Thursday, March 6, 2008

Unisexuality: Where I Draw The Line

Where I draw the line when it comes to unisexuality is right outside the door of the women's bathroom.

Last week's New Yorker had one of those funny, short, New Yorkerish things listed under "The Academy," discussing how toilets are theorized by intellectuals. It's called "Powder Room 101." It's cute; it's got amusing details.

The most interesting part to me is the opening anecdote. The professor of the class, they tell us, is just back from a meeting with NYU admin about the restrooms in a new building. Going to be unisex, evidently. The big questions is, "urinals"?

If I were designing a unisex bathroom myself, this would be a no-brainer: even though they're ugly they're obviously efficient and ecologically sound. So sure, put in the urinals.

But honestly, I am not in favor of unisex bathrooms. Or, let me qualify this: I am not in favor of doing away with segregated bathrooms. A mix would be nice, unisex on the fourth floor, segregated on the fifth, if you wanted to go to the trouble you could find yourself a women's-only bathroom.

I'm a little surprised at myself, because I'm usually in favor of mingling and against sex distinctions where they're unnecessary. And I went to a college with unisex dorm bathrooms, and wasn't bothered by it at all. I found it totally unexceptional.

But now, I occasionally have this strong feeling when I duck into the women's bathroom: "Ah. No men allowed. What a relief." Why do I have this?

I realize, on reflection, that it's a workplace feeling. The unisex bathrooms in the restaurant near my house are fine -- or rather, they would be fine if they weren't painted all in black with poor lighting. Having the men hand-washing while I redo my lipstick is fine.

In the workplace, though, I don't know. Sometimes my male co-workers alarm me; they ask me things at time when I'm not ready to answer, or they look uncomfortable when I ask them things that at a time when they're not ready to answer. I'm not ready to have them watch me trying to fix my hair, and I'm not ready to look at their penises while they use the urinals. OK, forget the urinals; I'm not ready to listen to them pee, either.

Nothing against guys. I figure they like having their own sort of separate space, too. And nothing against anyone else, either: transsexuals are welcome in my women's bathroom, too. And having a few unisex ones around should solve any other problems.

But I gotta say, leave my women's room alone.

And now for your viewing pleasure, a "funny toilet sign from Germany" that I got from a blog called "Look at this." (link).


Captain Colossal said...

But here's my thing, because I agree that the single sex bathroom is pretty nice. But I think I agree because I have been born and raised on the single sex bathroom, and I know what the rules are, the level of conversation you're allowed to get into, how to navigate the space. Whereas, if I had grown up with the unisex bathroom, it might not feel like a psychological burden to have to deal with guys in the bathroom.

By the way, the other day I was walking through Griffith Park and I stopped at the bathroom by the pony rides, and there were like three girls in there. Two in stalls, one waiting for the others. Judging by the one waiting outside, they were right at the cusp where you go from being a kid to being a teenager, but decked out in full teenager fashion. So I'm waiting for a stall to free up, and the one waiting outside is taking pictures of inside the stall, and passing the camera back in to show the girl in the stall, and I'm like, what the hell. And then the one outside starts yelling at the others to hurry up, there's a line, and then time passes, and then there's some repeated flushing, and finally I'm like, forget it.

Which, I guess, is just to say that any bathroom can have its issues. And women who pee on the seat because of their purported hygiene issues and don't wipe it up are a bane of my existence.

Anonymous said...

grumpy od-fashioned feminist again. Doesn't anybody out there think about why the women's bathroom is always placed in a less accessible or more conspicuous spot? There really are opportunistic predators (male) out there -- too bad, and it's a v. small % of the population -- but given that fact, unisex bathrooms in public places are a very bad idea. Different in workplaces where everyone knows everyone else and entrance is controlled, of course, but . . . . If developers can shave the bottom line, they will.

Anonymous said...

grumpy OLD-fashioned, I mean. Tho' probably 'od(d) too.

Noko Marie said...

Right CC, maybe that would help. But the fact that I was OK with it in college and not now made me think, you know, I got other issues; who knows what they are.

Anon, don't even get me started on women's bathroom design, which really is appalling. My list of peeves goes from, "There's no place to put my purse down," to "those electronic flushes spray water all over my tights!" and has plenty of crap in between.

And yes, peeing on the seat is totally inexcusable!!