It’s Time to Get Rid of Gendered Bathrooms

I am a cis woman, so I have never had to give much thought to my choice of bathroom. In fact, it wasn’t until I got to Swarthmore three years ago that I even encountered the idea of gender-inclusive restrooms, which are bathrooms that are not separated by gender. 

My first year hall in Wharton originally had gendered bathrooms, and then transitioned to gender-inclusive. When my then-RA asked the residents what we preferred, I distinctly remember looking at him and shrugging, as if to say, “What’s the difference, really?” Looking back, I see the privilege I had in giving that answer, because I had never before had to think about my bathroom choice. Today, I am a firm believer in the idea that we have to do away with gendered bathrooms and switch them all out for gender-inclusive ones. 

Gendered bathrooms provide a difficulty for nonbinary and trans individuals. Whether it’s because they feel compelled to use a bathroom others might expect them to use, or because they pick a bathroom they might be able to blend into more, it forces individuals to make a decision they might not feel completely comfortable with. On top of that, it may force people to choose a bathroom that does not align with their identity, and after making a decision, they can still face discrimination for their careful choice. While trans and nonbinary individuals may identify in a certain way in their daily life, they might feel the expectations of those around them force their hand when it comes to choosing a bathroom. Sometimes, if an individual wants a gender-inclusive bathroom, they may be forced to go very far out of their way in order to find it, thereby cutting into the time they might have to do other things. 

Gender neutral bathrooms give more individuals a chance to feel comfortable when using bathrooms, and stop imposing gendered and superficial expectations of what a certain gender might look like. Neutralizing bathrooms would allow for a safer experience for trans and nonbinary people when using bathrooms, and ultimately allow for more equality within our society. Bathrooms should also be gender neutral because female-identifying people should not be forced to wait for an absurd amount of time to use the bathroom while the male-identifying people are in and out in five minutes, tops. Just because I, and many others, identify as women does not mean that we should be forced to waste hours over the course of our lifetimes waiting for access to a toilet.

One night this summer, when I was leaving a concert with my family, all four of us decided to run to the bathroom before heading home. My family consists of three women and a man, and we split off accordingly. While the female lane snaked out into the hallway, the male line was about three people long. By the time my dad was finished, my mom, sister, and I had moved up about a foot in line. By the time I was actually able to get to a stall, at least fifteen minutes had passed, and in that time, my dad had managed to do about two full laps of the stadium floor we were on. This was immensely frustrating not only because it was  late at night, but also because I was wasting my time in a line that male-identifying people were able to completely evade. 

A study at Ghent University found that male bathrooms tend to have more toilet options, and that men generally take less time to use the bathroom. Due to this, male lines are much shorter than female lines. And over the course of a lifetime, those precious minutes add up for female identifying people. Interestingly, the study then tried to come up with a solution for this disparity, and found that the most sensible solution was implementing gender neutral bathrooms. Although men would still have an advantage in unisex bathrooms due to urinals, the average wait time would decrease by 63 percent.

While this study has clearly illustrated that gender neutral bathrooms would drastically reduce the disparity in wait time between sexed bathrooms, it still advantages men. In order to create a more fair and balanced society, we have to remove gendered bathrooms completely, and make every bathroom gender-inclusive. This is the only way we can increase inclusivity while also creating a more equitable society across the board. Not only would neutralizing bathrooms even out time spent waiting on bathroom lines, but it would also allow for trans and nonbinary individuals to feel more at ease when choosing which bathroom to use. It would actively create a society that is more fair and just for all people, no matter how they identify in terms of their gender. 

My journey through Swarthmore has certainly taught me that if one of us is suffering in any way, then we are all as a community suffering. The oppression of one person deeply impacts us all, and it’s important that we move forward as a community to ease such systematic oppression. If we are to work and live as a community, when one person is harmed in any way, we are all harmed and impacted by that pain. We cannot hope to move forward and achieve the peak happiness and success within our community if individuals within that community are harmed. And gendered bathrooms are one of the most blatant ways we as individuals in the same community are oppressed. 

Bathrooms today are sexist and oppressive, and in order to have real equality across the board, we cannot keep our bathrooms gendered. Not only that, but they also create an exclusive and often uncomfortable space for transgender and nonbinary people when trying to use a bathroom. Creating a world that is accessible and welcoming to all people includes changing habits we’ve built up over the course of our whole lives, and it definitely means we need to start replacing gendered bathrooms to gender-inclusive bathrooms. As a female-identifying person, I refuse to waste more time than necessary in order to use the bathroom while male-identifying people are able to use the bathroom quickly. And as a human being, I refuse to keep living quietly in a society that is actively ignoring the changes we should be making in order to let all people be more comfortable in bathrooms. Gender-exclusive bathrooms have created an uncertain, uncomfortable and often unsafe space for trans and nonbinary people, and they thrust an unnecessary burden upon them to change the conversation. Right now, bathrooms are just another exclusive space for people who are privileged enough to be comfortable with the gender the door shows them, yet for some reason, they aren’t an area where we are willing to make real changes. It’s time to take down gendered bathrooms — if not for common human decency, then for the fact that we should all have to wait the same amount of time to reach a toilet. 

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