Danger: Men diapering

Vienna, Austria fights the patriarchy by posting signage showing both genders at the changing station.

Published January 26, 2007 11:04PM (EST)

You gotta love those Viennese bureaucrats. Thursday the BBC reported that the city has changed its signage to fight gender stereotyping. Now, some baby-changing tables feature signs depicting men with babies instead of the traditional mother-and-baby pictogram. The city's priority-seating stickers in buses and trams, which used to picture either a drawing of an old man, a drawing of a disabled man or a drawing of a woman with a child, now mix up the genders among the icons.

The pictograms are quite wonderful -- they made me laugh out loud, partly because they provide an instant assault on our received notions of reality: the sort of thing you never notice until you see its opposite. Still, I was initially inclined to think of a gender-free signage campaign as a rather precious way to beat down the patriarchy. Judging from its response, however, I was wrong. Since the signs went up, the city has been deluged with e-mails about the new signs and -- surprise, surprise -- 80 percent of the negative responses were from men.

Apparently the symbol of the diaper station has more power than we know.

By Carol Lloyd

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

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