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.

The facebook event I promoted at the top, organized by The Queer and Trans* Inclusive Project, gives a good explanation of why gender neutral bathrooms are important.

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!

6 comments on “Stop Segregation of Restrooms!”

  1. Nipun Says:

    This is absolutely ludicrous and not in the good way. Gender neutral bathrooms are not a form of malicious segregation and I am offended that you are trivializing centuries of suffering for blacks, jews, and other minorities with people who are merely “questioning” their sexuality.

    Furthermore, the point of segregated bathrooms is so that people feel more comfortable doing what they need to do. And you know what if you don’t feel comfortable going to the bathroom that matches your gender (male or female) then my advice to you is that you hold it in till you get home! That’s what other people do when they don’t feel comfortable in a public bathroom.

  2. elly Says:

    I see what you’re saying Nipun but I don’t think I’m trivializing the plight of other minorities, I’m just illustrating how the same discrimination is extended to other groups.
    How is separating bathrooms based on gender any different from separating based on race, in principle? Jim Crow segregation was started because white people “didn’t feel comfortable” using the same facilities as black people. It took them a long time to realize that just because people appear physically different from you doesn’t mean you can’t co-exist with them in harmony. I think people need to start viewing gender from the same lens.

  3. Nipun Says:

    No I whole heartedly disagree. but I don’t have time to formulate an argument right now. All I will say is that if a female walks into the men’s restroom while I am in it, I will call the police and have them arrested for sexual harassment. I encourage everyone to do the same.

  4. elly Says:

     

    "An uncaring individual might wonder why worry about the small fraction of people who face direct negative consequences from the sex segregated bathroom system. Butler eloquently responds: The suggestion that butch, fetnme, and transgendered lives are not essential referents for a refashioning of political life, and for a more just and equitable society, fails to acknowledge the violence that the otherwise gendered suffer in the public world and fails as well to recognize that embodiment denotes a contested set of norms goveming who will count as viable subjects within the sphere of politics. . . . [T]ransgendered lives have a potential and actual impact on political life at its most fundamental level, that is, who counts as human, and what norms govern the appearance of "real" humanness." –http://web.ebscohost.com.resources.library.brandeis.edu/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=ff61ea8d-51a8-42ea-ae98-fc33ad532fae%40sessionmgr14&vid=2&hid=21
  5. malibu Says:

    I whole heartedly disagree with Nipun: what has entering into opposite gender's restroom in common with sexual haressment? Imho nothing. I don't see either a chance for someone to feel lack of privacy in this situation, 'cos we're all human so when I had to go and do my thing in the cubicle I don't bother if anyone in the next stall is male or female and I go for a bet that anyone worrying about it is anyway embarassed in this situation no matter what the gender of that person in the next stall is – they will anyway feel lack of privacy and wait for being in the restroom alone or try to do their thing with minimal sound and fumes etc. Please help me understand why pooping among all women might be less embarassing than if there'd be some men present? We don't know one another in public restroom: we go there, do what should be done and go out. We don't go there to pick up looks, show off and flirt. I often use opposite gender's restrooms 'cos I abandoned gender segregation policy concerning restrooms long ago. Sometimes I hear this mantra-phrase "you're in the wrong toilet" but respond to that: "and what's the differance I know whow to use it and I won't do anything you wouldn't do" that is a shocker sometimes – pause, thinking and often: "actually you're right – I said it in case you didn't know…" So stop saying about sexual haressment – this kind of thinking leads to the situation when all human actions related to sexual attraction or bodily functions would be percieved as falonies:  boy watching pretty lass and admiring her aloud – perv,  woman having bladder problem in the long que to female restroom goes to men's and bang – she's sexual haresser, offender, peeper, obscene perv. Just come to think of it. We the people should make oure lives easier and safer and not make simple and basic things of our daily life harder and full of dangers like being arrested for not being able to tell wheter this fancy sign on the door represents male or female figure.

  6. elly Says:

    I later developed this post into an Ethical Inquiry for the Brandeis Ethics Center. Read here: http://www.brandeis.edu/ethics/ethicalinquiry/2012/May.html