Does street naming really effect self-esteem?

There is an interesting initiative taking place in Rome.  Maria Pia Ercolini, a local geography teacher wrote a cultural guide to Rome celebrating the role of women in the city’s history.  During this research, she realized that there was a disproportionately larger number of streets named after men than women.  As “proof of the discrimination” she cataloged all 16,000+ streets in Rome and determined that 46% of them are named after men, and 4% are named after women.  As a solution, Ercolini and her supporters are urging the local authorities to address this imbalance through naming the city’s new streets after women.  They have already had some success with 2 parks newly dedicated to influential women.  Other European cities have started looking into this street naming discrepancy following in Rome’s footsteps.  Ercolina and her supporters investigated streets in Florence and Milan, a group from Spain surveyed Madrid’s streets, and work has started in Paris.

In London, Julia Long from the London Feminist Network agrees with this challenge to the status quo and would like London’s streets cataloged as well.  She feels that having more female names would “play a big part in ensuring that women feel recognized and valued in our city.”  She also thinks that this disproportionate naming “gives men an inflated sense of entitlement and self-worth” and that it may have a “negative impact on the self-esteem of women and girls.”

As a woman, I’m all for equality between the sexes.  I believe that women make the same contributions to science, literature, and the arts that men do, and I agree that women should receive similar recognition for their efforts.  However, I think what is missing from the arguments above is the fact that these European streets were named probably two hundred years ago when women were not typically involved in openly advancing anything cultural.  A better research design would be to look at the street naming conventions taking place in recent times – where both women and men make active contributions to society – and see whether there is more street naming equality taking place.

Also, I have never consciously considered that street names, or holidays, or anything else really, is disproportionately named after men, nor do I think that it has effected my self-esteem one way or another that there are no females named to these recognitions.  I firmly believe that there is an imbalance between women and men in positions of authority, dynamics in the workplace, etc and these are areas that women and men should work toward improving.  In my opinion, equality in street naming seems misguided…

See Mark Bosworth, Are our street names sexist?, BBC News Magazine, (April 10, 2012), http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-17203823.

One comment

  1. It may be slightly unreasonable to assume that something as passive as a street name could be as influential as to adversely affect self-esteem. While it may be important to add female names to the lot of street names, it is also important that the pendulum does not swing entirely in the other direction (i.e., all streets become Jane St. instead of John St.).

    One minor change that I’ve noticed over time is the change of “he”, “him” or “his” in text to “she” or “her” or “hers”. Rather than some texting reading one way and other text reading the other way, all text has now converted to the latter. While this has not affected my self-esteem, it has influenced my habits. I now tend to write “she” instead of “he”.

    Thus, it is unlikely that street names damage self-esteem but they may have some effect on a sub-conscious level.

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