A few weeks ago now there was a brief article in the DomPost about the possibility of the Parliamentary Precinct around Wellington’s Beehive being brightened up by having Green Women crossing signals, rather than the more traditional Green Man. While some may dismiss this as typical Labour last minute pre-election spin, and others doubt that it even made it into the news at all, it turns out there is more to the business of crossing a road than you might have guessed.
For a start, there is a graphic history of men and women telling you how and when to cross the road. In America it was always assumed that anyone with enough intelligence to walk upright and chew gum, could also read a simple sign, and so the signs used to read WALK or DONT WALK (in Harlem of course, it was rumoured that signs offered the choice of DONT WALK, BOOGIE, although that may just be urban myth or Michael Jackson legend). But gradually in the USA it has been recognised that presumption of English can’t be taken for granted, and pictogrammes are taking over. Memories of Dustin Hoffman come back in Rain Man, obeying the DONT WALK ruling to his peril, and exciting Tom Cruise to a state not seen again till Oprah. The DONT WALK signs have been gradually replaced with a supposedly more commonly understandable Red Hand. Back in Great Britain, where of course in certain circles the image of a Red Hand has more serious political overtones, they just have a Red Man, standing still. And by contrast of course, a Green Man in Ireland normally just refers to fertility rites or to St Patrick. In New Zealand we have stuck with Green Man Walking, Red Man Standing to get the message across. All seems pretty simple to me, but then I’m a pretty simple woman.
Is it really a sexist statement to have Green Man, Red Man symbols? Or should the all powerful sisterhood of New Zealand politics strike out by replacing these horrid sexist symbols with a profile of a confident striding woman instead? Sounds good on paper, although when you get down to it, what does it really mean? That a Green Woman would have to wear a skirt? That only men wear trousers? That’s certainly not true in Wellington, where even our Great Leader shies away from skirts in a big way, even when meeting the Queen. Hell, the whole of Parliament is filled with strong-willed wimmin, sensible shoes and short greying hair, hand in hand through the corridors of power. But with the cold weather this week, no one is wearing a skirt, not even Mr Freak. Certainly its an all-women cabal that rules the roost and wears the trousers in New Zealand at present. Girls on top? Why not! We’re all for that here at Eye of the Fish. But how long should a skirt be? Would it be a sensible knee length number, a long slinky black satin number, or a power-dressing Armani instead? What about a sari? How about Scotsmen in kilts? How could we make sure their silhouette was not mistaken for a woman instead?
No, surely skirts are out – its all just too complicated. So if we discount the gender-specific wearing of trousers, how else are we to distinguish our Green Woman from our Green Man? Breasts are an obvious choice, although not easy to show a significant difference in chest size in a 15cm flashing sign, and it may root men to the spot if made too obvious. What about a pair of high heels or a casually tossed pony-tail? Hold on – that’s a sexist line of thinking as well – high heels just imply a patriachal subjugation of the servile female idiom and pony tail implies a lack of commitment to the political process and a certain blonde flippancy not just relegated to the pony tail itself. Its hard to know what to do. But of course, like everything in the world, its all been done before.
In East Germany, where for years they have harboured a love for a little fellow called the Ampelmann (invented in 1961 by Karl Peglau in Berlin), and who was threatened to be run out of town by the all purpose, striding manly profile of the West German, androgenous, bland profile of a sexless pictogramme, Ampelmann has recently been joined by Ampelfrau, and even some Ampelkinder. In Belgium, couples crossing the road evidently do so hand in hand. A more politically correct solution for New Zealand could be to have a Maori warrior leaping up in mid-haka, but whether that would make people stop and stare or run for the hills would be a moot point. Of course, the greatest improvement the Wellington City Council could make would be to import the Auckland style “barn dance” crossing to the Capital city, where all the pedestrians can cross at once, and all the cars can just wait their turn. That way, we don’t care what sex or size our Green People are, and we could cross the Parliamentary Precinct at leisure, hand in hand, skirt or trouser.