Analysis of “Who’s Afraid of Gender-Neutral Bathrooms”
For many people, the idea of same sex bathrooms seems taboo or too farfetched. In Jeannie Suk’s article “Who’s Afraid of Gender-Neutral Bathrooms?” she provides arguments and information about the state of gender-neutral bathrooms. Suk a professor at Harvard Law School dives into the issues that are delaying the progressive idea of gender-neutral bathrooms, and to bring awareness to a social institution where gender separation is the norm. Suk’s argument focuses on an important topic, especially for the transgender community and others who do not follow the binary gender norms because it would allow them to enter a restroom that is not specifically for a male or female. Additional research should be done in this field to find out the implications of gender-neutral bathrooms and the effects on society.
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The article begins with Suk explaining how she was taking the bar exam to become a lawyer and during the test she had to use the bathroom. The line outside the woman’s restroom was enormous, so she decided to use the men’s restroom (which was considerably shorter) to have a fair chance on the test. She simply walked in, used one of the stalls, and returned to testing. This small yet controversial decision could have been the deciding factor in her passing or failing the exam. She then explains how there is an active debate surrounding which bathrooms people can and cannot use. Ad campaigns are portraying gender-neutral bathrooms as a place for sexual predators to prey. Another ad showed an older man following a young lady into a bathroom. Although these actions should be taken seriously, there are groups of people who are negatively affected such as transgender/nonbinary people. She then notes how ideology during the Victorian Era shaped the way for gender segregated environments. Those 150-year-old ideas are still used today regarding restrooms. Lastly, she explains how men and women are supposed to function together in restaurants, on public transportation, and in the workplace. If people are expected to cooperate with each other in those types of places, why not in the restroom as well. She knows that change cannot happen overnight, so for now gender-segregation within restrooms will continue to be the norm.
Suk provides necessary information about the Victorian Era that helps the reader understand how out dated sex-segregated bathrooms are. She mentions during this time period women were supposed to be protected from the dangers of the world. Of these dangers is the threat of males. During the Victorian Era the growth of women’s status can be directly correlated to the idea that women should be protected from the dangers of men. This idea of men being a danger to woman can be illustrated by the ad propaganda used to fight against unsegregated bathrooms. Furthermore, an ad illustrated the threat of an older man following a younger woman into the restroom. This ad creates an emotional response, so the public will view unsegregated bathrooms as negative. Although many of these threats and concerns need to be addressed, delaying the progression of gender-neutral bathrooms only hurts many of the groups of people who need it. For instance, a person who does not classify as a male or female will benefit due to the choice in which bathroom they can enter. In today’s world both men and woman should be cautious of anyone in any situation, but past ideology should not be used to pave the way for the future.
Throughout the article Suk has a bias tone towards unsegregated bathrooms. At the beginning of the article Suk says, “the much longer wait for women than men during an all-important test for entry to the legal profession was obviously unfair” (Suk 1). From the start she is bringing in a personal feeling of what she believes to be unfair. Although not having equal time on a test may seem that way, including a personal thought may diminish the validity of the entire article. From beginning to end, the reader can tell that Suk feels strongly about the progress of unsegregated bathrooms. Towards the end of the article Suk includes a comment from President Trump saying, “I don’t want to think about the disgusting things Hillary Clinton was doing in the bathroom.” Most people can agree that things done in a bathroom are generally private and uncomfortable to express to others. Therefore, I do not see how this statement was attacking or denying the progression for gender-neutral bathrooms.
Suk who is a Professor at Harvard Law School, uses her knowledge of history and law to support many of her claims. As stated in the second paragraph Suk says, “A recently proposed Indiana law would make it a crime for a person to enter a single-sex public restroom…” (Suk 1). Although many states have not passed this law, this directly affects the transgender community along with other nonbinary persons in the states who have passed this law. She also adds how the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex-marriages which brings many of the issues surrounding the LGBTQIA+ community to the forefront. In addition, Suk references “The Houston ordinance” which makes it illegal to discriminate people in employment and housing on the basis sex, race, religion, and gender identity. This is important because it will allow people to have an equal chance at an opportunity. Some other notable cases that Suk uses to strengthen her arguments is the 1873 Supreme Court holding in Bardwell v Illinois, Katz v United States, and Lawrence v Texas (2003). To sum up, Suk uses her background in law to reinforce many of her claims in the article.
Suk includes an interesting statement saying, “I’m not aware of reliable statistics that would indicate that public bathrooms are more sexually dangerous than any other places…” (Suk 3). In my opinion, this statement is weak since she does not give a clear answer to the issue. She concludes her thought by saying, “though the history of bathroom sex does associate the space with sexual conduct.” She includes what the past associates with sexual conduct rather than providing recent data on the topic. Instead of including this I believe she should have omitted the statement or should have done more research to strengthen the argument that public restrooms are just as dangerous or less of a threat than any other public space.
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Throughout the article, Suk is informing the reader about gender-neutral bathrooms along with arguments to support those claims. At the end of the article she includes a paragraph about how segregated bathrooms cannot become gender-neutral overnight. She supports this by saying, “… municipal, state, and federal legal codes, many with origins in the nineteenth century, mandate that there be separate facilities for each sex, in business and places of work” (Suk 4). Gender neutrality when it comes to restrooms will be in the limelight for many years to come. With the emergence of the LGBTQIA+ community the necessity of unsegregated bathrooms will continue to be an issue until legislation says otherwise. Finally, Suk concludes with, “Old ideology, in the meantime, stays alive in mundane legal regulation that resists more thorough change and determines our plumbing.” Suk wraps the article up by reverting to the Victorian Notion, and how aged ideas will continue to rule over society.
Gender neutrality regarding restrooms is and will continue to be an issue until society can accept unsegregated bathrooms. Groups of people such as the LGBTQIA+ community, nonbinary people, etc. must deal with this issue daily. Extensive research should be conducted to see the pros and cons of gender-neutral restrooms and how it will affect society. Suk details why gender-neutral bathrooms started in the first place and shows the audience her experience with entering the opposite sex’s designated restroom. She also includes many laws, supreme court cases, and ordinances to support many of her claims. On the other hand, there are some concerns within the article such as, including a feeling which may or may not affect the validity of her stance. Also, she does not provide specific data on gender-neutral bathrooms regarding the safety of the public space. In the end, it is up to the reader to decide whether gender neutrality should be implemented. Although it is hard for any one person to make a difference, supporting a group that is advocating for gender-neutrality will ultimately be the driving force in upcoming legislation.
- Suk, Jeannie. “Who’s Afraid of Gender-Neutral Bathrooms?” The New Yorker, 25 Jan. 2016.
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