Berkeley city council voted unanimously to replace more than two dozen terms often used in the city’s municipal code with gender-neutral words. including ‘manhole’. (Dreamstime/TNS)

California city drops words like ‘manpower’ in push to be inclusive

Nothing will be manmade in the liberal city of Berkeley but instead ‘human-made’

There will be no manholes in Berkeley, California. City workers will drop into “maintenance holes” instead.

Nothing will be manmade in the liberal city but “human-made.” And students at the University of California, Berkeley, will join “collegiate Greek system residences” rather than fraternities and sororities.

Berkeley leaders voted unanimously this week to replace about 40 gender-specific words in the city code with gender-neutral terms — an effort to be more inclusive that’s drawing both praise and scorn.

That means “manpower” will become “human effort” or “workforce,” while masculine and feminine pronouns like “she,” ”her,” ”he” and “him” will be replaced by “they” and “them,” according to the measure approved Tuesday by the City Council.

The San Francisco Bay Area city is known for its long history of progressive politics and “first of” ordinances. Berkeley was among the first cities to adopt curbside recycling in the 1970s and more recently, became the first in the U.S. to tax sugary drinks and ban natural gas in new homes.

Berkeley also was the birthplace of the nation’s free-speech movement in the 1960s and where protests from both left- and right-wing extremist groups devolved into violence during a flashpoint in the country’s political divisions soon after President Donald Trump’s election.

Rigel Robinson, who graduated from UC Berkeley last year and at 23 is the youngest member of the City Council, said it was time to change a municipal code that makes it sound like “men are the only ones that exist in entire industries or that men are the only ones on city government.”

READ MORE: MPs high-five in Commons over Senate approval of gender neutral O Canada

“As society and our cultures become more aware about issues of gender identity and gender expression, it’s important that our laws reflect that,” said Robinson, who co-authored the measure. “Women and non-binary people are just as deserving of accurate representation.”

When the changes take effect in the fall, all city forms will be updated and lists with the old words and their replacements will be posted at public libraries and the council chambers. The changes will cost taxpayers $600, Robinson said.

Removing gendered terms has been slowly happening for decades in the United States as colleges, companies and organizations implement gender-neutral alternatives.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, changed a Sacramento political tradition by adopting the unofficial title “first partner” instead of “first lady,” saying it’s more inclusive. The change reflected Siebel Newsom’s experience as an actress and filmmaker focused on gender politics and inequality.

But formalizing the shift in the sweeping way that Berkeley is doing is “remarkable and sends a message,” Rutgers University linguistics professor Kristen Syrett said.

“Anytime you’re talking about something where gender is not the issue but you use a gendered term, that immediately sends a message of exclusion, even if it’s a dialogue that has nothing to do with gender,” said Syrett, who recently spearheaded an update to the guidelines on inclusive language for the Linguistic Society of America.

For Hel Baker, a Berkeley home caregiver, the shift is a small step in the right direction.

“Anything that dismantles inherent bias is a good thing, socially, in the grand scheme of things,” the 27-year-old said.

“I don’t, by any means, think this is the great championing for gender equality, but you gotta start somewhere,” Baker added.

Lauren Singh, 18, who grew up in Berkeley, approved of the move, saying, “Everyone deserves to be represented and feel included in the community.”

Not everyone agreed with the new ordinance. Laramie Crocker, a Berkeley carpenter, said the changes just made him laugh.

“If you try to change the laws every time someone has a new opinion about something, it doesn’t make sense. It’s just a bad habit to get into,” Crocker said.

Crocker, 54, said he would like city officials to focus on more pressing issues, like homelessness.

“Let’s keep it simple, get back to work,” he said. “Let’s figure out how to get homeless people housed and fed. He, she, they, it — they’re wasting my time.”

Olga R. Rodriguez And Samantha Maldonado, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Update: Possible drowning at Pigeon Lake involved man and woman from Edmonton

Bodies recovered from Pigeon Lake’s northeastern shores.

134 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday

First day over 100 cases since July 31

RCMP Major Crimes Unit lay Manslaughter charge against youth

The RCMP Major Crimes Unit have laid a manslaughter charge against a 13-year-old boy from Maskwacis.

1 in 7 Albertans have been tested for COVID-19

56 additional cases Thursday, 1,107 active cases remain in the province

Seven vying to lead ECN

Challengers to incumbent include NGCI president

QUIZ: Do you know the truth?

In what has been described as a post-truth era, how much do you know about truth and lies?

Collapse of Nunavut ice shelf ‘like losing a good friend:’ glaciologist

The ice shelf on the northwestern edge of Ellesmere Island has shrunk 43 per cent

13-year-old charged in death of boy, 10 in Maskwacis

The RCMP Major Crimes Unit have laid a manslaughter charge against a 13-year-old boy from Maskwacis.

‘Caught up in the frenzy:’ Oilers 50/50 draw breaking ticket sale records

Previous record was held by Toronto Raptors fans when a 50/50 raffle reached $2 million

Alberta jury trials to resume next month at offsite locations due to COVID-19

About 12 locations across Alberta may host the trials in halls, hotels and community centres

Alberta school curriculum to focus on basics, keep out political bias: minister

NDP education critic says the kindergarten to Grade 4 changes should have been implemented a year ago

Statistics Canada says country gained 419,000 jobs in July

National unemployment rate was 10.9 per cent in July, down from the 12.3 per cent recorded in June

Canada plans $3.6 billion in retaliatory tariffs on U.S. in aluminium dispute

The new Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement that replaced NAFTA went into force on July 1

Walmart to make face masks mandatory for customers across Canada

Requirement goes into effect on Wednesday, Aug. 12 across Canada

Most Read