Wiener Wackiness

Written by Father Bill 7 Comments

One of Vienna’s new “gender-neutral” signsGender light has finally dawned for the gender-oppressed in Vienna, Austria.   According to an AFP story at the city of Vienna has finally launched an initiative to raise awareness about  gender equality.  In the process, thousands of oppressed and marginalized women  will now be able to cross the streets and use exits in safety and confidence.  Co-incidentally, hundreds of  thousands of males will now be able to take seats on subways, trams, and buses  which were formerly designated for elderly, pregnant, or child-toting women. 

Vienna’s “Gender Mainstreaming Project” is supposed “to give both genders the same exposure and ensure an equal distribution of chances, opportunities, and duties by changing the gender of figures pictured on familiar signs,” a spokesperson for the Wiener Rathaus (Vienna City Hall)  stated.  “Because it clashes with fixed visual habits, the campaign compels people to think, look, and act different,” said Sonja Wehsely, city councilor in charge of women’s affairs. Under the new guidelines now being implemented across the city, signs that formerly used male characters will have their female equivalent, while the opposite will also be true. 

Marvelous improvement in quality of life for the women of Vienna is just around the corner.  Uncounted hundreds of thousands of females have been stranded on street corners, discouraged from crossing at safe moments, because the sign that signaled them to do so was an ideograph of a man.  Now many thousands of female lives will now be saved, as women no longer get run over by trams, busses, and garbage trucks in Vienna’s streets.  Gutters that used to run red with female blood can now be cleaned.  The city’s landfills will no longer be gorged with the crushed and broken bodies of female pedestrians who gauged incorrectly when best to cross the street.

The public decency department of the Wiener* Polizei (Viennese Police Department) will add several thousand new staff, to manage the expected rise in disorderly conduct events in the use of public restrooms.  Both sexes are expected to react testily to the presence of the opposite sex in public toilets formerly marked for one sex or the other. 

“Yes, it will be dicey for a while,” said Alosius Schlagobersfürgehirne, Direktor des Wiener WC und Pissoir** Amt (Viennese Water Closet and Public Pisser Authority).  “But, these times of civic turmoil advance us toward the day when all can relive themselves in the company of anyone without a care.  Surely that goal is worth the effort!” he exclaimed.

The reactions from Vienna’s men was mixed.  “Well, it’s certainly going to be an improvement to have women crossing the streets with us,” said one middle-aged Wiener.*  “It will improve the appearance of the crowds in the middle of the streets to see female figures there who are not dashing for their lives or being crushed by streetcars because of their pedestrian indecisiveness.” Other men hailed the new availability of seats on public transportation formerly reserved for pregnant and elderly women. 

Some members of Vienna’s gay community were less sanguine.  “Undoubtedly, the presence of women in the middle of the streets and in the pissoirs is going to change the social dynamics,” said a local tourist guide who specializes in GLBT clientele. “Many GLBT citizens will have to learn a whole new protocol for social interaction in those places,” he explained.

On the other hand, Dominetta Donnerblixenmachen, Dominatrix of the City of Vienna’s GLBT Affairs Office, sees the new gender mainstream project as merely the first step toward mainstreaming all the genders, not just the merely biological ones. 

“The new signage is an advance, of course,” she said.  “But, there is nothing in the current ideographs to signal anything beyond body parts.”  Donnerblixenmachen has already set up a task force to design ideographs which represent gay, lesbian, transsexual, and bisexual persons.  “When we have a fair consensus in our communities, we’ll present them to the Viennese City Council for inclusion in all the usual places — public transportation and toilets, street crossings, and boarding stations for trains.” 

The more “organic” gender-inclusive signage for Vienna’s public squareDonnerblixenmachen displayed the current front runner for more gender-inclusive signage, an ideograph with a female form sporting a moustache, and a male ideograph with breasts and voluptuous lips.  “It’s a more organic approach to communication,” Donnerblixenmachen explained.  “This design was put forth by the La Cage Aux Folles Coalition for Sexual Sanity.  Presently it has the support of about 57 percent of the GLBT community we have surveyed.”

A more spiritual provocation for thinking about genderOn the other hand, Donnerblixenmachen explained, “others are campaigning for a less organic approach.”  She displayed an alternate signage, similar to the one Vienna is already deploying, except that an abstract symbol for “male” is imposed on a female ideograph, and vice versa.  “If the Rathaus imagines that the current signage will get people to thinking, they will think all the harder with this more purely spiritual signage.”

One segment of Vienna’s population will be exempt from gender mainstreaming.  AFP reports that a roadworks sign picturing a woman in a skirt digging into a pile of dirt and used on a campaign poster for the gender mainstream project will not see the light of day because of “traffic regulations.”  Project activists are busy researching just what this means, with a view to ensuring that all genders have equal access to the ditch-digging sectors of the economy.

