Solving Cities

Are street signs sexist?

Are street signs sexist?

Posting in Cities

From Kabul to Rome, women are demanding more representation on the world's city streets. Is anybody listening?

The history of the world has been, until quite recently, the history of men in the world. Men star not only in historical texts, but also on the rusty tin signs scattered across major and minor world cities.

These signs tell us where we are - what street we're on to be exact. Whether you believe in the symbolic power of public names or you read street signs as purely semantic, one fact remains: we are usually on Mr. Smith Street and Mrs. Smith Street doesn't exist.

In the case of Rome, geography teacher Maria Pia Ercolini is trying to do something about this cartographic gender imbalance. While writing a cultural guide to the city, celebrating the role of women in Rome's history, Ercolini noticed something unsettling.

The research began. Rome's 16,550 streets were meticulously analyzed for gender bias.

Ercolini and her team found that 45.7% were named after men while only 3.5% were named after women.

"Men made the history - the known history." Ercolini noted.

The wife of the Mayor of Rome, Isabella Rauti, has joined the fight. She says the findings reflect "centuries of discrimination".

Local authorities are now pressured to write women into the history of Rome, if only for future generations.

Do you feel street signs hold symbolic power? Who do you want honored on the map?

I'll throw the first name out there: Ida B. Wells. If you don't know who she was, all the more reason to name a street after her.

[via Mark Bosworth of the BBC]
Images: Toponomastica femminile; Creative Commons

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Sonya James

Contributing Writer

Sonya James is a multimedia producer based in New York. With creativity and innovation in mind, she speaks to diverse voices on topics from racism in the art world to the patriotic nature of southern food. She holds a Masters Degree in Community Development. Disclosure