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Old 08-25-2008, 08:31 AM   #1
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Men Working

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Saturday, Aug. 23, 2008
No "Men Working" Please
By Frances Romero

For most residents of America's ever-expanding big cities, construction and road-work signs are so common they barely get a passing glance. But for Cynthia Good, CEO and founder of Pink magazine, a women's business publication based in Atlanta, the "Men Working" sign on the corner of Marietta Street and Northside Drive just a few blocks from her office couldn't be ignored. In early July, city police found that someone had spray painted two extra letters, W and O, on the sign, and received a report that put Good at the scene with a can of spray paint in hand. When officers and the head of the road crew paid Good a visit, "I offered to pay for that one sign if they would agree to use gender-neutral ones," she says without actually admitting her guilt. "The head of the work crew said he had gender-neutral signs but refused to use them. No charges were filed."

Her encounter with law enforcement only emboldened Good, who sent letters to city and state officials requesting that the signs be removed. In a relatively short period of time, the city of Atlanta agreed to address the issue by both buying new signs at a cost of $122 each and covering old ones for $22 each, according to a report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Calls to the Atlanta Public Works department, to determine how many would be replaced and how many would be altered, were not returned.

The "Men Working" sign issue isn't simply a matter of symbolism. Construction may still be an overwhelmingly dominated male field, but in 2007, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 1.1 million women were employed in it, accounting for about 9% of the total in the United States. "Signs such as 'Men at Work' unintentionally reinforce the idea that only men are suited for — and are capable of — doing outdoor physical jobs," Sherryl Kleinman, sociology professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, wrote in an email.

Once a federal government agency takes notice, though, then suddenly a spray-painted sign gains more meaning. And Good's complaints spurred a national inquiry — albeit a restrained e-mail inquiry — by the Federal Highway Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation. An e-mail was sent to the division offices in each state to remind them to be mindful of the signs, which it turns out have been prohibited since 1988 by the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices — the manual that governs federally funded "road things," as Doug Hecox, spokesperson for the FHWA puts it. "The response is we've seen none of those signs. They're not out there," Hecox says.

Hecox contends that the "Men Working" signs in Atlanta are most likely an isolated incident, considering the 20-year prohibition on the "Men Working" signs. While a majority of the nation's highways and roads are owned by state, local and tribal governments, all publicly accessible roads are subject to the regulations of the MUTCD, including city roads. But those who think that the FHWA originally outlawed "Men Working" signs in an attempt to correct sexist language are sorely mistaken.

In fact, historians at the FHWA explain that the signage change in 1988 was more about moving toward more easily understandable messages than making any kind of statement on sexist language. It was in fact simply part of a broader effort to make pictograms — not words — the basis of road signs. The feds had originally started to faze out the "Men Working signs" 10 years prior in 1978, when they began to be replaced with an image of a little person working on the same orange, diamond-shaped sign.

"My guess is that Atlanta probably bought a bunch of signs back in the late 70s, early 80s and maybe weren't aware of the change," Hecox says. Logical as that might seem, there are likely other gender-specific signs still being used that are not subject to the regulations, because the manual regulates signage on public roadways and the right of way areas on both sides of the road but does not regulate signs used in private construction. Then again, private construction companies and contractors do purchase their signs from some of the same businesses as the FHWA division offices in each state, which might account for the signs appearing at non-federal construction sites.

Still, Good doesn't regret making an issue of the few signs she found. "The sign issue is important because it is indicative of messages and signs that women receive all day, every day, on the streets, in the board room, in every aspect of their lives, especially professionally, that either ignore women or disparage women," she says.
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Old 08-25-2008, 03:20 PM   #2
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not all of them are working, either... some are quite lazy.

PEOPLE MILLING ABOUT, SOME OF WHOM ARE DOING THINGS OF A STRENOUS NATURE would be a much more concise, accurate sign.
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Old 08-25-2008, 03:21 PM   #3
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Old 08-25-2008, 03:24 PM   #4
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Well, she certainly shouldn't have expressed her problems with the signs by vandalizing city property (assuming it was her who did that); that's probably why the crew head (allegedly) refused to change them--he probably thought, "Right lady, like I'm going to take the trouble to get them changed just because you think that gives you the right to commit a crime."

