On the Map: Coming Out of the (Water) Closet

Mandy Van Deven
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It wasn’t until moving to India that I realized just how much I’d been taking toilets for granted, and it wasn’t until coming across the newly published Ladies and Gents: Public Toilets and Gender that I realized the extent of what I’d been missing. So, naturally, I decided it was time to dive head first into the loo… metaphorically, of course.

After interviewing Olga Gershenson and Barbara Penner, the authors of the book, I needed some visual to accompany my article—no small feat for a piece on toilets—so I turned to Google to see what was available in the way of tasteful toilet art. Instead I found gender reification and male sexual anxiety.

AFAS is a software company in Leusden, The Netherlands, and you’d never know from their website that these folks have quite a sense of humor. Photographer Hans van de Vorst stumbled into this fantastically funny find on his way to take a wiz. The urinal trio makes fun of two of men’s worst fears: small or snipped?

Does your bathroom not scream “Girl!” enough? Well, neither did Sally Urban’s until the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders and Roto-Rooter “pimped her powder room.” (Their phrase, not mine.) Now you too can grab a cold or hot beverage, check your email, dry your hair, read a magazine, get a pedicure, play Wii, look out your virtual window, listen to your iPod, or watch TV while sitting on your heated toilet/bidet combo—all in the comfort of your bright bubblegum pink on pink on pink bathroom. Because nothing makes me feel more feminine than being on the can, but I guess it’s the least they could do to make it up to woman for having the Pimped Out John contest the year before, which included a bullhorn, bike pedals, and beer tap—you know, things that scream “Guy!”

If you’re looking for a feminist critique of misogynist urinals, Sociological Images already put her two cents in on that topic by gathering quite a few pictures of bathroom facilities that are degrading to women—including the Virgin Mary. I’m not particularly religious, but I can’t get down with peeing on others’ holy imagery.

My point is that conversations about the latrine tend to stay in the (water) closet, but toilets may be one little explored place where intersections abound. From trans issues to cultural norms to urban planning to disability to design to safety to global travel, the toilet holds some very interesting things… if you’re willing to look into them.

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1 Comment Has Been Posted

Trans Issues, Gender and Public Rest Rooms

The pdf article linked to 'trans issues' brought up a lot of good points. On the numerous occasions when I was out in full drag (after I'd gotten a little more believable in appearance) I found it much safer and less unsettling for other rest room users when I chose the ladies room. The ladies rooms are also generally much cleaner and smelly than the men's rooms. Since I am usually wearing panties and like to sit down when I pee that would be my preference. Unfortunately I spend the vast majority of my life pretending I'm a normal male, so I use the men's rooms. Many men are disgusting pigs and very sloppy about peeing. It's bad enough that they don't realize that when they pee into a toilet while standing up little droplets of pee and toilet water splash back out and require cleaning, occasionally don't lift the seat when they start and don't clean it when they finish. If it were only that. They miss completely and pee right on the seat or on the floor by the urinals. If there are to be unisex toilet facilities, perhaps they shouldn't have urinals in them (although I've heard some women have mastered their use). Your post raises a lot of interesting questions. Loved the pic of the pink powder room but must be missing the place for hand washing in the photo.

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