Danger: Men diapering

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

By Carol Lloyd
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.

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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