Why should we be talking about the bathroom?

Every week there is a student presentation in my class, “Theories & Methodologies of Gender Studies.”  (Yes the title is pretty daunting. The class is also pretty daunting.) Last night it was my turn to give a presentation.  In my other Gender Studies classes I’ve also had to give presentations, but they were on a topic of my choice.  I could pick anything that I wanted.  Not the case in this class.  I had to give a presentation on “Texts, Bodies, and Identity.”

I did have one decision.  What is a cultural application to how texts help us to identify ourselves and how we percieve our bodies? That’s a fairly big question, especially when my textbook defines a “text” as anything that exists out in society that influences us.  It could literally be anything.  I finally decided on bathroom doors.  Bathrooms can be pretty charged spaces, even if you don’t actually realize it.  If a man walks into the women’s bathroom (or visa versa) it’s a really big deal.  You also get fairly defensive if you can’t tell the sex of the person that’s walking into your bathroom.  Finally, in most public spaces there are only two choices.  You can go in the mens bathroom or the womens bathroom.  The binary of bathrooms contributes a lot to our notion of a gender binary. If there are only two bathroom choices there can only been two types of people, right?  Wrong, actually.  Even if you’re only looking at it in terms of biology there are people that have a myriad of different types of chromosomal compositions.  Some people are only born with an X chromosome (it’s called Turner’s Syndrome). Some people have XXY.  And there’s any number of other combinations that people are walking around with.  There are individuals known as intersexed, which means that while they may have been born with a specific sets of chromosomes (XX, for example) they may not have genitals that conform to the widely accepted ideas of what that chromosome combination should look like.

Not so easy now, is it?  So talking about bathrooms, while seemingly trivial, can be kind of a big deal. 

My conclusion, restrooms are just places where we eliminate body waste.  Maybe making it a gendered space isn’t necessarily the best idea.

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7 thoughts on “Why should we be talking about the bathroom?”

  1. I’ve read about this before for classes. It’s fascinating, and a difficult problem to solve. I find myself wondering about that couple that’s trying to raise their child gender-free. When they get old enough to go to school, what bathroom will they tell the child to use? I suppose they could home school, though.

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    1. The couple that you’re refering to in Canada has actually done the same approach with their two other sons, so I’m sure they have some kind of plan in place. I know some people who request that their be able to use the faculty bathroom, which is usually gender neutral.

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