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Are gender-neutral laws really necessary?

Gov. Jay Inslee signs a new bill into law Monday requiring all Washington state laws are gender neutral, flanked by Sen. Jeannie Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle), the bill's sponsor. (AP image)

Don’t look for any sign of freshmen, dairymen, or even penmanship in any Washington state laws, after Gov. Jay Inslee signed offon the last phase of a six-year effort to make sure they’re all gender neutral.

While a 1983 law required all new measures be gender neutral, doing away with terms like “fireman” in all state laws has been a massive task. State officials have to revise every single law dating back to 1854.

“It brings us to modern times, to contemporary times,” Sen. Jeannie Kohl-Welles, the bill’s sponsor, said after the signing. “Why should we have in statute anything that could be viewed as biased or stereotypical or reflecting any discrimination?”

But KIRO Radio’s Luke Burbank wonders if it was worth all the work to make sure “freshmen” are now “first-year students,” penmanship is forever “handwriting” and so on.

“I’m not angry like Dori,” Luke says.
“I just don’t think it was necessary. I think it was probably a bit of a waste of time.”

Luke questions whether any young girls had their dreams dashed because of some reference buried deep in some state statute.

“When I say fireman, I’m not saying ‘…women can’t do it,'” Luke says.

But KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross says even though he can’t actually relate and hasn’t given the issue much thought, he can understand why it’s important.

“As a man, I have no idea what it feels like and it would be fruitless of me to try and even put myself in the shoes of people who everyday are confronted with words which they may feel excludes them,” Dave says.

Washington joins Florida and Minnesota as the only states to completely change their laws. But the National Conference of State Legislatures says about half of all states have moved toward gender-neutral language in varying degrees.

“I no longer take the line ‘oh, get over it.’ Because people don’t get over it,” Dave says. “I have to defer to people who feel offended by it.”

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