And now for something you didn't know you should have

Finally, some women pedestrians in Australia will know when it’s safe for them to cross the street.

Traditionally, crosswalk lights in most places show a male figure waiting patiently in red for cars to stop, then walking in green when it’s safe. It’s been that way because it’s been that way in societies dominated by you-know-who.


But a civic group called the Committee for Melbourne decided to help make its world a little better through images. It has convinced the city to change crosswalk lights to show a female figure walking to erase the possibility of gender bias and attune future generations to picture females crossing the street or doing anything the same as males.

“There was unconscious bias built into our brains,” explained the group’s chief executive officer, Martine Letts, “because we are accustomed to seeing a male figure.” Although, come to think of it, perhaps clothing the female crosswalker only in dresses might actually be considered rather dress-ist.

Some neanderthals might be tempted to ask, Seriously? Light bulbs? But the non-profit committee, which was founded as an alliance of more than 100 businesses, non-profits and educators to encourage public-private cooperation and offer advice to government, has had some notable success in fostering municipal improvements during its 32 years.

“If we see more female figures on traffic lights,” Letts explained, “that might also have a positive impact on changing the way we view the world.” Like many modern ideas, who’s to say it won’t?

The view of Melbourne’s world is indeed rather rosy. With some 4.5 million residents, Melbourne is home to almost one-in-five Australians and has been consistently listed in recent times as one of the world’s most livable cities. It’s the capital of the state of Victoria and Australia’s second largest city, slightly behind Sydney.


The 10 Melbourne street crossings now pitting a red man against a green female are part of a year-long trial negotiated with the city. Good luck next year trying to stop the spread of female lights to at least half the pedestrian crossings in Melbourne, perhaps even Victoria.

To be honest, many — perhaps most — Americans have never thought to notice the gender on pedestrian crossing lights because they ignore all lights and signs anyway, crossing streets whenever and wherever they choose.

But for any Americans who ever do go walking in Melbourne, they should remember before stepping off the curb that Australians, like the British and Japanese, drive on the left side which, of course, is the right side.*

*Edited to fix right side reference, which was the wrong side.

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