It’s no secret that gender bias exists in today’s society. But some cities are going as far as to replace gender-conforming terminology with its gender-neutral counterparts. See why “manhole” is now being replaced with “maintenance hole.”

Roughly one in five Americans claims to know someone who uses gender-neutral pronouns, highlighting a growing awareness of gender identity and inclusivity in the country. In light of this, gender-neutral terms have been making a more frequent appearance in the media and beyond.

The increasingly common use of gender-neutral language aims to create a more welcoming community for people with transgender and non-conforming identities. As the paradigm shifts to an inclusive approach to the meaning of gender, several municipalities have already started taking appropriate action.

In 2019, the Californian city of Berkeley passed a bill that would ban gender-conforming language in municipal code and legal documents, transforming “man-made” into “human-made” and replacing all instances of “he” or “she” with the gender-inclusive pronoun “they.” This bill also encourages Berkeley employees to use gender-neutral language in service industries when interacting with customers and coworkers.

Berkeley’s legislative efforts have not only received positive reactions, however. Despite the city’s intent to broaden inclusivity, many citizens responded to the bill with confusion. One word that was changed that had many citizens in a debate was “manhole” turned to “maintenance hole.” For many, the change is unnecessary, but for others, it is a light being shed on centuries of gender oppression.

In this article, we will explain the implications of Berkeley’s bill and how it affects citizens and employees while also highlighting mixed opinions and questions.

Berkeley’s Power of Language

In an effort to promote gender inclusivity in communities and workplaces, the city of Berkeley aims to push the use of gender-neutral pronouns in the service industry by altering legal terms.

The aforementioned bill was authored by 23-year-old city council member, Rigel Robinson, who claims that his experiences while attending the University of California helped him become aware of gender-related issues. Starting in 2016, the university itself has implemented measures to include students with differing identities by adding categories for transgender, non-binary, and genderqueer students to classify themselves on admission documents.

For Robinson, gender-inclusive language offers benefits not only to those who do not conform to gender identity but to female-identifying people as well. In the eyes of the recent university graduate, gender-neutral language “creates a lot of room to acknowledge that it’s not just men running the country.”

“Having a male-centric municipal code is inaccurate and not reflective of our reality,” Robinson said in an interview. “Women and non-binary individuals are just as entitled to accurate representation. Our laws are for everyone, and our municipal code should reflect that.”

Still, changing a city’s standard for language etiquette does not come overnight. Critics have resisted the change by expressing their heated opinions on social media, pointing out that the city’s priorities should be shifted. Many suggested that instead of focusing on the gender inequalities of manholes, government officials should be more concerned about the fact that the city’s streets are sinking in around them after decades of neglect.

“Now that the maintenance holes have been located,” asked a frustrated citizen on a local Berkley news site, “Could we turn our attention to maintaining the neglected holes (formerly potholes) in the streets around them?”

Should “Manhole” Become “Maintenance Hole”?

Although the purpose of incorporating more gender-inclusive language is to provide people with non-conforming gender identities with a safe environment to be themselves, many are still not enthused by the idea of altering centuries-old language to accommodate seemingly “new” mentalities. The proposed dilemma involves citizens being opposed to the idea of using gender-neutral language to refer to non-human objects such as manholes.

This isn’t the first time the state of California has seen political advancements in gender inclusion. Not long before the bill advocating for gender-neutral language passed, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, wife of California Governor, Gavin Newsom, changed her official title of “First Lady” to “First Partner” in order to adopt a more inclusive approach.

“If you try to change the laws every time someone has a new opinion about something, it doesn’t make sense,” said a Berkeley resident in an interview for CBC.

Another resident expressed her fondness for the bill, stating that “everyone deserves to be represented and feel included in the community.”

Seeing how gender neutrality has been a topic of debate for decades, it is likely that more municipalities will soon follow in Berkeley’s footsteps. Whether everyone agrees or not, manhole workers may soon need to start formally calling themselves “maintenance hole workers.”

What Are Your Thoughts?

Referring to a manhole as a “maintenance hole” may be just the beginning of a vastly different but more inclusive society for all. Social media critics will come and go, but it can hardly be argued that everyone deserves to live a life free of exclusion and discrimination. In fact, representation matters in all forms, which makes it essential for citizens to adopt a more open-minded approach when it comes to human rights and issues.

Regardless of opinions on the matter, Berkeley’s bill has undoubtedly provided new and meaningful opportunities for people of different genders to experience a sense of representation in their communities. In the workplace and in service institutions, everyone can have a chance to feel included in everyday conversation with gender-neutral language.

For another interesting news story on manholes, see our article featuring the story of how a manhole cover made it to space.

By Jeyree Everly
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