[From the webn] Sex, gender and toilets -RAPPLER.com
by Sylvia Estrada Claudio, RAPPLER
March 27, 2012
We had a discussion about comfort rooms in our office recently. I know that office discussions about toilets are not a rare thing. Who uses, who cleans and who dirties toilets are often mixed up with issues of power and hierarchy.
My grasp of the norm is that you haven’t quite made it if you don’t have your own private bathroom in your workplace. Or, at the very least, your own key to a huge and well-appointed place shared only by a few select humans.
Certainly, you have not made it if you clean your own bathroom, especially at work. I have also not met a woman who has not complained about the men who fail to raise the toilet seat and who splatter urine all over. While this generally applies to bathrooms at home, the cleaners at work complain about men in this way too. Enough women point to it as emblematic of male privilege in matters of the body.
In hierarchical societies, privileges of rank are finely stratified.
In the college where I teach, the Dean‘s office has its own bathroom, as befits our academic leader. The faculty wing has its male and female bathrooms where the few intrepid souls who are not faculty get stared down should they make the mistake of going there.
But our toilets are pretty basic – small spaces with inexpensive fixtures, tiles and cubicle partitions. Our faculty toilets often have basic soap and toilet paper. A few good souls sometimes bring in flowers and the occasional air freshener or incense stick. We do not have a woman who will clean and deodorize several times a day.
Our student/public bathrooms, made of the same work-a-day stuff, never have soap and toilet paper. These seem to me not as clean as the one’s in the Dean’s office and the faculty wing.
Needless to say, toilets are not just about economic power. The bodily functions we undertake there are very intimate and involve the very same body parts that we normally relate most closely with sexuality. I can also recall movies that portrayed consensual sex in bathrooms, private or otherwise.
Sex and power – the stuff of patriarchy, all happening in toilets.
But this is not the end of it.
Sex-coding our toilets for men and women speaks about our society’s immense obsession with making sure that 2 sexes, and 2 sexes only, are in our emotional and cognitive horizon.
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