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The Restroom Revolution: Unisex Toilets and Campus Politics

The Restroom Revolution: Unisex Toilets and Campus Politics

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Published by NYU Press
From the book Toilet: Public Restrooms and the Politics of Sharing, edited by Harvey Molotch and Laura Noren. The history of the modern restroom has been a history of successive social groups proposing a right to access and a mode of toilet configuration fitting to their needs and desires.
From the book Toilet: Public Restrooms and the Politics of Sharing, edited by Harvey Molotch and Laura Noren. The history of the modern restroom has been a history of successive social groups proposing a right to access and a mode of toilet configuration fitting to their needs and desires.

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Published by: NYU Press on Nov 19, 2010
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved


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Te Restroom Revolution
Unisex oilets and Campus Politics
Olga Gershenson
he modern resroom has been a hisory o suc-cessive social groups proposing a righ o access and a mode o oileconguraion ting o heir needs and desires. Firs were he women: we owe he erm
 poty poliics
o he Ladies’ Saniary Associaion andsimilar women’s organizaions ha pu up a gh or he room o heirown. Esablishing he rs women’s lavaory in Vicorian London ook he persisence o he lone emale member o he governmen and headvocacy o a amous vesryman, George Bernard Shaw, o overcomehe resisance o he residens and he vesry. I was no unil 1905,afer ve years o salling, ha he decision o build a women’s bah-room was nally made.
A similar patern, explained in par by erry Kogan in chaper 7 in his volume, ook place in he Unied Saesand oher pars o he world.In he U.S. case, racial minoriies were nex in line o ake up hechallenge. In he era o racial segregaion in he Unied Saes, blacksand whies couldn’ drink rom he same ounain, le alone urinaeino he same bowl, cerainly across he Souh bu o a degree inoher pars o he counry as well. Up unil he 1950s and even he1960s, locker rooms and bahrooms were sill no inegraed. For in-sance, when he Wesern Elecric Company in Balimore adoped apolicy agains segregaion o public aciliies, he union, consising o  whie members, wen on srike.
Tis was during World War II, andhe srike had miliary consequences, leading he War Deparmeno briey ake over he plan. aher han coninue he arrangemen,
Olga Gershenson
afer hree monhs and urher negoiaion, resegregaion was im-posed.
As lae as he 1970s, cour batles over segregaion o publicaciliies coninued (e.g.,
 James v. Sockham,
1977).In line behind women and blacks were people wih disabiliies, who waged heir own gh or ull public paricipaion via archiec-ural modicaion o bahrooms, enryways, and more (see Serlin,chaper 8, in his volume). Teir movemen resuled in legislaionha changed building codes and made he provision o an inclusiveoile a legal requiremen.ransgender and oher gender-varian people have now joined hecivil righs oile queue, sraining—wih a mix o ear and indignaion(and conciliaion)—or admission o he public bahroom. radiionalsex-segregaed public resrooms bring hem rouine risk o being in-suled, mocked, atacked, and even arresed. As inerim remedy, hey hun or bahrooms in which hey eel sigma ree and physically sae,iming heir visis o avoid poenially conic-ridden overlap wih oherusers. Te possible policy soluions o heir problem vary rom unisex orsingle-sall bahrooms o educaion campaigns ha migh, or example,cause ohers o be more open o he gender-nonconorming people inheir mids. Whaever he bes ulimae remedy, he demand or rans-gender oile provision sirs public conroversy, even among hose sym-paheic o he campaigns or civil righs o hose who have come beore.Because ransgender people do no conorm o socieal expeca-ions o “male” and “emale,” heir mere presence in a sex-segregaedplace raises anxieies abou gender and sexualiy.
Ever since psycho-analyic heory linked oile raining wih sexualiy, bahrooms andsex have been inrinsically conneced in boh public imaginaion andscholarly analysis. Paricia Cooper and uh Oldenziel, in heir bril-lian analysis o he culural meanings o bahroom space, commen,
Te very creaion o bahroom spaces, which are rouinely sepa-raed by sex, reec culural belies abou privacy and sexualiy.Separaing women’s and men’s oile aciliies prevens eiher sex rom viewing, accidenally or oherwise, genials o he oher. Te bahroom is a place where genials may be ouched bu no primar-ily or he purpose o sexual simulaion. Wesern social norms also
Te Restroom Revolution 13
dicae ha sexual relaions are no permited here. Te separaionignores same-sex sexualiy. . . . So women’s and men’s bahroomsassume heerosexualiy and he exisence o only wo sexes, permigenial ouching, and rejec over sexual expression.
Tese culural meanings dene he “discipline” (in Foucauldianerms) o he bahroom space, and hence is poliical meanings, re-ecing “an uninenional culural sraegy or preserving exisingsocial caegories, he ‘cherished classicaions’”
—wih he wo-sex model key among hem.
Restroom Revolution at UMass
Tese issues ook concree orm in a poliical batle waged a heUniversiy o Massachusets–Amhers (UMass) in 2001, when a su-den group called esroom evoluion advocaed or ransgender-riendly unisex bahrooms on campus. Te group’s campaign, noaypical o similar iniiaives a oher U.S. insiuions, resuled in anuproar in he campus media and a prolonged dispue wih he admin-israion. Conservaive adminisraions resis changes proposed by more socially progressive suden bodies. Oher suden groups resisas well—a patern wih preceden in regard o prior groups’ push orcivil righs. Te opponens o unisex bahrooms expressed concernsover public moraliy, saey, cos, and regulaory inrusion—againa lis wih precedens in he raionales or opposing righs o priorgroups when hey made heir demands.Educaional insiuions are ofen held o be key mechanisms orrealizing he American ehos o equal opporuniy. I’s no wonder,hen, ha colleges and universiies have regularly ound hemselves ahe oreron o acivism and srie in he name o civil righs. Vienam War proesers died or heir cause a Ken Sae, he sexual revoluiono he 1960s drew rom a srong campus-based suppor nework, andcampuses were an imporan base or he civil righs movemen, in boh he Norh and he Souh. Te women’s movemen was based inor a leas abeted rom campuses across he Unied Saes. Combine

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