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Public Toilet as a Battlefield: Towards the Gender Neutral Bathroom Problem


The simile that public toilet is a gender battlefield belongs to Australian musician, publicist, broadcaster, educator, architect, and human rights activist Simona Castricum (https://www.simonacastricum.com/), a person who proves with her lifestyle that a human being may have multiple interests, talents, and activities. It seems like the more interests you have, the fewer limits you face. Simona's identity does not fall apart, she just does not fit in the frameworks we used to set for ourselves and for each other; Simona studies spaces - ambiguous, mixed, unusual; Simona creates spaces. Literally, her academic investigation is about gender nonconforming and queer intersections in architecture in public places. If Simona said public toilet is a battlefield, I have no reason for doubt.

How Old is Your Tradition?

The first industrial revolution has divided space into a house/private and work/public, and within the workspace, the necessity to separate males and females emerged. Further, the Victorian age, with its standards of modesty granted the public sphere to males, but the growth of productivity, demand, and turnover dictated their rules – women worked side by side with men (Tilly, 1994). The Victorian understanding of female spaces, for instance, closed and far part of the house, had to move into the most private of public spaces – a bathroom. The emergence of water-closets happily coincided with dividing bathrooms between males and females. So, the good old tradition of M/F bathrooms is approximately 150 years old (Burnette, 2008).

Bathroom Panic and Real Fear

One more factor of influence on social opinion regarding bathrooms is related to people's particular attitudes to the restroom spaces. Probably, it may be explained through another myth that depicts males as dangerous creatures with low self-control and females as weak and vulnerable fairies, ready to faint from seeing the penis (Platt & Milam, 2018). That bitter irony is addressed to real fears of women, fears of being sexually assaulted or harassed in such a closed space. However, I have to admit, there is no difference what physiology rapist has. A couple years ago, the Ukrainian village witnessed a horror story in reality. A 10-year-old girl lost in a neighborhood where everyone knew each other. The search lasted for several days until a police dog eventually found her footprint. She was raped and killed by the guy living a couple of houses away; their parents were friends. Police had to make an effort to keep him away from a kind of lynch law. The whole country could not speak about anything else. During the debates, a former detective said, "You do not understand, these people are unstoppable; once I ask a serial killer what if there was a law that ordered his castration. And he answered that it does not matter. If he was castrated, he would find something else to rape kids." That video was in Ukrainian, so I have just my retelling, but, honestly, I would not like to find it because I still feel frozen when I recall those words.

The fear of women is real, and it should be heard. But transgender women should not be responsible for cisgender or transgender rapists.

From the other side, social attitudes may be determined by a long-lasting dispute around the inclusion of marginalized groups. Since the 1960s, social justice advocates tried to address the urgent needs of women, people of color, and sexual minorities. According to Sanders & Stryker (2016), when transgender people entered the public opinion spotlight, the situation was already quite tense. Though both opponent parties were close to an open battle, there was one common thing. In their arguments, both seem to dig in the question away from a constructive discussion. Simona Castricum was right when saying, "The public restroom is not only a place to empty one's bladder or bowel, change a tampon or clothes, wash hands or reapply lippy; it's an arbiter of gender, with its mostly cis-normative inhabitants to police it" (Castricum, 2018).

Bathroom Laws Timeline

Back in 1873, in Bradwell v. Illinois Supreme Court held that it was not unconstitutional for a state to deny women admission to the bar based on their sex. "Man is or should be, woman's protector and defender. The natural and proper timidity and delicacy, which belongs to the female sex evidently unfit it for many of the occupations of civil life" (Bradwell v. Illinois, n.d.). It seems that patriarchal argumentation hasn't changed since that time. The "threat" changes from time to time, but not the rhetoric

The next stage was in the 1960s, as we mentioned.

(The following timeline was derived from ballotpedia.org, ncsl.org, and tolerance.org).

The next step would be the 21st century with "Bathroom Wars." Approximately in 2009-2010, the movement for gender-inclusive bathrooms in public facilities started.

In 2012-13, the university campuses and high schools installed gender-neutral bathrooms. The Colorado Civil Rights Division approved that Coy Mathis, a 6-year-old transgender student, can use girls' bathroom.

In 2014-2015, several states (Texas, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, California, Virginia) approved a law in favor of gender-neutral signage on single-occupancy bathrooms installation. President Obama opened the first gender-neutral bathroom in the White House. Since 2015, the backward movement started to grow exponentially.

In 2016, North Carolina passed HB2, which requires people to use the bathroom of their birth gender. Kansas introduced a "bathroom bill" that died after public protests.

The year of 2018 - Massachusetts Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Veto Referendum. 18 states and the District of Columbia had adopted anti-discrimination laws that included protections for transgender people. Generally speaking, these laws applied to employment, housing, and public accommodations.

What Could Be Done

Generally, three directions may be adopted for promoting gender-neutral bathrooms. First is public opinion. It could be changed (slowly) by informing, educating, teaching, learning, sharing. A separate branch could involve media products, such as comics, movies, series, blogs, podcasts, and computer games, to normalize perceptions of non-binary people in society. In Platt & Millam (2018), it was very indicative of how people react to others' appearance, this could be used.

Then, the development of effective decisions for reconstructing building and reframing thinking should become a prevalent task. Safety, security, convenience, comfort, ergonomics, and a friendly atmosphere – since our bathrooms are more than just toilet rooms, we need to consider that.

Finally, it seems that advocates and courts are already working hard on the legitimization of a more-than-binary gender paradigm. Setting rules, making instructions, and skill of resolving conflicts in a civilized manner are a definite strength of the United States.



References:

Bradwell v. The State. (n.d.). Oyez. Retrieved August 16, 2020, from https://www.oyez.org/cases/1850-1900/83us130

Burnette, J. (2008). Gender, Work, and Wages in Industrial Revolution Britain. 10.1017/CBO9780511495779.

Castricum, S. (2018, October 3). Public bathrooms are gender identity battlefields. What if we just do it right? The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/oct/03/public-bathrooms-are-gender-identity-battlefields-what-if-we-just-do-it-right

Platt, L. F., & Milam, S. R. B. (2018). Public Discomfort with Gender Appearance-Inconsistent Bathroom Use: The Oppressive Bind of Bathroom Laws for Transgender Individuals. Gender Issues, 35(3), 181–201

Sanders, J., & Stryker, S. (2016). Stalled: Gender-neutral public bathrooms. South Atlantic Quarterly, 115(4), 779-788.

Tilly, L. (1994). Women, Women's History, and the Industrial Revolution. Social Research, 61(1), 115-137. Retrieved August 17, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/40971024

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