I have been railing against transwomen and men using women’s bathrooms and locker rooms for quite some time now. I have mentioned the negative or potentially harmful effects of just letting anyone into a woman’s bathroom who says they are female in several posts and tweets. What I haven’t done before is really talk about a possible solution for this problem or what I would like to see instead.
A little history
I can’t speak for the United States, but in my country, The Netherlands, women didn’t always have public bathrooms. A feminist group called Dolle Mina protested the lack of women’s public bathrooms in Amsterdam in 1970 by tying the men’s rooms shut with pink ribbons. This would of course not prevent men from using them, but was designed to make them aware that they should consider themselves lucky to have a place to pee outside of their own homes. They called this phenomenon fighting for “peeing rights”.
In my country we still don’t have equality between the sexes in a lot of areas, including bathrooms. Many men’s rooms are larger than women’s rooms; sometimes up to twice the size of a woman’s bathroom. Even when men’s rooms and women’s rooms are the same size, a men’s room often contains double the amount of stalls and at least as many urinals as stalls. Why? Because women’s rooms often double as baby changing rooms and handicap rooms. In many gas stations this means a woman’s room is a single occupancy room with only one toilet, handle bars for wheelchair users and a baby changing table. If any person with a baby or a wheelchair uses the women’s room you’ll often see a line of women waiting outside the bathroom because they can’t even go inside. The most outrageous example I have seen of this practice is in a ferry terminal, where the men’s room was literally double the size of the women’s room. The women’s room, had two stalls. The men’s room had four stalls and five urinals. Only the number of sinks were the same in both. I am guessing this is because men don’t always wash up after handling their dicks, which is kind of gross. Considering the difference in anatomy between men and women, the fact that women menstruate for most of their lives and that they often do the lion-share of childrearing duties, including taking young children to the bathroom, it makes no sense to make women’s rooms smaller than men’s. The line in front of a women’s room is often needlessly long, because the designers of the building added a women’s bathroom as an afterthought and often make them share with handicap men as well.
Gender is a bullshit distinction
The standards for any gender are completely arbitrary, vary from country to country and change over time. Gender is often touted as innate, fixed and immutable. Trans-people say they were born with either a female or a male brain. I don’t even believe in gendered brains and I have yet to see a shred of credible scientific proof that such a thing even exists. Furthermore, the very physical structure of our brains change with age, with learning, with practising, with our thought patterns and with the input from our senses. This has been proven in several studies. We are very much products of our environments. We may not be able to control everything in our psyches or even most of it, but the structure of our brains are not fixed and we can learn and grow. These pseudo-scientific arguments of fixed, gendered brains have always been used to prevent women from acquiring the same civil rights as men and we are still fighting for our fair share of the pie centuries later. Gender is the main tool of the patriarchy to keep women down.
You can’t always tell someone’s sex or gender
Like most people, I have met and known a lot of people through my relatively short period on this planet. With some people it is easy to tell if they are male or female and with some people it is not. Extreme performances of gender make it easier to tell men from women at a distance, but it is by no means a guarantee. I have talked to many gender non-conforming men and women we got shooed out of a bathroom that was designated for their sex, despite the fact that they do not even identify as trans. Bathrooms for men and women are all based on outwards appearances. People don’t seem to care how someone identifies and most of the time won’t even ask. They judge people based on what they think they can see. We live in a society that is obsessed with gendered appearances. We often place an actual value of someone’s existence based entirely on how well they perform their gender. We elevate the best performers of gender above everyone else and shower them with praise. The worst performers of gender are at best invisible and at worst get harassed or even attacked.
What about intersex people?
Are intersex people male, female, both or neither? Or does it depend on the individual? Is a distinction of any sex or gender even useful for intersex people? Do we make them sign up for a gender with identifying documents and a gender performance they may or may not be comfortable with, before we allow them to use a bathroom? Facebook has recently created more identity options for gender and even allows people to opt out of such an identity altogether. Facebook does not exactly have the best record when it comes to diversity and social justice, but even they can see that a distinction of gender doesn’t work; at least not as a male/female binary or even as a gradient. While it might be easy for Facebook to include more options in their gender identity boxes, we can’t expect every building with a public bathroom to include bathrooms for every chosen gender identity out there.
Single occupancy and communal rooms
I propose that we stop categorising people as either male or female when it comes to bathrooms and locker rooms. Instead I think we should have single occupancy rooms that open directly into a public area and communal rooms that people can share if they wish. Not every woman or every man is comfortable with undressing or partially undressing in front of people of their own sex or gender and gendered bathrooms and locker rooms make no allowances for personal comfort levels. Stalls in bathrooms often have such big gaps between the panels that you have to be careful where you place yourself or where you look if you want to safeguard your own privacy or respect the privacy of other occupants.
No more bullseye for perverts
Furthermore, women’s bathrooms and locker rooms have not deterred creepy men who don’t identify as transwomen from hiding away in them or recording the women in various states of undress with a hidden camera. If a pervert wants to find a group of (semi-)naked women together they know exactly where to find them: Women’s locker rooms and bathrooms. I feel we would all be a lot safer if we could actually choose how and where we want to change clothes, shower and go to the bathroom. I also feel that removing gender designated rooms would go a long way to make people see gender for what it is and to place less value on it.