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What Does a Gender Neutral Municipal Code Look Like?

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on July 26, 2019

As government entities have recognized the implicit bias in using only male pronouns in statutes, many have moved to amend their laws to be more inclusive. For instance, federal criminal statutes now use "whoever" to refer to possible violators. Similarly, California's criminal code employs "he or she," "his or her," or eschews pronouns entirely when defining crimes.

But Berkeley, California, is taking gender-neutrality much further, beyond mere pronouns. The city's updated municipal code not only swaps personal pronouns "they" and "them" for "he" and she," but also removes any gendered language, from "fireman" and policewoman" to "manpower" and "manhole." Here's what the new code looks like.

The Replacements

The Berkeley City Council voted this week to eliminate masculine and feminine pronouns from the city's municipal code and change gender-specific language to gender-neutral language. Some of that effort was as straightforward as replacing "He, She, Him, Her, Himself, [or] Herself" with more specific descriptors, from "The Agent," and "The Employee," to "The Dancer" and "The Pawn broker." But other changes are less expected and more particular, like:

  • "Bondsman" becoming "Bonds-person";"
  • "Fraternal" becoming "Social";
  • "Heirs" becoming "Beneficiaries";
  • "Manhole" becoming "Maintenance hole";
  • "Manmade" becoming "Human-made," "Artificial," "manufactured," "machine made," or "synthetic";
  • "Manpower" becoming "Human effort";
  • "Master" becoming "Captain," "Skipper," "Pilot," "Safety Officer," or "Central";
  • "Ombudsman" becoming "Ombuds," or "Investigating Official";
  • "Pregnant" (woman or women) becoming "Pregnant employees";
  • "Sorority" or "Fraternity" becoming "Collegiate Greek system residence"; and
  • "Sportsman" becoming "Hunters".

Creating Room and Respect

"Gender-neutral language creates a lot of room to acknowledge that it's not just men running the country," according to Berkeley council member and ordinance sponsor Rigel Robinson, adding that the editorial process is ongoing. "We are capable of doing more than one thing at a time. We’re not just looking at symbolic things." The city also allows employees to opt to include their pronouns on their name badges.

"Ultimately it's really a matter of respect for a colleague, affection for a colleague, and recognizing that another person's dignity probably outweighs your copy editorial points," Benjamin Dreyer, Random House copy chief told California's KCRW.

Whether other, less notoriously progressive cities follow Berkeley's lead remains to be seen.

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