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Ladies and Gents

Ladies and Gents: Public Toilets and Gender

Olga Gershenson
Barbara Penner
Afterword by Peter Greenaway
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 262
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  • Book Info
    Ladies and Gents
    Book Description:

    Public toilets provide a unique opportunity for interrogating how conventional assumptions about the body, sexuality, privacy, and technology are formed in public spaces and inscribed through design across cultures. This collection of original essays from international scholars is the first to explore the cultural meanings, histories, and ideologies of public toilets as gendered spaces.

    Ladies and Gentsconsists of two sets of essays. The first, "Potty Politics: Toilets, Gender and Identity," establishes the importance of accessible, secure public toilets to the creation of inclusive cities, work, and learning environments. The second set of essays, "Toilet Art: Design and Cultural Representations," discusses public toilets as spaces of representation and representational spaces, with reference to architectural design, humor, film, theater, art, and popular culture. Compelling visual materials and original artwork are included throughout, depicting subjects as varied as female urinals, art installations sited in public restrooms, and the toilet in contemporary art.

    Taken together, these seventeen essays demonstrate that public toilets are often sites where gendered bodies compete for resources and recognition-and the stakes are high.

    Contributors include: Nathan Abrams, Jami L. Anderson, Johan Andersson, Kathryn H. Anthony, Kathy Battista, Andrew Brown-May, Ben Campkin, Meghan Dufresne, Peg Fraser, Deborah Gans, Clara Greed, Robin Lydenberg, Claudia Mitchell, Alison Moore, Frances Pheasant-Kelly, Bushra Rehman, Alex Schweder, Naomi Stead, and the editors.

    eISBN: 978-1-59213-941-5
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-x)

    When I was a graduate student at Yale in the late 1960s, my first act as a feminist was to participate in taking over the men’s room in the stacks of the Yale Divinity School library. The small restroom—one urinal and one stall—was the only lavatory in the library, and women had to leave the building and walk a considerable distance in order to find a toilet. We staged a day-long sit-in, planted flowers in the urinal, and declared the facility unisex, which it remained until the library was refurbished.

    Ten years later I joined the faculty of...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction: The Private Life of Public Conveniences
    (pp. 1-32)

    In 2004, when we decided to edit this essay collection, we began by formulating a short “Call For Papers.” It read:

    Public toilets are amenities with a functional, even a civic, purpose. Yet they also act as the unconscious of public spaces. They can be a haven: a place to regain composure, to “check one’s face,” or to have a private chat. But they are also sexually charged and transgressive spaces that shelter illicit sexual practices and act as a cultural repository for taboos and fantasies.

    This collection will work from the premise that public toilets, far from being banal...

  6. Potty Politics:: Toilets, Gender, and Identity

    • 1 The Role of the Public Toilet in Civic Life
      (pp. 35-47)

      Most people imagine public toilets to be dirty, full of germs and the remains of other people’s unsavoury habits (Greed 2003; Bichard, Hanson, and Greed 2007). Drawing on ongoing research, this chapter argues that people are justified in their assumptions about the unhealthy state of British toilets. Public toilets here are defined as both the traditional “on-street” public toilets (run by the local authority) and “off-street” toilets (run by private-sector providers) to which the general public has right of access (e.g., in shopping malls and railway stations) (BTA 2001).

      The first section of this chapter outlines the issue of inadequate...

    • 2 Potty Privileging in Perspective: Gender and Family Issues in Toilet Design
      (pp. 48-61)

      Although we are all forced to use them whenever we are away from home, public restrooms raise a host of problems: for women as well as men, for adults as well as children. Restrooms are among the few remaining sex-segregated spaces in the American landscape, and they remain among the more tangible relics of gender discrimination. How many times have you been trapped in long lines at the women’s restroom? Why must women be forced to wait uncomfortably to relieve themselves, while men are not? Gender-segregated restrooms no longer work for a significant part of the population. Yet family-friendly or...

    • 3 Geographies of Danger: School Toilets in Sub-Saharan Africa
      (pp. 62-74)

      Penny Siopis’sPinky Pinkywork presents a fascinating investigation into a whole range of issues around personal and public narratives in relation to fear and trauma in South Africa, particularly as experienced by schoolgirls. As the artist observes,Pinky Pinky“embodies the fears and anxieties that girls face as their bodies develop and their social standing changes. He can also be seen as a figure that has grown out of the neurosis that can develop in a society that experiences such change and tension as is found in Southern Africa. It is also a society in which rape and the...

