The Corner


Buzzfeed Helpfully Exposes the Century-Long Dehumanizing Oppression of the Single-Sex Bathroom

Buzzfeed has printed an extended piece that I urge you to read. It’s long. Very long. But don’t worry, while it feels likes it’s longer than War and Peace, it’s really only about 4,300 words. Yet in those few thousand words of sex and gender-jargon, Buzzfeed’s LGBT editor, Shannon Keating, does the immense public service of exposing the hidden history of the oppressive American bathroom. 

In making the argument, the reader is treated to a textbook leftist tour-de-force, navigating through the horrors of American history to the horrors of, well, American horror movies. I kid you not:

In the shift from drama and comedy to horror, the bathroom becomes ground zero for violence against women. In Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, the most famous bathroom scene in cinematic history involves a woman in the shower getting stabbed to death by Norman Bates, a notoriously genderqueer bad guy. In what’s arguably the other most famous bathroom scene of all time, The Shining’s Jack corners Wendy in the bathroom and proceeds to hack his way in. David Cronenberg’s Shivers, from 1975, features an absolutely repulsive scene involving a parasite that crawls up the bathroom drain and between a woman’s legs. And speaking of ’80s teen movies again, Nancy in A Nightmare on Elm Street gets an unwelcome visit from Freddy Krueger while she’s in the bath. If they want to avoid spiders and grudge monsters, women in horror films would do best to avoid the bathroom altogether. These scenes manage to sexualize the vulnerable and violated female body, while also suggesting that the Victorian paternalism of yore might still apply according to the fantastical versions of our modern conceptions: Women still need protecting.


Hollywood’s depiction of the bathroom reveals it to be one of the most powerful physical and social spaces when it comes to both revealing and informing our cultural anxieties around gender, bodily shame, abjection, disease, and sexual deviance.

Well, that’s one theory. Here’s another — when someone is naked in a bathtub or shower, they’re actually vulnerable. Unless, of course, you’re the kind of unembarrassed ninja-feminist that Buzzfeed imagines women to be — able to take down Freddy Krueger completely naked while simultaneously tweeting about your positive body image.

But if you like the Hollywood argument, you’ll absolutely love the commentary on men’s rooms:

The public restroom as a site of queer stranger-danger isn’t new. As Lee Edelman writes in Stud, the male restroom has long since operated “as a theater of heterosexual anxiety.” The way male restrooms are typically structured, along with the unwritten social code that men can’t look at or speak to their neighbors while urinating, invites the fear of the abject — and of homosexual desire — to fester in these spaces. The AIDS epidemic in the 1980s only heightened the spread of gay panic propaganda, one element of which cast public restrooms as war zones for straight, cisgender men.

Well, that’s one theory. Here’s another — it is reasonable to treat the act of defecation or urination as a private moment and to grant a fellow human being the courtesy of privacy even if they’re forced by circumstance to stand next to you.

Keating, however, has our number. All those concerns about privacy or vulnerability? They just mask what’s really going on:

Concerns about secretions, disease, and physical threats to the body are vessels through which deeper and more significant anxieties — regarding gender, sex, shame, and power — have been codified into law and reified by social norms over the span of decades.

Well, that’s one theory. Here’s another — outside of a few pockets of hipster progressives, men and women generally don’t like to “take the browns to the super bowl” side-by-side.

Noticeably missing from Keating’s account is any significant, historical female demand to use the same bathrooms as men. Instead, there is a simple and understandable desire for bathrooms large enough to avoid long lines.

But I must confess that I did learn something. Since I don’t go into women’s restrooms, I apparently had no idea that they were spaces of pure chaos:

Even before the late 19th century, when the first law mandating gender separation was enacted in Massachusetts in 1887, public restrooms in the United States have been designed, built, and maintained with one group of people in mind: straight, white, able-bodied cisgender men, who alone in U.S. history have been able to pee in peace.

My wife and daughters have suffered in silence, unable to “pee in peace” in any public building. Is this part of the sisterly code? The first rule of bathroom chaos is that no one talks about bathroom chaos?

Finally, as further proof that the Left wants all the world to look like a college campus, Keating holds up higher education as a model for the rest of us. After all, more than 100 colleges and universities have gender-neutral bathrooms, and campuses are so safe that only one in five women experience sexual assault. Oh, wait. Did I cross the streams? Did I cite the wrong fake statistic at the wrong time?

I keep forgetting when colleges are more dangerous for women than prison or war and when they’re models for the rest of America. So let me try to square the circle — colleges are full of predatory male rapists who can totally be trusted to shower next to women, and if the rest of the country doesn’t agree to be like Berkeley, well then they’re haters and bigots. Just like the Klan. 

Thank you, Buzzfeed, you made my day.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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