Emily Bazelon: The Necessary Cycle of Accommodation

Throughout “Making Bathrooms More ‘Accommodating’,” Emily Bazelon argues that creating accommodating bathrooms for all genders is a necessity within our society even if social norms and comfort levels are challenged. The idea of accommodation is prevalent within our society as religions, races, and, now, genders fight to have their needs met (5). When it comes to new accommodations, Bazelon points out that we fall into a cycle where new groups comes to alter the space of the original group’s basic needs (6). For example, Bazelon cites law professor Terry Kogan who states that early bathrooms were accommodations for the ‘‘weaker body of the woman worker”. Males are allowed a separate bathroom, giving each gender their privacy and creating environments suited to their features: the men’s bathroom as a place of function and the women’s bathroom as a place of gathering (8). When segregation came alone, the bathrooms for women were no longer ‘safe havens’ and were altered to make them feel more comfortable (7).


(These bathrooms in a 1964 city courthouse reflect one of the ‘accommodations’ that whites created to feel more comfortable and safe: creating separate spaces for colored people) 

Now, society faces new identities to integrate into its system, specifically dealing with transgender men and women who want to use the bathroom that suits their chosen identity. They cannot simply walk into the bathroom of their choice, specifically due to the general stigma around one gender actually identifying as another and uncomfortableness of thinking about their original physiology. For those who understand and support the transgender rights movement, accommodation for the identity might be easy and pain free but, for those labeled as more ‘conservative’ in their understanding, the idea of letting a transgender use the same bathroom as them seems unrealistic. For example, an amendment in Texas that would not allow race, sexuality, or gender based discrimination in public spaces was struck down due to the overwhelming cries from opponents who feared their ‘safe’ and ‘separate’ gendered bathrooms would be compromised. As Bazelon describes, most of the propaganda surrounding the opposition depicted the negative events and threats that could result from the genders being able to cross the sacred ‘boundaries’ of bathrooms, playing off of a similar fear response that appeared in the segregation recommendations for the races (2).

(Those who opposed the Houston amendment played off of fear by using slogans such as “No Men in Women’s Bathrooms” and creating images of pedophiles preying off of young girls)

Many schools around the country have showed that this fear can be challenged and that accommodations for transgenders do not sacrifice the importance of privacy that bathrooms uphold. The same fear surrounding the Texas amendment has presented transgender students with a challenge when it comes to using their preferred locker rooms and bathrooms, but, in many cases, higher powers have intervened. In a case involving a female identifying student in Illinois, the Board of Education overruled her school’s “privacy concerns” that made her change in a separate room, ultimately allowing her to change amongst fellow female students as long as a privacy curtain was available. The curtain was seen as an accommodation not only for the student who could utilize it if she did not want to expose herself in front of her peers but also for the other girls if they felt uncomfortable changing in the environment (4). By allowing her into the locker room amongst her female peers, the student was allowed the full experience of being a girl: changing amongst those like her and interacting with the community she identified with. In other words, she felt like she could fit in, tying into a main goal of accommodation: inclusion.


(The Orlando Convention Center, which hosted a fandom convention called GeekyCon in 2015, provided gender-neutral bathrooms for the attendants)

As Bazelon shows in her examples, the process of making bathrooms accommodating for all genders can have vitally important benefits for the newly included people and can be approached in a way that still allows the original group’s basic needs to be met. This cycle of accommodation is a huge issue within our society, one being addressed on a local and national level. As our world becomes more diverse, more accommodations will have to made, whether it includes who can change in certain dressing rooms at stores or even how we look at previously gendered designs. The point that Bazelon makes is extremely important when it comes to making changes in the future, especially since changing gender-norms can be met with so much resistance. If we can show people that new gender accommodations work hand in hand with aspects of the social norm, maybe less people would react with fear and, rather, with a level of acceptance: realizing that the world can change for the inclusion of others but still promote a sense of safety and privacy for everyone.


Works Cited

Adelman, Bob. “Segregated bathrooms in the city courthouse.” 1964, Louisiana, https://news.artnet.com/art-world/segregated-bathrooms-buffalo-art-student-2-334330.

Bazelon, Emily. “Making Bathrooms More ‘Accommodating.’” The New York Times, November 17, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/22/magazine/making-bathrooms-more-accommodating.html.

Johnson, Maureen. “Hey attendees! Restroom location alert! Third floor gendersmash bathrooms!” Twitter, Jul. 2015, https://twitter.com/maureenjohnson/status/626407460765626368.

Campaign for Houston – TV Spot 1.” YouTube, uploaded by Campaign for Houston, 13 October 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7thOvSvC4E.


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