I actually have had the experience before (not recently that I can think of) of driving by one of those "Men Working" signs, only to see shortly afterwards that in fact there were one or more women on the road crew. It never occurred to me to see it as problematic, I think mostly because those signs aren't there to honor the workers--they're there to warn drivers that there's an increased risk of hitting someone just ahead, so they need to stay extra-alert. I can see her point, in that it seems reasonable to expect wholly gender-neutral signs when women work on road crews too (and it sounds like that's exactly what most road crews now use). But it's a shame that she (again, apparently) chose vandalism as her initial tactic for addressing the issue.
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Old 08-25-2008, 09:12 PM   #5
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this is just one more way to keep women under men



women are under valued
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Old 08-25-2008, 10:56 PM   #6
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Not that I've ever worked construction (I DO work almost entirely with men and my work team is all men so I know what it's like being the only woman in my field), but as a women, I couldn't care less what the sign says. Like Yolland said, I think it's to point out that work is being done (ie, be careful!), not that MEN are working. I can't remember ever seeing such a sign, just "road work ahead" and then the signs that list the penalties for injuring workers and posted speed limits for when workers are present.
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Old 08-26-2008, 12:51 AM   #7
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Oh my, this woman has issues...
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Old 08-26-2008, 08:17 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Vincent Vega View Post
Oh my, this woman has issues...
What kind of issues?

I think the signs are symbolic of other things, so it's those things she was ultimately angry about-not the signs. When little things aren't gender neutral, you know intellectually that it doesn't matter if all other more important things are equal. But in other ways it can sometimes still get to you and make you feel excluded and inferior.
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Old 08-26-2008, 10:08 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Headache in a Suitcase View Post
not all of them are working, either... some are quite lazy.

PEOPLE MILLING ABOUT, SOME OF WHOM ARE DOING THINGS OF A STRENOUS NATURE would be a much more concise, accurate sign.
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Old 08-27-2008, 12:29 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MrsSpringsteen View Post
What kind of issues?

I think the signs are symbolic of other things, so it's those things she was ultimately angry about-not the signs. When little things aren't gender neutral, you know intellectually that it doesn't matter if all other more important things are equal. But in other ways it can sometimes still get to you and make you feel excluded and inferior.
It might also be culturally different of some sorts, I don't know. Symbolism plays a far greater role in the US than in Germany, so it might be that such a sign is symbolic for her for bigger indifferences than just a road sign.
For me, it's just unbelievable to take issue with a road sign only because it's not gender neutral, let alone feeling excluded and inferior. Of course my perspective is different due to many aspects.

Nevertheless, I don't think the solution to bigger inequalities regarding men and women is to repaint a simple road sign that just warns drivers to be careful.

And if, she he to repaint the sign like this: (Wo-)Men Working
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Old 08-27-2008, 03:10 PM   #11
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Sometimes I feel like the world is getting to be so politically correct it's suffocating - slap me sideways but differences are what makes the world interesting . . . .anywayzzzzz (:jumpsoffsoapbox: )

There's a stack of construction going on at a local shopping centre opposite my kids school at present and due to Mrs S post I found myself a little more aware of the signs / people etc
Happily most of the signs either showed a piccy of a stick figure with a shovel to indicate work ahead or a good ole gender neutral 'road work / workers ahead' sign is used. . . seems to me that should tick all the pc boxes
my 2 cents
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Old 08-27-2008, 06:08 PM   #12
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i bet that stick figure had a penis.
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Old 08-28-2008, 02:44 PM   #13
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well, if it did, it was hiding behind the shovel!!!
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Old 08-28-2008, 04:34 PM   #14
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I just feel the need to insert this smiley <---- with eyelashes, as I am a woman.
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