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California City Drops Words Like 'Manpower' in Push to be Inclusive

Berkeley councilman Rigel Robinson poses for photos inside the Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center building in Berkeley, Calif., Thursday, July 18, 2019
Berkeley councilman Rigel Robinson poses for photos inside the Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center building in Berkeley, Calif., Thursday, July 18, 2019
California City Drops Words Like "Manpower" in Push to be Inclusive
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In one California city, there will soon be no more manholes -- the holes workers use to go under streets to repair equipment and fix other problems. Instead, the manholes will now be called “maintenance holes.”

And, nothing will be described as “manmade.” The adjective soon will change to “human-made.”

Leaders in the city of Berkeley voted this month to change about 40 gender-based words used in the city code. New, “gender-neutral” terms will appear instead. This means words like “manpower” will become “human effort” or “workforce.” And, pronouns like “she,” “her,” “he” and “him” will be replaced by “they” and “them.”

The effort, meant to create a more inclusive community, has received both praise and criticism.

Berkeley is within what is called the San Francisco Bay Area. It has a long history of progressive politics. It was among the first American cities to start a recycling pick-up program in the 1970s. More recently, it became the first city in the United States to tax sugary drinks and ban natural gas in new homes.

Rigel Robinson co-wrote the gender-neutral words measure. At 23, he is the youngest member of Berkeley’s City Council. He said Berkeley’s existing city code makes it sound like “men are the only ones that exist in entire industries or that men are the only ones on city government.”

Robinson added,“As society and our cultures become more aware about issues of gender identity and gender expression, it’s important that our laws reflect that.”

The changes will cost taxpayers $600, Robinson said. They are set to take effect later this year.

Removing gendered terms has been slowly happening for many years in the United States at some colleges, companies and other places.

But the broad, city-wide change in Berkeley is “remarkable and sends a message,” linguistics professor Kristen Syrett told the Associated Press. She is with Rutgers University in New Jersey.

“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. She recently led an effort to update the rules on inclusive language for the Linguistic Society of America.

For 27-year-old Berkeley local Hel Baker, the approved measure is a small step in the right direction.

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

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

Not everyone agreed with the move, however. Laramie Crocker, a builder in Berkeley, said the changes 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, who is 54, said he would like city officials to center their efforts on bigger 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.”

I’m Ashley Thompson.

The Associated Press reported this story. Ashley Thompson adapted it for VOA Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.


Words in This Story

maintenance - n. the act of keeping property or equipment in good condition by making repairs, correcting problems, etc.

gender - n. the state of being male or female​

gender-neutral - adj. describing a word or expression that cannot be taken to refer to one gender only

code - n. a set of laws or regulations​

reflect - v. to show (something) : to make (something) known​

linguistics - n. the study of language and of the way languages work​

dialogue - n. a conversation between two or more people​

gotta - used in writing to represent the sound of the phrase got to when it is spoken quickly

habit - n. a usual way of behaving

figure out - phrasal verb. to understand or find (something, such as a reason or a solution) by thinking​