June 2, 2005

The "highly-charged," "gendered" bathroom.

It's a serious area of feminist studies, to the surprise of Boston Globe Columnist Alex Beam:
When I first saw the ''Call for Papers -- Toilet Papers: The Gendered Construction of Public Toilets" posted on an academic website, my beeswax detector went off. There can't really be two professors planning to publish a book working from ''the premise that public toilets, far from being banal or simply functional, are highly charged spaces, shaped by notions of propriety, hygiene and the binary gender division" . . . can there?

Yes!
Here is some more rhetoric from the book proposal: ''Indeed, public toilets are among the very few openly segregated spaces in contemporary Western culture, and the physical differences between 'gentlemen' and 'ladies' remains central to (and is further naturalized by) their design. As such, they provide a fertile ground for critical work interrogating how conventional assumptions about the body, sexuality, privacy, and technology can be formed in public space and inscribed through design."

I think this is an excellent subject for scholarship, actually, but I will strenuously object if it leads to political action in the form of trying to abolish separate bathrooms for women.

29 comments:

David Manus said...

I dislike thinking of public restrooms as "fertile ground" in any sense of the words.

Murky Thoughts said...

Of course, it's you're right to object strenuously in a purely reactionary way. Did you have an actual argument against unisex toilets?

Ann Althouse said...

Murky: I'm not against single-user bathrooms shared by the sexes, just mixing the sexes in multiple user bathrooms. Read my old posts at the link if you have trouble seeing why.

lindsey said...

I think the whole point of this is probably political action against single sex bathrooms. The scary thing is how much money is spent to investigate this. I'd have no problem with this at a private school, but I do have issues with schools that take tax money wasting said money.

Murky Thoughts said...
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Murky Thoughts said...

It seems to me the argument you think you have is based on safety, but I'm skeptical. Do you have any stats on safety? Unlike you, I think it's very pertinent that no great barrier now prevents men from entering women's bathrooms, because it suggests that if bathroom rape doesn't happen much now, it wouldn't happen much upon "bathroom liberalization." I suspect what you have is a merely postulated safety argument, against which I expect there's empirical evidence; in which case your argument would be from fear or, in abstract terms, preference.

knoxgirl said...

murky thoughts

I'm going to pose a question to you, borrowed from one of ann's responses from a past post on this topic:

You're male, aren't you?

Im anonymous, see said...

This is really quite extraordinary. If I understand correctly, there are women objecting to the use of the ladies' by transgendered individuals who simply do not, cannot, never have and never will see themselves, feel, or "be" gentleman.

Crap, I say.

No one is saying that we should allow a 6 foot 7 footballer into the ladies'. People who are clearly male should and can be stopped by security. But to stop a transgendered lady?

The argument that this will somehow increase rape in ladies washrooms (wha??) is fantastic, in the way all bigoted ideas are. Rapists are violent offenders. They are people who decide they are going to do something really sick, and they then go ahead and do it. A person who can force himself into a woman over her horrified protestations is not a person who will be bothered at the niceties of bathroom etiguette.

What I'm trying to say is, if a guy wanted to rape someone in a washroom by disguising himself as a woman, whether or not there is a law that allows the 0.01% of the population that is transgendered use the ladies' is not going to matter AT ALL. He will do it.

If men disguising themselves as women to enter ladies washrooms and rape them was really a problem, and one was really concerned about it, then the thing to do would be to lobby for better security at bathrooms, which would be the only way of stopping it.

Not attacking the few rights of a tiny proportion of the population that is innocent and who already deal with so much shit in their lives that most of us will never have to go through or even imagine.

nappy40 said...

If you have a penis use the men's room. What's wrong with that?

Ann Althouse said...

Anonymous: I do think you're missing the issues in the article linked today and discussed in those old posts. You're bringing up points that were raised in the comments to earlier posts and addressed there. I'm not going to repeat my answers, but would ask you to look at that if you're genuinely interested in knowing my response.

Joe said...

No doubt these two professors aren't too concerned about the "segregated spaces" on the majority of college campuses around the country, riddled with notions of propriety and other silliness, being quite banal but having no real function.

I believe they are called "Women's Studies" programs.

knoxgirl said...

