first city to implement such a change, cities like Zwickau, Dresden, and Cologne in Germany already feature both men and women on their public signs like traffic lights and pedestrian crossings, while the Netherlands too introduced the iconic ponytailed female traffic light figure, “Sofie”. Unsurprisingly, such moves have really kicked up a lot of controversies because many think that it is better to go with a gender-neutral stick person than to reinforce gender binaries because Germany’s Amepfrau sported a skirt and pigtails which was stereotyping. However, a 2017 study revealed that people are more responsive to signs when they feature their own gender, “Male subjects responded faster to male than to female traffic light figures, whereas female subjects responded faster to female than to male stimuli,” said the authors of the study. Although the study was extremely small, analyzing only 30 people, it did reveal one thing, that “humans show a bias to attend to and learn from models of their own gender.”
“Diversity on official signs is not trivial, it is a concrete, visible and relevant contribution to global action in favor of equality”
A whopping $58,000 was spent to make this change in Geneva and hence many thought that the government could have used this money for a better cause than this. Serge Dal Busco, State Councilor in charge of the infrastructure department said, that the initiative “goes in the direction of a necessary change of mentalities in terms of equality in all aspects of our society; showing diversity on official signs is not trivial, it is a concrete, visible and relevant contribution to global action in favor of equality.” Furthermore, it also took the mayor by surprise, “In thirteen years of politics, I have rarely had so many violent, misogynistic and conservative reactions to a project that is part of a broad plan to fight sexism.”
Image credit: Quartz