Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Bathroom 'Integration'

Supervisor Feinstein Integrates Men's Restroom in San Francisco

The men's restroom in San Francisco's City Hal for male members of the S.F. County Board of Supervisors was liberated last month by Supervisor Dianne Feistein. After receiving no response to past complaints that she and Supervisor Dorothy Beoldingen were forced to use a ladies' restroom about 100 feet from the Board of Supervisors' chambers, Supervisor Feinstein entered an unmarked restroom a few feet from the chambers which has been reserved for men. "Its a liberated restroom now," she said. "We have equal rights there."1

I found this little tidbit on Feinstein in a giant stack of notes that I haven't been through in a couple of years. In light of the recent bathroom liberation movement by non-gender conforming activists, I am wondering if Feinstein's efforts led to a "unisex" bathroom or if her intent/the outcome was to produce a new "women's" bathroom.

There are many other cases of women since the 1970s demanding "women-only" restrooms in businesses and public buildings as they moved in greater numbers into jobs that had previously had few women.

But the legacy of sex discrimination is still fairly easy to see. At the Library of Congress, men's restrooms are located around the corner from the main reading room while women's rooms are only located on the floors above and below it. Pictured in this post is the looooong hallway between the stairs from the reading room and the women's restroom. When I interviewed at a certain second-tier state school in the south in the mid-1990s, men's bathrooms existed on each of the four floors of the building wing housing the History department, but there was only one women's room and it was a couple of floors up from the department. The female faculty were lobbying for "women's" restrooms on every floor...

That seems to have been the trend. Second wave feminists realized that the physical structure of offices and public places restricted women's presence in those places and consequently advocated for changes, such as the addition of restrooms. Almost all of the evidence that I have found so far indicates that the new additions were gender-specific spaces -- counter to the gender neutral policies these feminists otherwise advocated and exactly what is being challenged now.2

1 Capital Alert, vol 2 13(8 Sept 1972), 4; in Herstory I Update, Reel 2 [3]).
2 The one exception to this is a brief attempt on the part of Ti-Grace Atkinson at a NOW national board meeting in New York in May 1968 to de-gender bathrooms in the Biltmore Hotel. At least according to the minutes of that meeting, she never got any backing for this idea from other board members. National Organization for Women Collection, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

that's pretty neat about Feinstein, it's actually something nice she's done.