“Accommodations” In Public Spaces

One of the most popular debates of the 21st century has been about an unsuspecting subject- bathrooms. Though it once seemed fairly simple; one bathroom for men and another for women, the growing public presence and coming out of transgendered and nonbinary people has created issues concerning public conveniences. Emily Bazelon’s article “Making Bathrooms More ‘Accommodating’”, reveals the social construct behind bathrooms, along with the struggles people have had with bathrooms in the past. There are many problems behind bathrooms that most people do not even consider, especially concerning sexism, racism, and making “accommodations” for people.

Controversy having to do with bathrooms is not a new thing. Issues can be traced all the way back to the early 1900’s. Bathrooms were set up the same way they are today, between female and males, but with a more sexist reasoning behind it. “However natural separating men and women in the bathroom may seem, it’s a cultural creation, with its roots in the Victorian era. States started to require sex-segregated ‘‘water closets’’ in the 19th century, when women entered spaces that men previously dominated, like factories, parks and libraries. Privacy and sanitation justified partitioning those early and rudimentary bathrooms; so did concern for the ‘‘weaker body of the woman worker,’’(Bazelon). Bathrooms were not just simply determined by a person’s gender, but how that gender was perceived in society. Historically women have been seen as weak, especially within the workplace. Even in the bathrooms, women are seen as incompetent in comparison to men. Sexism is not the only social construct bathrooms are based on.  Racism has also plagued our society’s view on bathrooms. “Outside the home, beyond the bounds of the cult of domesticity, women supposedly needed a haven. But it was an exclusive one. When government offices integrated in the 1940s, some white women refused to share bathrooms with their black co-workers, claiming they would catch syphilis from towels and toilet seats.” (Bazelon). As recent as the last century, bathrooms have been segregated by race. This was especially prevalent during the Civil Rights Movement, when everything was separated between “white”and “colored”.  White women believed that if they shared bathrooms with African-American women, they would contract diseases from them. Advocates for segregation made a similar argument that anti-trans protesters are making today: women must be “protected” within their safehaven, the bathroom.

Though it may seem concrete today, the norm for human anatomy is constantly changing and evolving. All throughout history, female sex organs have been seen as “lesser” compared to a man’s. The female anatomy is seen as more complex and almost inexplicable, while a male’s requires far less detail and are more simple in general. These ideas have seemed to carry over in how people view males and females themselves. The real question is do these societal norms matter when it comes to something as unsuspecting as a bathroom. It is society who deems what is the norm, so it is totally possible that these norms that we accept today could change. Gender neutral bathrooms could seem as normal as stereotypically gendered bathrooms are today. While right now, people are seemingly uncomfortable with the idea of sharing a bathroom with the opposite sex, the more it appears in everyday life, the more “normal” it will seem. It is not gender that is limiting our bathrooms today, it is the societal norms that the majority of people accept as normal today. It is not simply a matter of male versus female, but rather how each gender, even the lesser recognized ones, are perceived by the public. The way that “bathroom politics” is being approached today is not leading us in the right direction. Instead of tolerance, we end up with mass amounts of hatred and misunderstanding.

Perhaps the issue people have with gender neutral bathrooms is not understanding gender neutrality itself. Though transgendered and androgynous people is not a new thing, it is slowly making its way into mainstream media, especially in recent years. Despite the recent media buzz, there are still many people who do not understand the definition of genderqueer. In fact, gender queer has been hard to define even by the LGBT community. According to the North American Lexicon of Transgender Terms “genderqueer, also termed non-binary, is a catch-all category for gender identities that are not exclusively masculine or feminine‍—‌identities which are thus outside of the gender binary and cisnormativity.” This identity can be hard to understand and accept by those who do not identify. It can even be difficult for those who actually identify as genderqueer to define the term with certainty.  It is an umbrella term that reaches so many aspects of gender. This is contrary to the social construct of gender being either male or female, are is deeply ingrained in Western culture. Being cisgender has always been the norm. Bazelon says, “It’s poignant: Transgender women say they are women, but some other women can only see them as men, and so they don’t want to make room” (2). People are unwilling to accept the “new norm”. This comes back to the idea that gender neutral bathrooms are not about gender, but amount accept (or not accepting) new societal norms that are coming into the public today.

To conclude, gender neutral bathrooms have been the hottest topic in Western media today. While there are people that feel very strongly towards one side, it is clear that our society is constantly evolving in a way that changes norms all the time. Even within the past 100 years, Western culture has overcome so many stereotypes and gender barriers relating to bathrooms. It is not impossible to predict that gender neutral bathrooms could be the next new normal. With a society that feels very strongly in their political beliefs, societal changes may not be too far off.