New language praised by women’s advocates

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Oct. 21 saw a number of changes for municipal politics in Calgary. In addition to a few fresh faces, election day also ushered in a fresh new title for municipal politicians in the city.

Effective Oct. 21, the elected officials of city council assumed the title “councillor,” and the longstanding title of “alderman,” was retired.

City Council voted in favor of the name change back in December of 2010, but the change, which was passed with nine votes in favor and six against, did not officially come into effect until election day.

 Critics of the title change have dismissed it as mere minutia, insignificant when stacked up against other gender-related issues. But supporters like Rebecca Sullivan, professor and woman’s advocate at the University of Calgary, suggest that the seemingly small change carries a great deal of importance.

“Bigger issues in gender are adjusted by a lot of small initiatives,” says Sullivan.
“Just because we have big problems on the table does not mean we can not work through those issues with small initiatives.”

Sullivan says small initiatives like a name change represent a political landscape where women are viewed welcome contributors.

This sentiment is echoed by Dr. Mary Valentich, who was part of the group which lobbied for the name change.ferrell resizeCouncillor Druh Farrell addresses supporters on election night. Farrell is one of 14 council members to assume the title “Councillor,” as the term “Alderman” is retired.

Photo by Krystal Northey

Like Sullivan, Valentich says that language should be viewed as representative of cultural values. Critics suggest that the change was unnecessary, arguing that the term is not gendered in the first place. Valentich disagrees, and says that the term Aldermen established a very clear image in the mind of the public.

“When you use a word like ‘chairman,’ the image of a man comes before you. It’s not the image of a woman, despite all of the arguments that these are inclusive words, generic words, that they include both women and men,” says Valentich.

The name change helps us “drop these remnants of the past that negate women’s identity.”

While the change has been widely supported, some Calgarians have been left asking why a more inclusive name took so long to implement in the first place. Up until Oct. 21, Calgary remained as the only major Canadian municipality that did not use gender-inclusive titles for member of its municipal bodies.

“Bigger issues in gender are adjusted by a lot of small initiatives,”

— Rebecca Sullivan on the name change.The possibility for the change was first floated on amongst City Council in 1977, and was voted down repeatedly by various councils over the years.

Councillor Shane Keating was among the councillors who introduced the title amendment back in 2010, and says he sees the new language “not as an issue of political correctness, but simply a sign of the times.”

Keating says he sees the change as a landmark, but is ready to move on.

“Society changed and matured so now the point is that if we’re going to be inclusive and we’re going to have equal rights and we’re going to have many people doing different jobs in either sex, then naturally the title should be gender neutral.

“The whole point to the matter is I think the change is going to be a non-issue, and so it should be. You’re changing the title of a job and how you do the job is more important than what you’re called.”

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