    • 4 Gender, Respectability, and Public Convenience in Melbourne, Australia, 1859–1902
      (pp. 75-89)

      In late 2005, visitors to the City Gallery at the Melbourne Town Hall were amused and informed by a quirky exhibition titled “Flush! A Quest for Melbourne’s Best Public Toilets in Art, Architecture and History.” A selection of documents and photographs from the city’s archives formed the core of the exhibition, including petitions for and against the provision of public toilets in the city, original architectural plans from the City Engineer’s Office, and samples of historic toilet paper. The historic artefacts and archives were complemented by mixed-media artworks from creators who had been invited to respond to the themes of...

    • 5 Bodily Privacy, Toilets, and Sex Discrimination: The Problem of “Manhood” in a Women’s Prison
      (pp. 90-104)

      Unfounded assumptions about sex and gender roles, the untamable potency of maleness and gynophobic notions about women’s bodies inform and influence a broad range of policy-making institutions in this society. In December 2004, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit continued this ignoble cultural pastime when it decidedEverson v. Michigan Department of Corrections.¹ In this decision, the Court accepted the Michigan Department of Correction’s (MDOC’s) claim that “the very manhood” of male prison guards both threatens the safety of female inmates and violates the women’s “special sense of privacy in their genitals.” MDOC argued that concern for...

    • 6 Colonial Visions of “Third World” Toilets: A Nineteenth-Century Discourse That Haunts Contemporary Tourism
      (pp. 105-125)

      In 1998, I spent three months in Tunisia studying Arabic and taking a much-needed holiday from my Ph.D. studies. An Australian woman of mixed heritage (including Cherokee Indian), my multilingualism, physical smallness, black hair and eyes, and yellow-toned skin allow me to blend in, or at least to defy categorisation, in a range of cultures. As a woman travelling alone in that region, I attracted an inordinate amount of attention but was also, perhaps due to my liminal status as an anomaly, privy to some insightful confessions and revelations from Tunisians and Algerians I met there.

      I first began to...

    • 7 Avoidance: On Some Euphemisms for the “Smallest Room”
      (pp. 126-132)

      This chapter is about linguistic diversion, about verbal circumlocution and ellipticism, about terms used to obfuscate and disguise. It is about the many fascinating words, their variations and curiosities, that have been generated in the long attempt to avoid calling a toilet a toilet. But even there we are held back, by “toilet”—seemingly the plainest and most straightforward word, it is, in fact, itself a euphemism. There is literally no direct word of English origin for this humble object. Observing the ways and means that English speakers have avoided the unmentionable, then, is a fascinating linguistic wild goose chase,...

  7. Toilet Art:: Design and Cultural Representations

    • 8 Were Our Customs Really Beautiful? Designing Refugee Camp Toilets
      (pp. 135-140)

      War is gendered. Traditionally, classically, it is the theater of manhood, with backstage realms of womanhood—the bedroom of Lysistrata, the burial ground of Antigone. As part of our current overturning of gendered norms, we are intent to desegregate the male battlefield; but there remain other gendered precincts of war yet unexamined, in particular, the refugee camp.

      The primary population of refugee camps is women of childbearing age, for the obvious reason that the parallel population of men is often in the midst of active conflict. Typically, these women must support and care for children and elders by themselves and...

    • 9 (Re)Designing the “Unmentionable”: Female Toilets in the Twentieth Century
      (pp. 141-150)

      In 2004, a radical improvement was introduced at one of the United Kingdom’s largest music festivals, Glastonbury: She-Pee, a pink, fenced-off enclosure containing urinals for the exclusive use of women. Once past the guarded entrance, female users were supplied with a P-mate, effectively a disposable prosthetic penis made of cardboard that enabled them to stand up to pee. The British media reported widely and positively on She-Pee. And once they figured out how to use P-mate—place the funnel where your underwear should be, straighten out your knees, point and shoot—the army of female concertgoers gave it thumbs-up too....

    • 10 Marcel Duchamp’s Legacy: Aesthetics, Gender, and National Identity in the Toilet
      (pp. 151-166)

      In 1917, Marcel Duchamp submitted an entry, under the pseudonym Richard Mutt, to the first exhibition of the American Society of Independent Artists. The sculpture, which he titledFountain, consisted of a mass-produced ceramic urinal mounted on a pedestal upside down and on its back, signed and dated by the “artist” R. Mutt. Although the bylaws of the society stipulated that anyone paying the membership fee of six dollars was entitled to a showing of his or her artwork, Duchamp’s entry was rejected by the committee on the grounds that “the fountain may be a very useful object in its...

