“I’ve never spent more time in a bathroom than is necessary,” says New Zealand Herald columnist Lizzie Marvelly, in a recent article claiming defending women-only bathrooms is a front for bigotry. “The idea that gender segregated toilets are some kind of hallowed haven is news to me,” she says, coolly distancing herself from us hysterical women who place value on such spaces.
They might not be a haven, but female-only bathrooms were campaigned for by nineteenth century feminists. Suffragists fought for women-only facilities like bathrooms as a critical component of their project to gain women equal access to public space and public life. Marvelly may take these gains for granted, but her feminist foremothers had to make them, as part of challenging women’s relegation to the domestic sphere.
In Delhi today, girls skip school while menstruating. So in India, a similar campaign continues for female-only bathrooms through organisations like Right to Pee. The battle there is also about safety, sanitation, freedom from male violence, and equal opportunity, as it has been in the West.
Fighting for toilets isn’t glamorous work. One obstacle first wave feminists faced was public humiliation, because it was considered comical and improper for women to make reference to bodily functions, even indirectly. So the media took advantage. Actually – Spinoff writer Sam Orchard is reviving this tactic, of making women look gross and voyeuristic for needing to talk about bathrooms. He pretends to target Mike Hosking – just like Marvelly pretends to target Family First with her own accusations of “bigotry” – and rubbishes him for being interested in “poos”. The people really being silenced by these humiliation tactics, though, are women.
Bathrooms are simultaneously made into a high stakes and a non-issue. While Orchard engages in this rubbishing, scoffing at the idea that toilets might be a necessary topic of discussion, another transadvocate, Kyle Macdonald, makes bathrooms sound positively spiritual. “Don’t for one moment think this is just about bathrooms,” he says. “This is about allowing people to define their own identity, to live to their full potential and to be fully themselves.”
There is another reason why this bathroom battle looks so pathetic, for all those trivialising it.
Reflect on the fact that this battle for “trans” rights is taking place everywhere women have a smidgen of power and sovereignty.
That is one of the real reasons why this toilet terrain is embarrassing. As the site of a power struggle, it exposes just how little power and sovereignty women actually have to be seized.
So sorry, to those who want to encroach on our territory, but you will have to make do with toilets, domestic violence shelters, starved midwives’ associations (forget looking in Te Anau), and grassroots abortion rights groups. Perhaps if you’re lucky, maybe you can find a lesbian library you could colonise. No, it’s not that glamorous, but if you don’t mind, it would be polite not to point that out while you’re trying to destroy the very foundations on which these spaces were built in the first place. It’s kind of like sidling up to the poor kid at school, stealing her lunch when she’s about to tuck in, and then eating it in front of her while grimacing that it’s pretty average, a bit poos, and not actually all that good. Pack your own lunch next time?
And when I say poor kid – over 85% of people in both prostitution and sweatshops are women. Our relative poverty in relation to men is but one reason why women’s liberationists have always fought to either enter or dismantle effectively male-only spaces, like corporate boardrooms, militaries and parliaments.
Even compromises like ‘Naw, why don’t we just redesign all bathrooms into individual, lockable cubicles?’ isolate the wrong people, dismantling the wrong sex-exclusive spaces.
Why don’t we try redesigning a few male-only corporate boardrooms? Each offensive male can be inside in his own private, lockable facility. We can put the locks on the outside. That would also have the bonus impact of solving some actual problems.
Really, can we not talk about doing this with the entire Trump administration signing away women’s rights to healthcare?
Oh no, that’s right, we can’t.
We are too busy being told that abortion isn’t a women’s issue, and nor is pregnancy, and that another man has just made history by having a baby, because fully, men can do that, et cetera.
Huh. Well, that must be why they make so many decisions on abortion rights and so forth then.
It’s their terrain, after all. Right?