Public Restrooms and the Politics of Sharing
Publication Year: 2010
“Who could have imagined? A book that weaves cutting edge gender theory into urban planning policy by way of the lowly toilet? A wondrous compendium.”
Published by: NYU Press
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FOR FINANCIAL SUPPORT leading to this book, we thank Catharine Stimpson, professor and dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Science, New York University. We also gratefully acknowledge funding and active participation of the New York University Office of Planning and Design and its leader, ...
1. Introduction: Learning from the Loo; Rest Stop: Russell Sage Foundation
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PUBLIC AND TOILET do not sit well together. The discord goes beyond words. Using the facility—let’s call it that for now—involves intensely private acts. Focusing on the public restroom, as the contributors to this book make it their business to do, thus opens a tense domain. But it is a route worth taking, ...
Part I: Living in the Loo
2. Dirty Spaces: Separation, Concealment, and Shame in the Public Toilet
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I START FROM the general proposition that architecture is “an art which directly engages the body,”1 an art that must deal in concrete, literally, with often abstract or hidden social and cultural logics. My second starting point is the well-known work of the cultural anthropologist Mary Douglas on dirt. ...
Rest Stop: Erotics at Harvard
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THIS WAS NOT the first time that I encountered such an act of architectural intervention. But it was the first time, because of my own pressing need to defecate, that I realized the ironic ramifications of removing the doors from the toilet stalls. The most capacious and centrally located room marked for “Men” ...
3. Which Way to Look? Exploring Latrine Use in the Roman World
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WITH THE ADVENT of the Roman period in the Western world came also the spread of public toilet facilities. Although private toilets are known to have existed before this time, public latrines do not seem to have been widely used. But public latrines became a regular feature of cityscapes in the Roman world. ...
4. Potty Training: Nonhuman Inspection in Public Washrooms
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THE INTIMACIES, PRIVACIES, and taboos of the public washroom render it almost inaccessible for direct human inspection. Especially with the decline of attendants and thus the loss of a human policeman,3 nonhuman fixtures are set in place to do the dirty work. Moreover, in the United States, or at least in ...
Rest Stop: Times Square Control
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NEW YORK’S BUSIEST subway station underwent rehabilitation at the turn of the millennium, including the installation of four adjacent unisex stalls. One of the attendants (a retired police officer on duty Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m.) took it upon himself to devise a way to direct visitors to an ...
Part II: Who Gets to Go
5. Only Dogs Are Free to Pee: New York Cabbies’ Search for Civility
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FOR NEW YORKERS whose work sites are unplumbed, and mobile taxi drivers in particular, having no place to go presents a daily struggle to maintain health, dignity, and a clean criminal record. The diminishing number of public restrooms in the city is a failure of provisioning whose consequences are strengthened ...
Rest Stop: Trucker Bomb
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FINDING PARKING AND turnaround space for a loaded semitrailer truck is so difficult that truckers fashion urinals out of empty gallon jugs for use in the truck to avoid spending time and effort finding a restroom. Highway rubbish cleanup crews in the I-90 corridor of the U.S. western states and in Canada ...
6. Creating a Nonsexist Restroom
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THE ACHIEVEMENT OF a nonsexist restroom requires immense cultural, attitudinal, policy, legal, and architectural changes. As Lewis Mumford put it, “you can judge the quality of a civilisation by the way it disposes of its waste.”1 However important as cultural artifacts of our civilization, public toilet design is ...
Rest Stop: A Woman’s Restroom Reflection
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You get in to find the door won’t latch. It doesn’t matter, the wait has been so long you are about to wet your pants! The dispenser for the modern “seat covers” (invented by someone’s mom, no doubt) is handy, but empty. You would hang your purse on the door hook, if there was one, but there isn’t—so you carefully, ...
7. Sex Separation: The Cure-All for Victorian Social Anxiety
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THOUGH ONE CAN find examples of sex-segregated water closets in public spaces in the United States well before the end of the nineteenth century, the first law mandating such separation was enacted by the Massachusetts legislature in 1887.1 That statute, entitled “An Act to Secure Proper Sanitary Provisions in ...
Rest Stop: MIT’s Infinite Corridor, Now Shorter for Women
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POSSIBLY NAMED BY a woman searching for relief, the “infinite corridor”—as it is generally called by people at MIT—is a spinelike, 825-foot, indoor pedestrian highway uniting the components of MIT’s core academic campus. Until 2005, three of the four restrooms along this long central thoroughfare were for men. ...
8. Pissing without Pity: Disability, Gender, and the Public Toilet
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IN APRIL 1977, a coordinated group of disability rights activists staged protest actions at the Department of Housing, Education, and Welfare in Washington, D.C., and in eight of its regional offices across the country. These demonstrators, many of whom used wheelchairs or mechanical ventilators, were fighting for ...
Rest Stop: Flirting with the Boundary
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FROM WITHIN THIS temporary public installation by the artist Monica Bonvicini, the one-way-mirrored walls appear transparent, keeping the user constantly aware of activity on the street. From the street the bathroom reflects its surroundings, protecting the privacy of insiders. The piece, one version of which was ...
Part III: Building in the Future
9. The Restroom Revolution: Unisex Toilets and Campus Politics
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THE HISTORY OF the modern restroom has been a history of successive social groups proposing a right to access and a mode of toilet configuration fitting to their needs and desires. First were the women: we owe the term potty politics to the Ladies’ Sanitary Association and similar women’s organizations that put up ...
Rest Stop: Thai Students Get Transsexual Toilet
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WITH SPACIOUS, TREE-LINED grounds and slightly threadbare classrooms, there is nothing obviously unusual about the Kampang Secondary School. It is situated in Thailand’s impoverished northeast, and most of the pupils are the children of farmers. Every morning at 8:00 a.m. they all gather outside to sing ...
10. Why Not Abolish Laws of Urinary Segregation?
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PUBLIC TOILETS ARE among the very few sex-segregated spaces remaining in our culture, and the laws that govern them are among the very few in the United States still to be sex respecting, meaning that they still distinguish on their face between males and females. It is this, rather than the experience of having ...
Rest Stop: Menstrual Dilemma
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TAMPON PACKAGING ADVERTISES “flushable” qualities. Bathroom signage urges users not to flush. What is the right thing to do? Flushing tampons, pads, applicators, and anything other than toilet paper will threaten the functioning of many plumbing systems. Pads block plumbing immediately; just three tampons over time ...
11. Entangled with a User: Inside Bathrooms with Alexander Kira and Peter Greenaway
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IN THE PAST decade, it has become common for scholars to study toilets through the analytical lens of “discipline”: following Foucault, they are concerned with the question of how such spaces articulate and uphold various forms of social difference.1 This chapter, however, considers discipline in another, more literal sense ...
Rest Stop: Toilet Bloom @ Bryant Park
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THIS LANDMARKED BUILDING in Bryant Park near Times Square houses an exemplary public restroom. The long-dormant facility reopened in the 1990s after rehabilitation by the Bryant Park Restoration Corporation (BPRC)—a business improvement district created under the sponsorship, among others, ...
12. On Not Making History: What NYU Did with the Toilet and What It Means for the World
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BUILDING A BETTER bathroom means approaching fundamental human disgusts and anxieties. Putting toilets into presence, whether in life or text, amplifies whatever distinctions and worries that are around. People do not want to know even that others have sat on the seat they occupy, much less visualize (or discuss) ...
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About the Contributors
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Ruth Barcan is Lecturer in Gender and Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney in Australia. She published Nudity: A Cultural Anatomy in 2004 and has written on men’s public toilets and the contamination taboo. ...
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Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2010