    • 11 Toilet Training: Sarah Lucas’s Toilets and the Transmogrification of the Body
      (pp. 167-181)

      The woman at her toilet has been an abiding trope in the history of art. From Titian to Picasso and Renoir, artists—almost always male—have depicted idealized images of women in their most private spaces. Their nude or scantily clad subjects are typically seen bathing, applying makeup, or adorning themselves, producing a sensuous, intimate look at femininity. Take, for example, Renoir’sBather Arranging Her Hair(ca. 1885). The nude woman is seen from behind, arranging her hair with raised arms: her undergarment is pulled down, revealing her breasts, swollen stomach, and buttocks for the (presumably male) viewer’s gaze. Similarly,...

    • 12 Stalls between Walls: Segregated Sexed Spaces
      (pp. 182-188)

      Architects design buildings to order the world, embody morality, and reflect societal fantasies. Once built, designed spaces are occupied and inform the way that occupants of those environments think of themselves; the spaces we subjectively create then create us as occupying subjects. For this reason, buildings can be used as mirrors with which we can examine the way we want to see both ourselves and others. Both our desires for an ideal world and our anxieties about the experienced world can be read through the way we parse space, separate it into different functions, and then arrange these spaces in...

    • 13 “Our Little Secrets”: A Pakistani Artist Explores the Shame and Pride of Her Community’s Bathroom Practices
      (pp. 189-194)

      We were in the kitchen, my mother and I, when she turned to me and said, “Did you know Amreekans keep medicine in the bathroom?”

      I waited, not quite sure where she was going with this. She looked at me as if I was slow and then continued, “They keep it in the bathroom, and then they eat it.” There was triumph in her voice when she added, “And they say we’re dirty.”

      I was surprised, not by the information, or that my mother had just found this out after living in the United States for thirty years. I was...

    • 14 In the Men’s Room: Death and Derision in Cinematic Toilets
      (pp. 195-207)

      Toilets are troublesome spaces, particularly for men and especially for Hollywood. A survey of recent mainstream American film shows that toilets tend to be sites of extreme violence and bloody death. Alternatively, they are spaces of crude comedic rupture. While the on-screen toilet might be an appropriate location for secret or illicit acts to occur, its appearance has some undesirable ramifications. It has a sordid realism that depletes Hollywood of its glamour. Furthermore, the possibility of the penis on display and the homoerotic connotations of the anus threaten heteronormative masculinity. Ultimately, any propensity to linger in a space aligned with...

    • 15 “White Tiles. Trickling Water. A Man!” Literary Representations of Cottaging in London
      (pp. 208-217)

      At least since 1726, when theLondon Journalran a front-page editorial listing “markets” and “bog-houses” where men met “to commit Sodomy” (quoted in Norton 1992, 66), the British media have reinforced a link between male homosexuality and public conveniences. Despite a general liberalization of attitudes towards gay sex and relationships in recent years, certain parts of the media remain obsessively preoccupied with this association. An extreme example can be found in the homophobic polemics of British tabloid columnist Richard Littlejohn, who has written more than thirty pieces on the topic in the last decade.¹ Aside from the tabloids and...

    • 16 The Jew on the Loo: The Toilet in Jewish Popular Culture, Memory, and Imagination
      (pp. 218-226)

      In the BBC television sitcomBlackadder Goes Forth(1989), the German character of the Red Baron declares, “How lucky you English are to find the toilet so amusing. For us, it is a mundane and functional item. For you it is the basis of an entire culture.” Swap “English” for “Jewish” here and the quote would ring just as true, for the toilet plays an important part in Jewish culture. Indeed, the act of elimination has its own dedicatedbrachah(blessing):

      Blessed are You, o Lord, our God, King of the Universe, Who formed man with intelligence, and created within...

  8. Afterword
    (pp. 227-230)
    Peter Greenaway

    Some years ago I made a short film calledInside Rooms—26 Bathroomswhich, with ironic alphabetical ordering, attempted to demonstrate what went on in the smallest room in the English house. It was to be about washing, bathing and batheing, showering, soaking, drying, cleaning, masturbating, playing with rubber ducks, reading damp books, cutting toenails, brushing teeth, gargling, singing to enjoy the echo, expectoration, some copulation, though not so much (too many hard surfaces), considerable looking in mirrors, picking spots, trying to see a good view of your own backside, some vomiting (voluntary and involuntary), and of course urinating and...

  9. Contributors
    (pp. 231-234)
  10. Index
    (pp. 235-250)