Berkeley adopts gender-neutral language, changes 'manhole' to 'maintenance hole,' sparking ridicule

A California city is under the spotlight on social media after voting to stop using “gender preference language,” with many Twitter critics mocking the decision.

The change comes after the city council, in Berkeley, Calif., unanimously voted to use gender-neutral pronouns within the Berkeley Municipal Code to “promote equality” on Tuesday. Rigel Robinson, the council member who authored the bill, tells Yahoo Lifestyle that having a male-centric code is “inaccurate and not reflective of our reality.”

“I’m a cisgender male, this doesn’t really affect me,” Robinson says. “But I’ve had interns and appointees on city commissions who use they/them pronouns, and to them this matters deeply. And they matter to me.”

According to the referral response document provided by Robinson, this change will have an effect on city documents and city forms. The words “they” and “them” will indicate a single individual, unless context indicates otherwise.

But there’s been backlash on Twitter, where people have expressed their frustrations — many singling out gendered words highlighted in the ordinance document to mock items like “manhole,” which will be replaced with the term “maintenance hole.”

“The manholes to be called maintenance holes because of gender equality literally makes me want to leave this planet,” one person wrote. “Send me to Area 51 and take me to your leader plz almighty god”

However, despite the jokes online, Robinson believes that this step can have a big impact.

“There’s power in language. This is a small move, but it matters,” he says. “The item passed with no discussion or comments on the consent calendar last night. It was not controversial.”

He added that three other council members joined him as co-sponsors, one of whom, Lori Droste, took to Twitter to counter the public’s “overarching focus and obsession” about manholes and explain that the changes have a larger impact.

“Yeah, ‘manhole’ clickbait is fun but language matters,” Droste Tweeted. “I’m proud to be on this item with Rigel Robinson.”

Some of the other changes include using “sibling” instead of brother or sister; “Collegiate Greek system residence” instead of sorority or fraternity, and hunters instead of “sportsmen.”

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