Does dislike of all-gender toilets make me a bigot?

all-gender toilet sign

All-gender toilets built at Curtin University will ‘help transgender students feel safe’, according to an article in The West Australian last week. The article also says that a ‘concerted vandalism campaign’ left many students feeling unsafe. The vandalism included tearing or defacing posters. A sad state of affairs. . There’s no excuse for discrimination or harassment of anyone.

Curtin University follows the lead of the University of Western Australia in building all-gender toilets. The Education Department of WA urges new schools to incorporate unisex restrooms.

On the other hand, Worksafe, the organisation responsible for Occupational Health and Safety, still states that workplaces should provide separate toilets for men and women. You can read more here.

Safe toilet access for everyone

I respect unequivocally the rights of people of all genders to safe toilet access. Nor do I care how many unisex or all-gender toilets spring up wherever people want or need them.

At the same, time authorities and individuals must respect the rights of women like myself and provide comfortable women-only toilets where required.

Women’s rights

As an 83 year-old woman, I’m happy with my gender, and proud of my body and its achievements over a long life.

Some might identify me as a cisgender woman. (Cis means ‘the same as’.) They would say my gender identity matches the sex assigned to me at birth. I’d have to tell them that no one would have thought to ‘assign’ my gender identity when I was born. Stating a child’s sex and implied gender in the olden-days was quite straightforward.

The doctor or midwife took one look at a baby and said something heartfelt and enthusiastic, like,

Oh, a beautiful baby girl (or boy)! How wonderful!’

Simone de Beauvoir’s amazing book, The Second Sex changed my thinking and my life in the early 1960s. The Second Sex demonstrated that women’s rights had been denied by patriarchal societies for centuries.

From that time, I became a passionate and unapologetic feminist.

Fighting for women’s rights includes arguing for spaces where women can be safe. This includes safety from violence of all kinds. It also means safety from body-shaming and embarrassment. Sharing toilets with ‘all-genders’ does not provide that safety.

Vandalised posters in all-gender toilets

The posters vandalised in one of the all-gender toilets at Curtin University bear the Curtin Student Guild logo.

We all need to pee poster

The text in small white print says,

Please respect the right of trans, genderqueer, androgynous and others who do not fit into gender stereotypes to safe bathroom access.

No mention there of women’s rights to freedom to be themselves in public toilets.

Why all-gender toilets don’t work for me

There are many reasons why they don’t work for me (or for many other women). Here are a few of them.

  • The sign pictured above states, ‘We all need to pee’. Of course we do. But some of us need it more. Pregnant women often experience urgency and frequency because of the pressure of a growing uterus on their bladders. Menopausal and older women often need to ‘go’ more often. So do little girls and boys. Experience teaches women that these ‘special people’ may need to jump the queue* to get there quickly. We let them go ahead of us. We also let people with little kids go ahead of us. Not sure how many men in queues would understand that dynamic.
  • Girls and women also use public toilets to deal with menstruation. They prefer privacy in which to dispose of sanitary products and wash their (perhaps bloody) hands. Sharing washbasins (as happens in the shared toilets at Curtin) doesn’t work if someone is looking for that privacy.
  • Puberty presents problems for girls who are confronted with bodily changes. It’s often hard enough for girls to use school toilets without having to share with adolescent boys and grown men.
  • Women use toilet mirrors to fix or reapply makeup. Some of us prefer to do this in private, or at least away from the male gaze.
  • No one wants to have to put the seat down after another person. Not all men are trained equally well in this. And some are simply in a hurry.
  • Women tend to be cleaner users of toilet spaces because we sit to pee. As the mother and grandmother of boys, my experience is that they care a lot less than girls about swamping the toilet floor.

* One of the best things about the wonderful Perth Optus Stadium is the number of women’s toilets. No queues, even at the end of big Australian Football League matches. Who wouldn’t love that?

What about other countries?

A number of other countries, including the USA, Canada, Thailand, China and some countries in the European Union have mixed-use facilities.

The new toilets at Curtin come just as the United Kingdom begins to reexamine its position. Unisex or gender-neutral toilets there have caused much debate since the first was build in a school near Manchester in 2000.

The following quote is from a document from the UK Government Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

The government’s position is of the view that there needs to be proper provision of gender-specific toilets for both men and women, with a clear steer in building standards guidance.

In recent years, there has been a trend towards the removal of well-established male-only/female-only spaces when premises are built or refurbished, and they have often been replaced with gender-neutral toilets.

This places women at a significant disadvantage. While men can then use both cubicles and urinals, women can only use the former, and women also need safe spaces given their particular health and sanitary needs (for example, women who are menstruating, pregnant or at menopause, may need to use the toilet more often).

Women are also likely to feel less comfortable using mixed sex facilities, and require more space.

Perhaps organisations in Western Australia might do well to look at what has happened in other countries. In the meantime, if I have any choice at all, you won’t find me anywhere near an all-gender toilet.

