Friday, May 30, 2008

Boys Who Read Are Soooo...

I work on public space (as a topic) and I very often, as I did today, work in public space -- which is both distracting and delightful...

Today, for example, I was plunked down in the new coffee shop in the undergraduate library on the main campus (library and coffee? Oh yes, more please). I had sort of dismissed the young guy next to me -- sort of frat boy like -- but then his friend spotted him and they started chatting... and damn if he didn't know an awful lot about how the world works. When he started spouting off about rational economics and tossing out statistics on consumption patterns, he got a whole lot more interesting.

No worries, he was all of 20 (maybe) and rattling on about the exact path his life would take (1 1/2 years to graduation, 1 1/2 years in grad school, 3 years to marriage... blah, blah, blah) so I didn't go over into the world of improper thoughts or anything, but he told his friend he liked to read, and, yes, it did him good.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Where I hit a wall

I had one of those funny moments recently where two people from different backgrounds realize that they have very different meanings for the same word. In this case, the word was "structuralist."

Friend was speaking of the importance of physical structures, the role of the built environment in shaping experiences and actions. I, of course, was thinking that friend was kickin' it old-school, eschewing post-modernism's post-structuralism in favor of lit crit/sociology/anthropology-style structuralism: a hard line stance that individual will/agency is an illusion in the face of societal structures and practices, which ensure the continued existence of unequal and discriminatory power relations. "I am a structuralist," declared friend -- and it gave me quite the case of the giggles to imagine, for just a brief moment, what he might have been (but ultimately was not) saying.
This is in my brain this morning because I'm back reading secondary lit on the feminist pornography wars of the 1980s and I'm realizing that the same inflexibility that turns me off to structuralism is at the core of many anti-porn feminists' arguments about the harm of porn. As one described this piece of the ideology:

"Subordination is so deeply embedded in the system that any individual action is tainted by the subordinating elements of the whole society." (Downs, The New Politics of Pornography, p. 39)
Whatever my scholarly brain might think of these kinds of arguments, the rest of me hits the override switch. If I truly believed this, I would never get out of bed again since any action I might take would only serve to further my own subordination. Don't get me wrong, I believe in the power of institutions to perpetuate hierarchy and forestall change, I'm just saying that I need to believe, just 'cuz I do, that it isn't completely hopeless and however constrained they are, at least some of the day-to-day choices I make matter.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

I'm Pro-Urinal

After two encounters in two days with grimy toilets seats left up in single occupancy, gender neutral public restrooms, I've finally got an answer to the question "would women use single occupancy toilets that had urinals?"

Yes. Er, at least I would. Okay, I would have before, but now I actively and enthusiastically endorse the idea.

With urinals, men who like to pee standing up will have an appropriate receptacle and neither men nor women who use the restroom will have to touch the seat to move it up or down.

Thinking about this, I now recall that many modern port-o-johns are designed in this way and probably just for this reason. Excellent. Let's move that idea inside.

As long as the restrooms are clearly marked by function -- and I'd prefer no reference to gender at all -- and they are designed to serve a wide range of people (this means ADA compatible and equipped with baby changing stations), I think women will get used to -- and even come to welcome -- the presence of urinals. Yes, there is the moment of hesitation when one who has been conditioned to view urinals as a marker of male space opens a bathroom door and sees one. I'm fairly sure that way back in the 1980s when courts first decreed that changing tables needed to be placed in men's restrooms as well as women's, there were a few men who had a moment's panic thinking they had entered the "wrong" room. But men got past it and women will too. Let's just make it so there are no "wrong rooms" and we can all relax.