Geneva replaces men with women on half of its road signs – Quartz

Geneva is replacing men with women on half of the crosswalk signs across the Swiss city – and faces quite a few backlash in the wake of the decision.

The new signs feature six different silhouettes of female figures, including a pregnant woman, a woman with a cane, a woman with an Afro and two women holding hands. Notably, the characters wear both skirts and pants. A video attached to the official January 16 announcement shows city workers disabling 250 of the 500 road signs in Geneva (link in French).

The change aims to reflect the diversity of the Geneva population. The city’s old pedestrian crossing signs were clearly masculine, with the silhouette of a man in a suit with a hat.

“The omnipresence of stereotypical male representations in public space, especially through road signs, reinforces the idea that some people, especially women but also minorities, belong less than others,” said the mayor. of Geneva Sandrine Salerno in a press release.

Geneva is not the first city to rethink its signage in order to improve its representation. Some German cities, including Zwickau, Dresden and Cologne, feature female and male figures (“Ampelfrau” and “Ampelmann”) on traffic lights at crosswalks. The Dutch town of Amersfoort showcased their iconic ponytailed female traffic light figure, “Sofie”, in 2000. (Sofie can also be found in several other Dutch towns.)

Vienna installed traffic lights featuring same-sex couples before hosting the Eurovision Song Contest in 2015, which remain in place today. The Austrian city of Linz then followed the example of Vienna. And Melbourne tried on women at traffic lights in 2017.

Each of these initiatives has sparked, as one would expect, controversy. This has been found to be true in the case of Geneva, with some questioning how good traffic lights make for gender equality. Others suggest that the government should do better with its time and funding (link in French). The Geneva initiative cost 56,000 francs, or nearly 58,000 US dollars.

Another common criticism of these efforts is that it’s best to go with a stick-shaped design that can be read as gender-neutral. “I think we have to be careful that we don’t continue to reinforce gender binaries,” Bretteville graphic designer and artist Sheila Levrant told Next City. At this point, the Berlin Senate rejected an effort to introduce the Ampelfrau in 2014, as they found the design of the female figure – which sported braided pigtails and a skirt – too cliché (link in German).

Those who support the inscription of female figures on road signs say it is symbolically important to assert the right of women to use and occupy public space, given the long patriarchal history of attempts to confine women in the domestic sphere. And female trafficking figures could have safety benefits as well. A 2017 study in Germany, published in Frontiers in Psychology, found that men and women react more quickly to road signs featuring characters of their own gender. “Male subjects responded faster to male figures than to female traffic light figures, while female subjects responded faster to female stimuli than to male stimuli,” the authors explain.

The study was admittedly small, with only 30 subjects. But the authors note that this finding is consistent with extensive research in social learning theory, showing that “humans show a bias to care for and learn from models of their own sex.”

In other words, we are all ready to want to see ourselves reflected in the world around us, but historically this privilege has only been granted to men. As cities around the world strive to correct the massive gender imbalance reflected in street names and public figure statues, it makes sense to consider the impact of signage as well.

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