Illustration: Nicholas Luchak

Allow me to introduce you to Sophie. She’s cool. She’s rocks a ponytail and a confident swagger and she challenges gender bias. She’s also controversial. My kind of gal.

Sophie is actually the star of a Don’t Walk/Walk traffic light, which will be donated to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights by Ambassador Wim Geerts of the Netherlands Embassy. Instead of a stick figure, she has human shape.

The “Sophie” crossing light is meant to remind people that it’s not just a man’s world, Geerts was quoted as saying in this Metro article. (There are photos of the streetlight at the link.)

And she’s not just a novelty/public art piece; the Sophie crossing light was introduced in the Netherlands a decade ago. Now, she can be spotted in several cities in the Netherlands.

That’s progressive and awesome, right? What’s not to like, right?


Here’s a sampling of the comments under the Metro article. “Please people! A stick person is enough!!” and “By realistic you mean overweight?” and “More PC crap coming down the pipes.” YEP! We fat-shame signs now. We also think that seeing more generic images of women is “PC crap.”

This comment is my favourite:

This a gross exaggeration of the equal rights movement and if anything it is discriminatory against men. The figure is genderless and to believe otherwise is to place stereotypical constructs on the appearances of both men and women. I would be strongly opposed to any measures to implement this unnecessary and ridiculous feature on Ottawa’s streets.

First of all, I don’t think the stickman (seen at crossings, yes, but also all over other official signage; I’ve seen him cross-country skiing and swimming on highway signs across Manitoba) is all that gender neutral, considering we live in a male-as-default society. Even the fucking Toilet Squirrel is presumed male.

Also, sometimes those signage stick people wear dresses — see: those ubiquitous, understood-in-any-language bathroom signs. (Fun fact: That same skirted sticklady is also featured on flight attendant call buttons on old Air Canada planes. VINTAGE SEXISM.)

I’ve come to realize that, subconsciously, I definitely treat the stickdude — or the Happy Highway Man as I call him (I don’t call him that) — as male. Look at the image our own Luchak whipped up for this post. You know what I saw at first blush? Two dudes, one naked, one clothed.

More than that, though, I find it interesting how resistant the public is to any sort of change from gender norms. Read that last Metro comment. Can’t you just HEAR the panic? OMG SOMETHING DIFFERENT MAY HAPPEN AND I DON’T LIKE IT. He’s STRONGLY OPPOSED. To a fucking traffic sign.

Whether it’s to signage or to how parents let their kids wear their hair — I DON’T KNOW HOW TO INTERACT WITH THIS CHILD BECAUSE I DON’T KNOW WHAT “IT IS” — people have violent knee-jerk reactions to any deviation from “the norm.” And I think it goes well beyond “people are set in their ways” or “this is how it’s always been.”

I think it’s because people feel threatened. It’s a man’s world, after all. You, me and Sophie? We’re just living in it.