In celebration of International Women’s Day (Yeah The Women!) Melbourne has introduced a new female pedestrian crossing light symbol. It seems you are either cheering or sneering at this small adjustment which has caused considerable controversy on the internet. So, are we for or against this change? Is it a necessary change? Is it really a leap forward for gender equality, or are we taking a few steps back? Whatever the case, the Green Walking Lady has certainly made an entrance in Melbourne.
The new sign can be seen at the intersection of Swanston and Flinders street and will be there for a 12-month trial. Now, why the change? It was installed as a tribute to Victoria’s first female councillor Mary Rogers. Elected in 1920, one of her greatest contributions was originating the state’s maternal and child health service and she was, as Yarra city’s mayor Roger Colanzi says “by all accounts, an extraordinary woman.” It was thought up by female councillors wanting to honour her legacy in some way. According to Chief Executive Martine Letts, “these symbols are a practical and meaningful way to demonstrate that in fact 50 per cent of our population is female and should therefore also be represented at traffic lights.” She also has noted that only having the ‘male’ signal is unnecessary discrimination. VicRoads spokesman Brendan Paulwels said “It is something a bit different. And for us, it’s not only a wonderful tribute to the celebrated woman Mary Rogers was, but it’s also an acknowledgement of the important role local government have in road projects”.
While the change is a nice tribute, many people are questioning its meaning. Although the idea behind it was to “install traffic lights with female representation, as well as male representation, to help reduce unconscious bias,” the female’s representation plays right into gender stereotypes, boxing women into one category. No, the lights aren’t the first symbol to portray woman like this. It has become the generic representation, seen on everything from bathroom doors to school crossing signs. A dress is apparently the only thing that makes a woman a woman. But why did we need this? Why, when the sign already does not explicitly resemble a man or woman, but a person? Newsflash: both men and woman can (and do) wear pants, people. A stick figure does not have a gender, so why did we need to add one?
As the new figures are costing $8400 for six traffic lights to change, many are arguing that the money should be directed towards something of more importance, such as awareness of and help for those affected by domestic abuse, or to shelters for homeless women in danger of violence. People have taken to social media to express their views on the change:
“Over 42,000 Australian women are homeless while we spend thousands to include female figures in the Melbourne traffic lights… #ridiculous”
“Spending almost $9k to combat ‘discrimination’ in traffic lights while DV victims and truly oppressed women suffer alone? Really? #auspol”
Some would argue, that because it’s so unnoticed that’s why it needs to be changed. That people have become so accustomed to seeing men portrayed as the dominant sex that no one noticed or put up a fuss until it became a female.
It is tricky situation. While it is not something that will truly help, or fix any serious problems women face it is a small tribute and a ‘feel good’ symbol for equality. Saying it is a tremendous step forward, however, is a tad ignorant. When all’s said and done, adding a dress to a stick figure demonstrates how little progress we have made towards gender equal symbols.
Really, it is only meant to be a token action. Something symbolising a much bigger picture. With a lot of people discrediting it, claiming it is pointless – which you know, it may well be – and saying it is a waste of money – which, let’s face it, it probably is – we have to ask, does it really take anything away from you? Will it affect your way of life tremendously?
No, so just walk across the damn street when the green lady tells you to.