PETA’s purely symbolic signage that omits references to human beingsMeanwhile, the local chapter of PETA continues to wage an unremitting campaign against “the anthropocentric chauvinism” of the gender mainstreaming project.  “Why have symbols of humans at all?  Even if the city uses signs for dozens of genders that are conceivable, they’re still human!” says Fifi Hundeundkatzeundvögelundsoweiter. “Species justice requires that we use only abstract symbols for all the genders.”  The local chapter of PETA has taken up a campaign to replace all the ideographs in the city that presently depict humans with signs that suggest all genders in purely symbolic form.  

Will Vienna’s cutting edge gender mainstreaming project spread beyong the Wienerwald?  History suggests it may.  A century ago, a psychiatrist named Sigmund Freud attempted to catalog the features of Vienna’s pscho-sexual aberrations.  In an understandable ego-centric error, he supposed he was observing a general pattern of human psychology, rather than the idiosyncracies of a post-empire mass neurosis confined mostly to Vienna within the Guertel.  But, in a surprise still affecting the West, Freud’s error became established as the premier psychological model of Western Europe and the  Americas. Today entire university schools of psychiatry suppose all humanity is substantially identical to the navel-gazing neurotics of fin de siecle Vienna.

With a precedent like that, can gender mainstreaming for the rest of the West be far behind?

*The German name of Vienna is “Wien,” pronounced “veen,” as German W’s have the same consonantal sound as the American or British letter “v.”  Thus, in German, “Wiener” [pronounced “veener”] is not a hot dog, but a male resident of Wien (i.e. Vienna).  A female resident of  Vienna is a Wienerin. 

**Pissoir is a mild French vulgarism used throughout Europe to label public latrines for men, though it would appear they may now be used by women in Vienna.


  1. greenbaggins   |  Monday, 18 December 2006 at 9:29 am

    Fr. Bill, this is truly disturbing. Thanks for blogging about it, though.

  2. Fr. Bill   |  Monday, 18 December 2006 at 10:31 am

    Hi, Lane,

    Blogging on this is an attempt to satirize what may not be capable of satirizing. The unadorned (and almost impossible to satirize) facts are reported in the link. Maybe when the holiday hooo-haw settles down, I’ll google the “gender mainstreaming project” and comment further.

    For the record, everything past the second paragraph is satire. It may be difficult to distinguish the satire from what is being satirized beginning in the third paragraph and continuing downward. It’s sort of like trying to satirize something which reads as if it were lifted from the pages of Mad Magazine.

    I’m not being entirely satirical, by the way, on the bit about Freud. I always thought Freudian psychology was as nuttier than fruitcake, until I found myself living in Vienna. The more I got to know the Viennese, the more I realized that Freud was right. The error wasn’t in his psychological model. Rather, he mistakenly generalized from it. It’s like someone developing a theory of skin-tissue, generalizing from observations taken exclusively from a leper’s colony.

  3. greenbaggins   |  Monday, 18 December 2006 at 12:20 pm

    I agree that satire on this issue is almost impossible to execute, since everything that is far out and ridiculous has been taken seriously by someone or other. Just about the only thing left to satirize is evangelicalism.

  4. kathryn   |  Monday, 18 December 2006 at 11:45 pm

    I don’t think that it is impossible to satirize gender wackiness, because you did a fine job of it. I was howling outloud. Please keep me abreast (or should I say, achest) of other gender hilarity issues.


  5. Chip Johnson+, cj   |  Thursday, 28 December 2006 at 2:56 pm

    Great essay, and, BTW, not only is Freudian psychology askew, Freud himself was a seriously deranged and conflicted individual who posited his own families problems and generalized them to the whole population…much like the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (which most of us have had at least once, either in ministry preparation or for public works exams, normed on a prison population, and from this we determine the psychological suitabililty of potential priests or police officers).
    Since two of my degrees are in psychology, I know whereof I speak.
    Ach! wienerschnitzel!

  6. Fr. Bill   |  Friday, 29 December 2006 at 9:35 am

    Thanks for stopping by, Fr. Johnson.

    I don’t know about Freud personally, of course. Never really studied his life, nor ever really needed to. On the other hand, I did live four years in Vienna, long enough to begin to tune into the broader cultural echoes from the previous century.

    My exposure to Freudian psychology in undergraduate school made me wonder what all those profs and textbooks were talking about. Bizzaro deluxo. And, then, I lived those few years in Vienna. The light dawned.

    Best wishes for your ministry in South Dakota!

  7. Schierer Space » Blog Archive » Vienna posts gender neutral signs   |  Wednesday, 24 January 2007 at 9:39 pm

    […] from the radio interview, understand that this one was not actually used) , but instead found these somewhat cynical alternatives.  In any case, basically the idea is that instead of an exit or crosswalk sign showing the typical […]

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