Here's just one of countless uncomfortable scenarios women would confront: you walk into the unisex bathroom, which is quiet and empty except for a group of 3 twelve-year-old boys.

And you need to purchase some feminine hygiene products from the dispenser in the bathroom.

This is certainly not a "dangerous" situation, but what woman wants tofool with a tampon vending machine in front of a bunch of goofy kids?

Sorry if this seems like a petty concern to bring up. But I don't know any female who would welcome this sort of situation. And there are countless others like this I can think of!

Murky Thoughts said...

The women's room in our society is a traditional sanctuary. You could be bothered by 12 year olds in the tampon aisle of Target, but the idea doesn't seem so outrageous because you don't view these aisles as sanctuaries. Are sanctuaries nice to have? Yes. Does every public place have to provide a sanctuary function? No. Many ATMs seem to foster violent crimes, but they haven't been banned outright, yanked or turned off at night. Instead they put in cameras and lights to mitigate risk. There might be easy ways to mitigate the risk of undesirable behavior in unisex bathrooms.

Murky Thoughts said...

But even if there weren't easy ways to mitigate undesirable behavior, there's a lot of undesirable behavior we simply endure or gamble on having to endure. I think it would be politically regressive to create some new unpleasantness to have to endure, but I don't think it's inherently wrong, and may be the right thing if there are sufficient benefits to offset whatever unpleasantness can't be mitigated.

Ann Althouse said...

Murky: Fifteen years ago, the left reviled us if we DIDN'T take violence against women absolutely seriously. When did it switch over to the opposite? And why?

Murky Thoughts said...
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Ann Althouse said...

Murky: So you not only fail to take violence against women seriously, you fail to take the question of why you don't take violence against women seriously seriously. I hope people notice!

Murky Thoughts said...

I made the mistake of assuming there was a legal issue here, and so I thought it worthwhile to examine and expose whether there's any principled argument against unisex bathrooms. I'm sorry if the matter was obvious to everybody already. Excuse me for not getting emotional. Note I never said I wouldn't be willing to send in the National Guard to protect a women's comfort at the feminine producsts dispenser.

Murky Thoughts said...

The 7:31 comment I deleted was something like

"Sorry, Ann: I can't find the place in the transcript where we changed the topic."

I deleted it in order to substitute a less antagonistic response, then I realized it had already antagonized and got further antagonized myself. But maybe at this point we can all do as Rodney King wished and get along.

Ann Althouse said...

We can if the penis stays out of the ladies' room.

mw said...

I didn't read 'Murky' as refusing to take violence against women seriously--he seemed to be arguing that there's no real security benefit in segregated women's bathrooms now. I cannot think of any public bathrooms that have security guards watching the doors, and the vast majority of men are of a size that they could plausibly pass for women if disguised. What makes a bathroom safe is not that it is officially segregated but that it is a public place with many people walking in and out. So, a women's bathroom where you're the only woman likely to use it for a long stretch of time is NOT safe. And, in fact, if a woman was at public gathering where there were large numbers of men and very few women, the woman would be safer using a busy men's room than an empty ladies' room, no?

As for the sanctuary argument--I'm all for that. I don't want women in the men's room. In the men's room there are rarely lines. If there are, they move quickly, and there's almost always an empty stall if you happen need one. Nor is there ever a problem getting to a sink because a herd is primping in front of the mirror. Allowing women in would destroy the efficiency (not that women don't occasionally let themselves into the mens' room anyway). Plus, you know, I'm a big boy--I can use the urinal with strange women wandering around if I have to, but it's not my first choice.

knoxgirl said...

Murky Thoughts:
Your refusal to acknowledge that the danger level for women would NOT rise if bathrooms became unisex (simply because there are no security guards in bathrooms now?) is to be stubbornly in denial.

And your suggestion that it's somehow wimpy for women to expect even the smallest measure of privacy, or "sanctuary," as you call it, in a public bathroom, is... well, weird.

F15C said...

While I think unisex public bathrooms in places like parks, etc. would subject girls and women to increased danger of rape, my concern is also that there is a full spectrum of bad behavior between nothing and rape to which girls and women would be far more exposed than they would be (and are) in traditional bathrooms. A grown male or males going pee in a restroom along with a nine year old girl (regardless of the natures of the men) is wrong and our society will not tolerate such. I hope.

sarnac said...