Acknowledgement

I owe a debt of gratitude to my friend Ingrid Lyberg for educating me about shared toilets, among many other things. Ingrid maintains an amazing blog at The Privy Counsel. Here’s a bit about it from the website.

PLUMBING THE DEPTHS
The Privy Counsel is an international community of intellectuals, giving counsel, advice and information on toilet-related topics. Why toilets? we hear you ask. Because toilets matter! Ever been to a great restaurant, café or pub only to have the experience tarnished by a less-than-lovely toilet? If you have ever been annoyed by a bad bog, this blog is for you!

Other things we love are history, especially medical history, and especially anything to do with syphilis. And rum. And some good, rampant feminism.

Our simple sense of humour belies our actual academic credentials.

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12 Comments

  1. What a great article Maureen Helen. I had no idea this was happening and, to be frank, I would hate to share a toilet with men.

    1. Thanks, Stephanie. I found it hard to write, not my usual gentle blog, but I feel really passionate about the erosion of women’s right to safe, comfortable one-sex toilets and hoped some people would find it interesting. Nice to hear from you!

  2. Two of the high schools at which I taught here in the U.S. had unisex toilets for teachers, and it was terrible. I hated it. My daughter works for an international corporation headquartered in the U.S. They have separate toilet facilities for men and women but also provide a third facility specifically for the one transgender employee.

    1. How horrible for you and the other teachers, Deb. I can’t imagine how much I’d hate having nowhere else I could go. I guess it could become a health hazard if women just didn’t use the toilets. The corporation your daughter works for seems to have got it right, and good on them for considering their one, obviously valued, transgender employee. Thanks for your comment, and the suggestion of another way to deal with this issue.

  3. Great article, Maureen. I think we need a variety of restrooms to meet diverse needs. One type of toilet should not come at the expense of another. We all need to feel safe and have the right to privacy when using restrooms.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Narelle. I absolutely agree that we need a variety of restrooms. Everyone should feel and be safe. Love your website – will engage more in future.

    1. Yes, Sue. The idea of it obviously appals me. But there are also many issues to do with gender-identity that I only vaguely understand that also need to be written about.

      When I first heard about all-gender toilets I thought it would never happen in Australia. We have too much of a ‘blokey’ culture for men to ever agree to sharing with women. Now I worry that one day it might be the only option I have at some given time. Scary.

      Stay safe and well.

      1. My son Joss is Gay. He never sat comfortably with the Gay community, disliking the lifestyle that so many Gay men choose. He also dislikes being grouped as LGBT and the world wide ‘Gay Pride’ marches.
        I kind of agree with him, straight people don’t go around announcing they are proud to be straight!
        He is Gay not by choice but because he is who he is.
        He is a good looking young man and has a social life that includes many friends, but he doesn’t meet many Gay men therefore he’s been alone for some years.
        As for me, I cannot stand seeing men dressed as women, the drag queen types, it’s as though they are making fun of us, looking down on us, and insulting us by exaggerating the way we look by dressing up in such a dreadful way.

        Stay well too, Maureen 🙂

        1. Being born in the 1930s is somewhat of a handicap for trying to understand gender and its many variations. In the olden days, people were straight or gay. No one made a fuss, especially after homosexuality was ‘legalised’. I never understood how it could be illegal in the first place, because as you point out with Joss, it is who gay people are. Now my head spins trying to understand the variations, and also why there seem to be wars raging between different variations and between straight people. I also feel somewhat affronted by some manifestations of gender difference, especially when women are insulted or put down.

          As an aside, there is a really tender and compassionate drag queen character in Honeybee, the book I reviewed last week.

          1. I am ten years younger than you Maureen and I feel exactly the same.

            It took me a long time to believe that Joss was gay – my youngest and only son! I was heartbroken and feared that he would be attacked. I still had my son but felt as though I’d lost the boy I thought I had, I grieved for the loss.

            It took me a whole year before I told his dad, he just nodded and tears ran down his cheeks, it was an awful moment. He handled it far better than I did.

            Joss was just sixteen and I insisted he was going through a phase. He loved cars and planes and didn’t appear at all camp. He hated football and rugby but so did his dad!

            I began to think about all the other gay people in the world and how we never give the families a second thought.

            The girls seemed almost thrilled to have a gay brother all except for one, she was just as sad as me. She loves him the most and has done since the day he was born.

            If ever you choose to write about this subject or specifically gay people, please feel free to use anything I have said.

            1. I found this in the spam file, with the other message, SueW. Thank you for sharing your story about Joss, and your fears for him, as well as the feelings of loss. How sad for both you and Joss’s dad, but you sound as if both of you were pretty wonderful parents. I’m told coming out, or even recognising that one is gay, can be intensely traumatic for youngsters. have a friend whose daughter is gay, and she has shared some of her journey with me. She and another woman formed a group to support each other, and their families.

              Thank you for permission to write about material you’ve shared. I’m not yet sure that I have a lot to say, but I am becoming more and more aware of gender, sexuality and trans people. This is late in life to begin to ponder on such things, but I don’t think we were so aware when we were younger.

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