Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Potty postulations

There was a recent Facebook discussion about gender-free bathrooms, and of course, the tired argument of male rapists dressing up as women to gain access to women’s bathrooms was raised.

It’s troubling that this is the first thing anyone thinks about when discussing the issue of gender and bathrooms. It is blatant fear-mongering and it doesn’t make sense if you really think about it.

Let’s say I was a male rapist (defining male as having a penis). If I wanted to rape a woman, the last place I’d think about doing it is by dressing as a woman and picking out a victim in a women’s bathroom.

First of all, a cisgendered man dressed as a woman attracts a LOT of attention, hardly something a rapist wants. So just getting into the bathroom unnoticed or unremarked is going to be near-impossible. That also means in all probability he will be recognized by witnesses after the crime is committed.

Second, a public bathroom is a busy place, and typically only has one entrance/exit. There’s constant patrolling by custodial staff. Any loud shenanigans happening in the stalls have a high chance of being caught in the act, and little chance of getting away. If your goal is to assault someone and get away with it, I can’t think of a worse place to try it than a public bathroom.

Third, it’s an insult to anyone who is not a rapist to assume that just because you are in proximity to someone in some state of undress that there’s a higher chance of rape occurring. Rape happens when a rapist decides to do it – not because the potential victim made it easier on the rapist by taking off their clothes.

Let’s get real: what we’re actually afraid of is for cisgendered males invading the privacy of female-only spaces – not because there’s any actual danger of rape, but because it makes a lot of cisgendered females uncomfortable to do perfectly human activities around them. There’s probably a fair number of cis-males that feel the same way about male-only spaces. The real problem is embarrassment, not fear of rape. It’s why we have men’s and women’s dressing rooms at the store, even though everyone is ensconced in their own private stall (except at Loehmann’s where they have open dressing rooms).

Unfortunately, that once more leaves transgender and other non-binary people out of luck – victims of oppositional sexism (the idea that you must belong to one of two binary categories of sex or else your needs are not valid).

The advent of the family restroom arose because of the need for parents to take their mixed gendered children into public restrooms, so there is precedent and another good reason for non-gendered bathrooms. Currently, there’s usually one private family bathroom available in addition to any two public bathrooms.

I think the long-term solution is to make all public bathrooms open to everyone, but keep the family bathrooms available for private use by people who want them (just the way Loehmann’s has private dressing rooms for women too shy to change clothes in front of other women). But that’s never going to happen unless we get over our deep-seated issues around oppositional sexism and just deal with the fact that we’re all people and we all have to use the bathroom eventually.