How did gen­der­spe­cific bath­rooms come to be? And why aren’t there any in our homes?

New Straits Times - - Opinion -

UNISEX toi­lets are pop­ping up in restau­rants in the West and have cre­ated heated de­bates in dis­tin­guished news­pa­pers, glob­ally. All the while, when many Malaysian eater­ies don’t even have restrooms, let alone gen­der spe­cific ones.

This fact leads me to won­der: are the lo­cal out­lets more pro­gres­sive than their West­ern coun­ter­parts or have we missed the boat long enough to be fash­ion­ably ahead of the game de­spite be­ing our­selves?

Dur­ing a re­cent vir­tual stroll through my home­town’s news­pa­per break­ing news sec­tion, I came upon a pas­sion­ate dis­cus­sion about a restau­rant owner re­sent­ing the city coun­cil for fin­ing him over his hip out­let’s un­law­ful unisex toi­lets. The epit­ome of first world prob­lems, you say? I beg to dif­fer.

How did gen­der-spe­cific bath­rooms come to be, any­way? And why aren’t there any in our homes? His­tor­i­cally, in the Vic­to­rian era of the 19th cen­tury, women started to leave their tra­di­tional place of com­pe­tence, their homes, to join men in theirs, tex­tile mills and other fac­to­ries.

In the then pre­dom­i­nant spirit of sep­a­rate spheres ide­ol­ogy, the del­i­cate, so-called weaker sex had to be pro­tected from the crude pub­lic world of men. Or did they? Se­gre­gated work places en­sued, as well as sep­a­rated train sec­tions, li­brary read­ing rooms, pho­tog­ra­phy stu­dios, ho­tels, banks and de­part­ment stores.

The fact that ladies don’t need this level of pro­tec­tion in the civic realm has long been es­tab­lished.

Restrooms, how­ever, have some­how es­caped this de­vel­op­ment.

Women are still vic­tims of many gen­der-based in­jus­tices, most of them no laugh­ing mat­ter. But, one we gen­er­ally agree to clench our teeth and smile about is the fact that, be it at the movies, at the air­port or even dur­ing school re­cess, the queues in front of the ladies’ is al­ways so much longer than at the gents’.

This fact has led the more ad­ven­tur­ous, or more des­per­ate ones, among us to throw cau­tion to the wind and step through the wrong door. These care­free ladies usu­ally re-emerge un­harmed and quite re­lieved from the “Le­laki” sec­tion.

Restrooms of­ten have a very bad rep­u­ta­tion, worse than

So, I plead for gen­derneu­tral wash­rooms. The ben­e­fits are count­less. For ex­am­ple, it would erad­i­cate at least one in­stance of great gen­der-based favouritism in the world.


Unisex toi­lets pop­ping up in restau­rants in the West have cre­ated heated de­bates in news­pa­pers glob­ally.

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