Monday, July 13, 2009

men working ahead: the politics of road signs

When I passed this sign driving down the hills of Lake Encino in the San Fernando Valley, I actually had to stop, reverse, turn on my hazard lights, get out and take a picture.

I just have so many questions. Who approved a sign that implies either women don't work, or that only men work in road construction? When was this sign first designed? How often are signs updated?

And most importantly, who am I going to have to call to get to the bottom of this?

I know there are some anti-equality mongers who violently hiss that "man" somewhere, somehow includes "woman." This same logic was in heavy circulation prior to 1920; women do not need to vote or hold office because men vote and hold office--and these men represent the interests of women. Hence, man comes to include woman.

Gendered relations of power aside, "Workers Ahead" would actually use less space and less paint. It makes more sense.

Come to find out, I'm not the only person angered by sexist roadside signage. In Atlanta, these signs were covered or replaced after a woman was nearly arrested for spray painting "wo" in front of "men," starting a grassroots campaign.

While some might criticize that a budget crisis is not the time to go on a crusade (signs cost money to replace), equality and dignity are priceless. Tomorrow I am calling the Department of Public Works to figure out against which office my campaign will begin. I'll keep you updated.


Anonymous said...

Let me ask you a question: When you drove by this city roadside construction sign were there any women working or was it an all male crew? If there weren't, the sign is completely appropriate because only men were working.

Another question: How many of us have driven past a road side construction crew and saw men with jack hammers and bulldozers while the 'token' female was waving the yellow flag to direct traffic?

Please don't tell me more women would use jack hammers if they weren't discriminated against. Feminism and construction is like oil and water. It just kills you guys that 99.999999% of women can't operate a 250lb jack hammer with about 600 lb ft of torque.

Am I a sexist or just a realist?

Vanessa said...

No matter how you slice it, tax dollars should not be used to finance anything sex-specific.

If the sign were race-specific, I do not think there would be any disagreement.

BurnBrother said...

Unbelievable. I agree 100% with the Anonymous post from yesterday. You'd do you and your equality movement friends a favor to focus on more important issues.

How about this for something that matters. Let's work TOGETHER to get women in direct combat roles in the Military Services. As long as you want equality let's let you and your sisters have an opportunity to be shot by a sniper or blown up by a roadside bomb. Equality Rocks.

Since I know you are only about gender fairness let's work together to make this happen. I'm available whenever you'd like to discuss this. This is great opportunity to bring the sexes together and even the playing field.

Vanessa said...

BurnBrother, thanks for visiting my blog. I have two points I'd like to make to you.

1) Again, even if there are more "important" issues, I don't see how this precludes a person from spending a mere 2 minutes on the phone. This can be done in traffic or walking to the metro. The ask here is nothing enormous. I don't see why simple things cannot be done, as well as larger projects.

2) I also disagree that the issue of language and sexism is somehow small. While the isolated existence of a sign on its own may strike one as trivial, this is only microcosmic of bigger problems: that "man" somehow includes "woman," and that language is dominated by default male pronouns and references.

Linguistics explores the ways that language shapes thought, and as long as language is dominated by the masculine, this shapes default imagery of society, institutions, and certain professions--especially among children.

Feel free to email me at regarding any projects

Anonymous said...

Good grief. Your complaint is reasonable, but your tone is atrocious.

"I know there are some anti-equality mongers who violently hiss that "man" somewhere, somehow includes 'woman.'"

Normal people are as put off by this kind of language as you are by gender-specific road signs.

Vanessa said...

I'm not exactly sure who qualifies as a "normal" person...

Anonymous said...

I see this sign all over the place and I just chuckle to myself about it and look at it this way: It is so rare that men work that when they actually do, they have to put a sign up letting people know they are working but us women work all the time, therefore everyone knows it and we don't need a sign.