Wednesday, February 6, 2008


I dropped by campus yesterday to check in with my office and pick up some ILLed materials. To reward myself for this effort, I took along my skates so that I could spend an hour with my I-pod on the always-empty ice in the field house. Before lacing up, I stopped to pee and found this in the women's restroom:

It is on the wall, beside mirror and above the hand dryer. It is not a "fire alarm," it is not a simple "in case of emergency" alarm, either. Nope, it's a "panic" button. Hmmm.... What would cause one to hit this panic button? Certainly a fire. How about a plumbing emergency? Nah, probably not -- we usually just run away and pretend we didn't notice that toilet overflowing... What about a man... If you were a woman in that bathroom, standing at the sink and washing your hands perhaps, would you hit the panic button if a man walked into the restroom and stayed for longer than 2 seconds? Does it matter that this restroom is in a field house -- a traditionally and still heavily male space? And the historian in me wants to know when was this installed...

While I skated I also pondered what I hope all of you are pondering right now... Is there a panic button in the men's restroom of the field house? That is what you were thinking, right?

Well, I don't know. I considered marching up there with my camera in hand and checking it out. I also thought about trying to find a willing male to go in and check it out for me. But the field house is pretty deserted on a Tuesday in the middle of the day in the middle winter. That meant that it would be hard for me to find a helper and also meant that it was probably not the wisest choice for me to go in there on my own. Sure, my chances of getting caught were slim, but.... But what? But, as a woman in a men's room, I'd be out of place and therefore not entitled to the civil treatment I can expect when I am in a proper place for my identity (gender, race, age, etc.). Okay, so yeah, I chickened out but I'll go back. In the next two weeks I will have to go back to campus to return library material and I'll find out for you, I promise.

In the meantime, what do you think? Will I find a "panic" button in the men's public restroom?

Why blog?

Well, there are scholarly outlets for the work I'm doing on public space, but I want a place where my personal experiences and half-baked ideas can play along with my more academic and intellectual interpretations. After all, I may be all credentialed up as a scholar, but I am still a woman and I still negotiate allegedly "public" spaces everyday from that vantage point -- I watch people, I get harassed, I wait in lines to pee, I go to marches and rallies, I follow the rules of engagement (mostly), and I wonder about why my world looks like it does and how that built environment shapes my perception of what is right, good, and possible...

I started doing this type of pondering on my "regular" blog, so I think I will copy those posts and paste them up here. Unfortunately, I'll lose the comments they generated, but you can go look for them on Yesterdaylooksgood, if you are interested.