Only a matter of weeks after Melbourne made headlines for introducing female traffic light signals, Australian poet and artist Richard Tipping is showing his Woman Crossing sign at Australian Galleries in Sydney as part of his Instant History exhibition.

Tipping created his Woman Crossing sign – which features a pair of legs in high heels – out of concern that pedestrian crossing signs in Australia show only a man. Tipping asked his partner, poet Chris Mansell to be the model for female legs, photographing her in her favourite shoes (both high heel and mid heel) then tracing the outline to use in the manufacture of the reflective sign.

Richard Tipping's Woman CrossingRichard Tipping’s Woman Crossing

“If people say it’s sexist because of the heels and ageist because of the young legs, tell them it’s my legs and my favourite work shoes, and that I’m over sixty!” Mansell said.

Tippet has proposed that 50 percent of pedestrian signs throughout the country be replaced with his Woman Crossing sign, sending proposals last year to all of the state Ministers for Women. “It’s up for discussion whether the comfortable high heels or the mid heels (as favoured by our Foreign Minister Julie Bishop) are used,” Tipping said.

The responses were positive. “Your proposal presents an interesting and unique way to challenge sexual inequality, gender roles and stereotypes in Australia society,” said Queensland Minister for Communities, Women and Youth Shannon Fentiman (through her Chief of Staff Cynthia Kennedy). “Your idea has merit.”

“I agree that it is important to consider the underlying meaning of language and symbolism in the context of gender equality. Gendered speech, signs and behaviour subtly reinforce harmful stereotypes, leading to narrow conceptions of gender and identity, as well as entrenched inequality,” wrote Fiona Richardson, Victoria’s Minister for Women. “The Government is currently undertaking community consultations and is eager to hear a range of experiences and ideas on how we can achieve gender equality in Victoria. I have passed on your advice to my department to consider in the context of developing this strategy.”

Bess Price, the Northern Territory Government’s Minister for Women’s policy was also encouraging. “I commend your positive gesture towards gender balance,” she wrote. “I am a fan of your well known artwork and enjoy the fresh meaning it has brought to the Australian landscape. Here in the Territory we often struggle with images and symbols adequately representing our diverse population. I also agree that we have moved beyond a time when the default male can stand for all genders.”

Tipping’s work has come at a time when cities across the world are beginning to re-evaluate the way gender is portrayed in their signage. Cities like Bremen and Cologne in Germany has replaced many of the male figures on their traffic lights with female figures and the non-profit organisation the Committee for Melbourne aims to see one-to-one male and female representation in traffic lights across the state of Victoria.

Richard Tipping's Sing StreetsignRichard Tipping’s Sing

This is not the first time Tipping has worked with street signs. His CROSSING sign in which ‘CROS’ is removed, leaving the word SING has become something of an icon and ten of Tipping’s other large artsigns are in the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales.


Richard Tipping’s Instant History is showing in Australian Galleries, Sydney April 4 – 23