Washington's Bold Step Officially Changing "Fireman" to "Fireperson" is Not As Bold As It Seems

Recently, Washington State decided to implement an “installment of a six-year effort to make the state's copious laws gender-neutral.” Admittedly, when I first read the news headline, I was excited that the old language chock-full of antiquated gender titles would be replaced with more “neutral” terminology. As I began to peel back the layers and think more critically about such a proposition, I became enraged.

On the surface, such a proposition sounds inclusive, progressive and a step in the right direction. With the under-representation of women in public sector positions, however, it is possible that renaming these positions will be distraction from a multitude of issues that women have had to deal with on the workplace for decades. After all, who are these laws made for and what problems are they attempting to remedy?

Conversations surrounding the safety of women in the work place, equal pay, equal opportunity and a whole host of sex/gender specific problems have circulated for decades. And while the gendered specific naming that these laws attempt to remedy is important in as a separate entity, some of these states should have had more important conversations surrounding equality a long ago.  

When thinking about how helpful such laws are, one has to take into account, for example, female police officers who are harassed while employed to serve and protect their community. In addition to the issue of harassment in the workplace, one also has to take into account the gender pay gap which women must navigate through daily.            

Ironically, the same state that wants to pass the gender neutrality law contains the city that ranks as “having the biggest wage gap between men and women of any major metropolitan area nationwide.”  

One way to reduce these staggering statistics, aside from simply paying both men and women the same pay, is to increase educational outcomes. Although most of the jobs that were outlined in these proposed gender neutral renaming are those that do not require post secondary education, it is still important to ensure that the access is there. Making sure that these educational resources are available for young children (as well as college students), is one of the first places that eliminating the gender pay gap begins.

While I look forward to a world where the idea of trying to make everyday America life as gender neutral as humanly possible becomes something normal that everyone is able to adopt into daily life. I only hope that these name changes that Florida, Missouri and Washington State, for example, have proposed are the catalyst for other, more important, changes that need to be made in the very near future

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Yasmeen Chism

Yasmeen is a recent graduate from the UNC-Greensboro who studied African American Studies and Women's and Gender Studies. Her research interests include Black feminist theories and performance studies.

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