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A French town renamed, for gender equality

Jan07, 2023

When Bertrand Kern, a French mayor, announced on social media that his town will be known, for the next one year, by the feminised version of its name, as a gesture of support for gender equality, the decision was immediately greeted with mockery. On the face of it, the name change from Pantin to Pantine seems largely symbolic. None of the signage and official communications will reflect the gesture, only the giant letters forming the name of the town along a canal will feature an additional ‘e’.

Amid the criticism, however, what might be missed is that sometimes, a conversation simply needs to be kept alive and for that a symbolic gesture may be enough. Explaining the decision, Kern said, “Women are still paid less for their work than men, certain occupations are forbidden to them, and their place in the public space is not always well received by men.” In France, for example, despite progress on political representation and maternal care, sexism remains rife and the glass ceiling is a reality. In a report by the French government’s High Council for Equality last year, 46 per cent of women said they had encountered sexist comments or action in the workplace and 43 per cent in the home.

The renaming of a town is an opportunity to reflect on all the ways in which systems and spaces, technologies and infrastructure are designed by and for men, from car safety tests being done primarily on male-sized dummies to the fact that voice recognition softwares “hear” male voices more easily than female voices. Calling a town “Pantine” for a year will not start or cement a feminist revolution. It will, however, underline that a lot still needs to change, if in the 21st century, this is still a man’s world.


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