Have you ever stood at a busy intersection waiting for the light to go green and been unable to cross? ‘Damn, it’s a man crossing. And I’m a lady.’ If only there were road crossings for women. Feminists have spent too long fighting for equal pay, maternity leave, and the right to make choices over our bodies – and forgotten about traffic lights. For too long we’ve been stranded on the pavement waiting for equality to hit road signage so we can finally get to the other side. It’s all well and good to have equal pay, but if you can’t get to your place of employment because of the inappropriately gendered road sign, then what’s the point?
Well thankfully the women of Melbourne will have this privilege when female figures are installed in their traffic lights. Of course, it’s only a 12-month trial. God knows what will happen in the world when women start crossing over. This is without a doubt one of the stupidest initiatives I’ve ever heard of. And I’m a feminist so you’d expect me to be onside. For a start, how do you depict a ‘woman’ on a road sign? The first silhouette was installed in Richmond last year and depicted Victoria’s first female councillor. So when you went to cross the road you got shown a green lady in a Victorian dress and hat. Don’t go on the red, lady, you might get hit by a horse and coach. Okay, I understand that this pedestrian crossing innovation is meant to combat ‘unconscious bias’ in accepting the ‘universality’ of the ‘male’ traffic sign as representative of all, but in this time that I’d like to call Gendertopia there is no binary male or female, and suddenly representing a woman with a skirt seems more offensive than the little red or green guy.
Women have been wearing pants since World War II. I have female friends who never wear skirts. A flashing sign depicting a woman in a skirt is actually completely unrepresentative of them. And in a way the flashing pedestrian sign is saying ‘this is what being a woman is’.
I have never really felt oppressed by the traffic icon. I never perceived it as predominantly male or female. I have had a very close look but I can’t see a cock. If the flashing sign had a giant cock and balls I’d be first on the bus for this new push on traffic-light equality. But it’s just a neutral-looking stick figure.
And what is a female figure anyway? There are men who identify as women and women who identify as men. There are women who identify as women but don’t wear dresses. There are men who identify as men and who wear dresses. In this age of gender fluidity it seems a bit odd to be depicting women in skirts. It’s so politically correct it actually isn’t.
How much does it even cost? If local councils or business groups want to spend money on addressing issues that affect women in their local area, maybe use that same money to fund the staff at a rape crisis centre for another year, or pay the rent on a safe house for women escaping domestic violence.
I know the academic argument. It says that sexism and gender stereotypes are in part responsible for the power relationship that results in the alarming statistics of sexual assault and violence against women. I agree with this, but I think if you are choosing a playing field, road signage is the least offensive imagery available. I would be looking to magazines that sit on every street corner, at the checkout at our supermarkets, in our doctor’s surgery, of airbrushed-thin, botoxed and lip-plumped white women. I’d be standing on the pavement and looking up to the billboards of over-sexualised young women in their undies.
We can focus on the unconscious bias once we’ve addressed all the conscious stuff. And while we work on unconscious bias, how does the universality of this sign make fat people feel? With more than 60 per cent of us being overweight, maybe our traffic signs need to gain a few kilos. What about people with disabilities? How can they cross the road with this kind of light bias? What about a silhouette in a wheelchair? With one leg? And what about dwarfs? That flashing sign just taunts them with its depiction of the tallness norm. And what about chickens? How will they ever cross the road to finish the jokes if they don’t get a safe crossing? ‘Why did the chicken cross the road?’ To protest against the unconscious species bias inherent in road signage of course.