The Mashpee Board of Selectmen have voted unanimously to recommend changing its name to Select Board. The next step is a vote at Town Meeting on October 18 at 6 PM. This is historic. Why? Because, historically, women have had to fight long, uphill battles for economic, occupational and political opportunities. There are certainly exceptions, but men far outnumber women in most leadership roles and in earning potential. It’s not because men are better-suited to any of this; it’s because we’ve made it harder for women than for men. For example, the US Constitution gave White men the right to vote when it was ratified in 1789. Black men were granted this right in 1870. Women weren’t granted the right to vote until 1920.
While women have made strides, we have a long way to go to reach gender equality. Gender equality simply means that all people should have equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities regardless of their gender. According to the Center for American Progress, using data from the 2018 US Census, full-time working women earn 82 cents for every $1 earned by men. How do we close that gap? That’s complicated; but changing the name of the Board of Selectmen to Select Board is a step in the right direction. This change is long overdue, and for obvious reasons. “Board of Selectmen” is a literal description of the men who were selected to hold these positions of leadership and governance when women were intentionally excluded.
The words (or word parts) “man” or “men” are gender identifiers. They are exclusionary and disrespectful when used to identify a position that is open to all people. We used to call police officers policemen and firefighters firemen. We used to call letter carriers mailmen. But we’ve changed. Women have fought hard to serve in these capacities, and women have fought hard to be able to hold public office. The words we use should reflect those changes.
The Mashpee Inclusion and Diversity Committee voted unanimously in favor of changing the name to Select Board. For those of you who cling to tradition or don’t think it matters, I urge you to reconsider. Words matter. Equality matters. We need to set a good example for tomorrow’s leaders, and they need to know that everyone is not only welcome but encouraged to serve in local government—regardless of gender.
The Massachusetts Selectmen’s Association was established in 1929 as a networking and educational resource for the 292 towns in Massachusetts that are governed by selectmen and select boards. In 2020 its name was changed to the Select Board Association “to reflect a movement among towns to adopt a gender-neutral name for their elected policy board.” More than 100 towns throughout the state have already made this change.
Mashpee won’t be the first town on Cape Cod to implement this change. Nine towns have already done so: Brewster, Chatham, Dennis, Eastham, Falmouth, Orleans, Provincetown, Truro and Wellfleet. Bourne just voted “Yes” in August, so they’ll be number 10. Barnstable has a Town Council, so that leaves four towns on the Cape that are still using the antiquated term “selectmen.” Let’s not be last. Vote “Yes” on Article 1.
The Mashpee Inclusion and Diversity Committee meets on the second Tuesday of each month. We welcome your input and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.