My wife has trouble using the bathroom with other women in the room due to shyness ...

I cannot imagine how extreme her anxiety would be if she had to cope with random 4 to 28-year-old males in the room.

Take your average 10-year-old male and send him to a place with a mixed-gender bathroom for several days in a row and you can safely bet that he'll have a mirror with him by the second day and an improvised periscope or digital camera shortly thereafter.

Anyone who assumes that males are rational about females enough to act maturely has not observed school-age males ... (even grad-school-age).

Now consider age, sanity, and numerical disparities: lone 13yo female, group of 3 ~ 15yo _normal_ males. This situation has needless sexual tension and a % of time will lead to a problem from unnecessary fear to harassment to assault.

A 16yo girl walks into a bathroom, an 10yo male notices the bathroom is empty, waits until she is in the stall and snaps a picture with his phone-cam under or over the stall-wall and departs rapidly. She can scream to try to get him caught, but she has been violated in privacy, he has been needlessly tempted into sexual misconduct and if he gets away with it, will likely do worse later.

I can come up with a vast variety of ugly scenarios where females would be subjected to hazards of being in private with male strangers of unknown decency. All of which are unnecessary:

Bathrooms are the only private place in public, and as such they are segregated by gender so that privacy does not become a danger.

Desert Cat said...

I know I'm very late to this conversation, but I happened upon it while tracking referrers to my own blog.

I am very uncomfortable with the possibility of women in the men's room, and a more than a little fumed that it seems to be happening far more often lately.

Just what is a guy supposed to say when he's standing at the urinal doing his business, and a *woman* walks in behind him?! It's a violation of trust! Men's rooms are not set up for much privacy while using the urinal--the assumption being that it is just other males in the room (yea yea, gay males too. Whatever. It's not the same.)

I mean literally, what do you say? "Hey, you're in the wrong bathroom!"
"Out! Out! Vamoose!"

PiddlyDee said...

For several years I had some issues concerning men's restrooms and why many of them are not "private" including when the doors frequently swing open, females that are passing by (or standing there to try and communicate to someone in there) can see men in plain view using the restroom due to the way the urinals are built in front of the doors (and not the sinks or stalls). Recently I have been hearing of rumors of proposed legislation, which, if passed, would allow females to go into male restrooms in emergencies and long lines even while males are using them.

I found a website called restrooms.org, read some of the issues of women waiting in long lines to use restrooms and some even going into the men's room while men are in there. It should be a law that should be enforced because if a man went into the ladies room, he would be ticketed, fine, jailed, ten-to-twenty, end-of-story.

Here is the commentary I sent to this website (I don't know if this site is based in the U.S. or if it is still active):

I have read some sites about legislation for women to go in men's room even with men using them when the women's room lines are long. I think that would be wrong. Yes, men maybe facing the urinals doing their business but when most men see women coming in to invade their male privacy, they may do some thing to make these women feel uncomfortable: expose themselves to them, going to the closed stalls to peek at these women, do "strip shows," install video cameras in stalls (and producing these videos online), and other sexual harassment. Some perverted men will even be more creative and invent more ways to invade the privacy of women and embarrass them from coming in. Most men are not that mature no matter the location (even at a symphony orchestra concert. Many of those concerts serve alcoholic beverages beforehand). Women may even bring their little girls in there as well, which creates a situation for pedophilia. In other words, the entire situation can be a set up for men to get arrested for these indecent acts.

Sexual situations would arise in teenagers, which can result in the spread of diseases and pregnancy. The women's room in school might be empty but some girls may want to go to the men's room to harass, tease, or seduce the boys. These situations also breed and can increase immorality. A lot of females believe that men should not have privacy against females to pee but believe that women should have that privacy against men.

Girls are taught to be private with their genitalia. Boys are not (and they should be). That is not fair for females to invade the privacy of men in the restrooms. It is not fair for males to go into (occupied) female restrooms. Therefore, let's continue to keep them separated by law and ethics.

One solution is to build more women's restrooms. Another is to build those co-ed restrooms where there are floor-to-ceiling doors to separate each toilet. Maybe later once devices like the She-Pee" and the "P-Mate" become more popular among women, more women's restrooms could be built with urinals. These items should be introduced into American society once the female urinals are built, meaning that those companies should give them our free for the first several months before selling them in dispensers. Women should sacrifice privacy if they want to zip in and out restrooms equipped with urinals.

