Saturday, February 7, 2009

The bathroom conundrum

by Josh Franklin

Today, I needed to use the bathroom. I was at an event with about 50 participants, around 40 of which where men. The facility had 2 single-occupant bathrooms, one had a urinal and was labeled male, and the other had no urinal and was labeled female. The male bathroom was occupied, but I felt a strong compulsion to wait for it, rather than using the female bathroom.

This is a bit peculiar, since the female bathroom was designed for a single user; there wasn't really a good reason for me to avoid that bathroom. In general, this arrangement of restroom facilities is silly; since only one person uses each at a time, the only thing that is accomplished by arbitrarily restricting their use to one gender or the other is inefficiency.

In general, it seems that we have strongly entrenched ideas about restrooms and gender. I've found that even people who have serious commitments to such idealistic projects as 'reshaping gender in society' surprisingly find the idea of gender-segregated bathroom facilities to be legitimate. I think that a sincere feminist viewpoint has to call into question those activities that make an arbitrary distinction between men and women. But is this one of those institutions? Are there legitimate reasons to segregate restrooms, or is this just another heteronormative stigma that we ought to see through?


At February 8, 2009 at 11:04 PM , Blogger Robert McGibbon said...

During freshman year I visited a friend at Yale. She lived in a hall with ~12 people (I think eight girls and four boys) and one mixed gender bathroom per entryway per floor. The point is that I don't think the mixed gender bathroom was an issue for them.

I think people would make a big fuss if you tried to "start a movement to build mixed gender bathrooms" or something like that, but if they just move into a situation where the already-existing bathrooms are configured that way, they adapt pretty quickly and without much fuss.

On an only slightly related note, what do you guys/girls think about the keypads on girls bathrooms?


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