Published in the September 21, 2017 edition.



Wakefield’s gradual slide from a proud, blue collar, working class town to the precious PC world inhabited by communities like Cambridge, Concord and Lexington accelerated just a bit this month when the Board of Selectmen decided that it would, after all, like to change its name to one that does not have the word “men” in it.

They say it’s a move toward “gender neutrality,” and that may be the intent locally. But what’s brought us to this day is rooted in a place much darker than that.

There’s a segment of the population that holds men responsible for everything wrong in the world and this kind of self-neutering is in part a sop to that crowd. At the same time, it’s a nod to those who are forever seeking to blur any differences between the men and women, telling us that sex is not determined by genetic science but rather by human will.

We got a glimpse of the mindset that got us to this point last week when Michael Burstein, a member of Brookline’s Town Meeting, filed an article to change the name of that town’s Board of Selectmen to “Board of Selectwomen.”

“To be quite frank, I wanted to make a point here,” said Burstein, apparently unaware that “Frank” is a man’s name.

Not content to simply change the name to something gender neutral, he wanted to stick it to the three men on the board. That’ll show those chauvinist pigs. Let’s see how they like being referred to as “selectwomen.”

Lost on Mr. Burstein and those who applaud his oh-so-clever ploy is the fact that “man” can refer to a human person of either sex, while “woman” refers specifically and only to females.

Pick any dictionary you like, paper or online. You’ll find that either the primary or secondary definition of “man” is already gender neutral.

In Merriam-Webster, the primary definition of “man” is “an individual human; a bipedal primate mammal.”

In the online, the number 2 definition of “man” is “a member of the species Homo sapiens or all the members of this species collectively, without regard to sex.”

Seems clear enough to me, but maybe we should remove all doubt and call our selectmen “The Board of Bipedal Primate Mammals.” Or maybe, “The Board of Homo sapiens,” although I’m sure someone would find a reason to object to that one.

The fact is, the Wakefield Board of Selectmen has not been viewed by anyone as the exclusive province of males for 86 years, since the first woman was elected to the board in 1931.

Rena M. Colson ran unsuccessfully in 1929, but two years later, she won a seat on the board. Selectman Colson apparently had no issue with her title.

“I understand some people still claim that man only is endowed with sufficient brains and qualifications to hold the office of selectman here in Wakefield,” she said in one of her campaign ads. But she pointed to other towns where women had been elected as selectmen.

“It is not an experiment to be tried,” she observed. “It stands established by precedent and proven success.”

The voters of Wakefield agreed. And the March 2, 1931 Town Election was not some low turnout fluke. It was the second largest turnout in local history up to that point.

After her election, Selectman Colson was proud of the title she had won. By electing her to the Board of Selectmen, she wrote in a letter to the Item, “the people have paid me respect and a compliment.”

But what the hell did she know.

Now, 86 years later, the title that Selectman Rena M. Colson was so proud to hold is likely to become just the latest piece of history and tradition to be sacrificed at the altar of political correctness. At their last meeting, the selectmen decided to send the matter on to Town Meeting, signaling that they’re OK with changing the title of the board they worked so hard to join.

Last spring a plastic bag ban proposed by a high school student almost passed Town Meeting. The best that the level-headed voters could do was postpone the inevitable by sending it to a committee for study.

I’m not optimistic that the voters of Wakefield will be able to hold the line much longer against the PC tide seeking to wash away every last remnant of our historical traditions.

When the subject of changing the name of the Board of Selectmen first came up at a meeting several months ago, one member of the board attempted to defend keeping the name, pointing out that it had hundreds of years of history behind it. He was roundly lectured by another member of the board who suggested that the name “selectmen” was illegitimate because at the time it was chosen women were not even allowed to vote.

I’m just waiting for someone to demand changing the name of the town because women were not allowed to vote in 1868 when the town elected to call itself “Wakefield” in honor of a man named Cyrus Wakefield.

Sound far-fetched? Well, a few short years ago, so did the idea of changing the name of the Board of Selectmen.