Oh, the thing about restroom doors especially at stadiums where the men's room door is open and they can be seen urinating, these restrooms should be rebuilt. Those sinks (and even stalls) are hidden away from public view but the urinals with the men using them aren't. The men's rooms should be built with some type of barrier to shield outside view of women passing by (or women at the door sticking their heads in calling for their little boys to hurry up). Women and girls should not be allowed to watch men and boys pee. We don't get to watch females pee. Maybe this is an issue that the ACLU should take up.

PiddlyDee said...

Women, stay out of the men's rooms. why? Because it will cause numerous problems. Women would not be in an environment where they hear men fart , smell their crap, or smell the unflushed toilets with crap overflowing in abundance. Most stalls in men's rooms do not have toilet paper. Perverted men will be creative and think of many ways to intimidate women. For instance, the men will get quiet just to hear how the woman tinkles: "Oh, she's a gusher." "Oh, she may be a little pee-shy." "Oh, that's cute. I want to go in after her just to smell." Then they will look at the bottom of that stall to see what color panties she is wearing (when they are down to the floor). If she farts, the men will respond loudly and the woman will be too embarrassed to walk out of that stall. And she will try and glance at the men's penises at the urinals (or at the sinks if they are pissing in them). It is unfair for women to be granted privacy in restrooms and not men. Men have emergencies, too.

The establishments should do what they have to do to accommodate more women without invading the privacy of men. If there are two sets of restrooms, make one of the men's rooms a women's room, and have a sign pointing to the other set of restrooms where the other men's room is located that men can use. At that set, if there is a line of women at the women's room, have a sign pointing to that first set of restrooms where women are using exclusively. But beware.

One of these days this could lead to making all restrooms for women only and urinals will be built outside of the women's room for men to use (and women and little girls to watch them). To go beyond that, in movie theaters and concert halls where this takes place, there may be a side screen showing these men using these urinals (and the expressions on their faces).

Oh, and what is with the men's room doors are always open but the women's rooms are always closed? Isn't it proper etiquette for women to have doors already opened for them? No, society wants "men to be seen," especially at the urinals.

PiddlyDee said...

Okay, here is a great solution on expanding women’s restrooms in concert halls, movie theaters, stadiums, and other large venues where so many of them have to wait in long lines. In one, two or three of these major cities, one of those venues should rebuild the ladies’ room. Take those doggone couches and lounge chairs out of that area and build plumbing there. Install and wall or two full of urinals like in the men’s rooms. Let them have the divider between urinals (not latch doors like stalls).

After reading numerous articles about women can pee standing up (with and without any devices) and how many have done so is some surveys that indicate that over 80 percent have used men’s urinals, this is an opportunity to put it to the test. Take a crowded venue. It’s intermission, halftime, or the seventh inning stretch. A lot of women are standing in line with their bladders about to explode. If the women’s room have a wall of urinals and the toilet stalls are full while they are waiting, the power of suggestion (empty urinals = no waiting) will make women go to those urinals in this dire emergency and use them. The lines go down immediately. Those that don’t want to use the urinals can wait on the toilet stalls.

As more venues rebuild women’s restrooms and install more urinals, more women will know that they are available and can plan their outings accordingly. They can practice peeing standing up at home in the shower or bathtub. The female-oriented television channels and magazines can let women know that there is a solution. Women can insist on having urinals installed by petition, e-mail messages, to building contractors, owners of public establishments, “Potty Parity” legislation, and so on. Take a quote from a baseball story: “Build them and they will use them.” Now let’s see women using urinals in the movies like they show men using them.

PiddlyDee said...

The commentary on this blog is exactly what is needed. Unisex restrooms and women coming into the men's room can definitely turn into unsafe situations. There are perverts out there who wil lhear about these places and make it a point to hang out in them just to harrass women, expose themselves, smell their pee, peek into the stalls, stand beside them at the urinals (if there are some women using them), and so on. they will frequently become "regulars" and it is a setup for criminal activity. Oh yes, some of them will even charge women to use these facilities (a "protection" fee) - it may be money or a sexual favor.