This Tuesday, a group of four high school students challenged the Rochester Charter Commission members to remove gender specific words from the Rochester Home Charter Rule, a document that establishes the manner by with the city is governed. The students observed close to one hundred instances of male-specific language in the charter, which they say promotes gender bias and perpetuates the male point of view.
Gender bias and gender roles, as the student group explained, are pervasive in today’s society, whether we are cognizant of it or not. Even from a young age the colors we wear, toys we play with, and even the careers we choose are based on- often subliminal- gender roles. Language, the group explained, plays a large part in influencing the perception of gender roles. They documented nearly one hundred examples of male-specific language in the nineteen chapters of the Rochester Home Charter Rule, where the pronouns “he/him” were used to describe positions of power in government like the mayor, city council members, and city officials.
“I assumed in today’s more progressive society, older generations had already driven out all of the truly explicit examples of misogyny that thrived for centuries in American culture,” said Mayo High School student Leah Folpe. “The last place I expected to find archaic, male-dominated language was in the Rochester Home Charter Rule itself.”
Gender-specific language in the charter discourages women from entering politics, the students explained. The male pronouns used in the charter, they said, imply that the female point of view is not as important or is encompassed by male perception.
Section 2.01 Subdivision 3 of the Rochester Home Charter Rule is meant to diffuse any perceived gender bias in the charter stating, “In construing this charter, words and phrases in the masculine gender include the feminine and shall not indicate any bias as to sex.” Century High School student Martha Burket explained that this subdivision is not an effective strategy to eliminate discrimination in the charter “because it is founded in discriminatory ideas.”
Instead, the students shifted through the Rochester Home Charter, changing all gender-specific language to gender neutral language. They asked the Charter Commission members to adopt these modifications to the Rochester Home Charter Rule.
“These simple fixes make a huge difference in our perception of society as young women and society’s perception of us,” Mayo student Anna Kirkland explained.
“It’s true that changing the charter will not eliminate all this bias. But it is a small step. And a conglomeration of small steps can bring about an impactful weight of change,” said Burket.
The students challenged the Charter Commission leaders to take this action and give Rochester a chance to be a leader. Century High School student Alina Hyder said she sees Minnesota as an unbiased state, where people are treated equally. She said herself and her colleagues are “trying to show that Rochester is a gender neutral place.”
The student group was originally formed by Rochester resident Rose Anderson in response to gender-specific language she observed in the Rochester Home Charter Rule.
“And we’re all local high school students. So we’re about to go forward in our lives and see what we can do and hopefully make the world better,” said Kirkland.
Rochester Charter Committee member Fred Suhler was highly sympathetic to the cause. “From my perspective, I think it’s an issue that deserves respect. And I’m willing to respect your view on that,” he said.
Suhler thought the issue could be “easily resolved” by city attorney Terry Adkins. Assistant city attorney Dave Goslee agreed this was likely a simple process “to the extent that it’s just changing references” such as “he” to “the mayor.”
A motion was made that the city attorney uses the authority granted to the office to replace any gender specific words in the Rochester Home Charter Rule with gender neutral words. The motion passed unanimously.