Did you know that the majority of restrooms in the world are segregated?
I don’t have the statistics to prove it, but if you use your common sense I think you’ll agree. Just think: how many times have you entered a bathroom with a sign reading “Women” or “Men” on the door.
Well, there’s a movement going on today to change that. It’s called “Use the “wrong” bathroom for a day! Fight for Gender Neutral bathrooms!” Check it out.
I ended my Justice Brandeis Semester: Civil Rights and Racial Justice in Mississippi program a week ago. I found a lot of parallels between the racial discrimination we were studying there and the gender discrimination which has been perpetuated alongside it.
However, whereas explicit legal segregation by race mostly ended in the 1970’s, (despite the continued presence of coded language aimed at maintaining implicit racial segregation), gender segregation has never been formally outlawed in a lot of arenas.
One illustration of this is in federal legislation. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 went a long way in shaping public policy on race. Title II made it for public accommodations engaged in interstate commerce to discriminate based on “race, color, religion or national origin.”
Title VII is the only section to mention sex (gender is not mentioned anywhere), and here it addresses discrimination exclusively in the work force. An amendment, Title IX, was added in 1972 to prohibit discrimination based on sex in terms of educational programs.
So, it would seem that while the federal government has taken a stance on racial segregation, no such position has been made clear on gender segregation except in specific arenas.
Now, the question is: why start with bathrooms?
There are people who feel that male and female bathrooms don’t leave a place for them. One example is members of the transgender community, who will often receive looks if they enter a bathroom which others feel they don’t biologically “belong” in.
Gender Neutral bathrooms are wonderful for anyone and for any reason. But for Trans*, gender non-conforming and gender questioning folks they can be a safe space for them to go to the bathroom, they don’t have to worry about choosing between male or female bathrooms, being harassed or kicked out of the bathroom they choose to go in.
As the event description states, this doesn’t extend just to transgendered people. I have a friend at Brandeis who is gender queer, preferring not to subscribe to simply one gender put forth by the gender dichotomy. Zhe was once yelled at when zhe entered a single-sex bathroom which the CA didn’t think corresponded to zhe’s gender. When zhe protested, the CA threatened zhe with a write-up if zhe didn’t leave.
The solution that this event poses is this:
On this day [July 29th], I am going to encourage everyone to use the “wrong” bathroom for one day, whatever that means to them. If you don’t know which bathroom is the “right” bathroom, just pick one and go with it.
Now, while I support implementing gender neutral bathrooms as a requirement, rather than something we can vote on, as in Brandeis dorms, I don’t think that that solution is enough. For full gender integration we must strike down this “separate but equal” mentality that has persisted along gender lines where it has fallen along racial lines.
How to change it? Start by evaluating whether you practice gender discrimination in your own life. Open yourself up to ideas outside of the socially-constructed and imposed gender dichotomy. And think about how those who don’t identify within the neat categories we’ve made feel. You can also participate in the event, if you’re feeling up to it. Oh, and share your thoughts here!