The recent introduction of laws that regulate whether transgender people can use the facilities that align with their gender identities has brought the issue of bathroom sex segregation to the forefront of national conversations. Some have proposed that the solution may lie in gender-neutral facilities, while others worry in what the consequences may be. But , whilst attempts to prohibit gender intermingling in restrooms took on a new concentrate, the roots of the debate day back over a century.
Although first sex-segregated toilets had been established in Paris in the 1700s, regulations requiring that American men and women use individual restrooms got their begin in the late 1800s. The first regulation requiring distinct toilet facilities for men and women was passed in 1887, when Massachusetts needed the establishment of distinct privies in businesses. “Wherever male and female persons are employed in the same factory or workshop, a significant number of separate and distinct water-closets, earth-closets, or privies shall be provided for the use of each sex and should be plainly designated, ” the law reads. In the next line, mixed use of such facilities is prohibited. Over the course of the next three decades, nearly every state passed its own version of that law.
But the rules that govern who pees where in public spaces were not created due to physical differences among women and men that affect just how bathrooms are used. “You can think that it makes sense, that bathrooms are separated by sex because there are fundamental biological variations, ” says Terry Kogan, a statutory regulation professor at the University of Utah. “That’s completely wrong. ”
Kogan, who did extensive research on days gone by history of sex-segregation in public areas restrooms, tells TIME that the guidelines came into being as a total consequence of social anxieties about women’s locations in the world.
Social norms of the time dictated that the true residential was a woman’s place. As women entered the place of work even, often in the brand new factories which were being built at the time, there was a reluctance to integrate them fully into public life. Women, policymakers argued, were inherently weaker and still in need of protection from the harsh realities of the public sphere. Thus, separate facilities were introduced in nearly every aspect of society: women’s reading rooms were incorporated into public libraries; separate train cars were established for women, keeping them in the back to protect them in the event of a crash; and, with the introduction of indoor bathrooms which were along the way of replacing single-person outhouses after that, separate loos followed soon. The recommended layouts of bathrooms, says Kogan, were made to mimic the comforts of home-think chaise and curtains lounges.
“[Ladies’ rooms] had been used to create this shielded haven in this dangerous general public realm, ” says Kogan.
Today, despite the fact that society’s views on ladies have shifted largely, sex-segregated bathrooms remain the custom.
Why? Because major plumbing codes in the U. S. use a public building’s capacity to dictate how many restrooms should be built, and those codes specify that men and women’s facilities should be separate. The codes even mandate a minimum number of toilets and urinals per sex. Often , those formulas result in more facilities being made available for men than for females, despite famously lengthy lines for ladies’ rooms.
There were efforts to chip apart at the inequity facing the sexes in bathrooms-in 1987 California signed the Bathroom Equity Act, which stated fresh public projects had a need to include even more restrooms for females. Equivalent ordinances were used in metropolitan areas across the U. S., however in many places there exists a reluctance to neutralize bathrooms with regards to gender still.
As the debate over bathrooms offers shifted, a few of the arguments policymakers are using to guard the circumstances ring might ring familiar to those familiar with bathrooms’ history: the idea that separate facilities will protect women from harm remains. Two North Carolina lawmakers have said that eliminating separate bathrooms would “deny women their right to basic safety and privacy. ” Research does show that trans people may be at risk in bathroom situations-a 2013 survey by the Williams Institute found that 70% of trans people reported experiencing denial of access, verbal harassment or physical assault in an attempt to use the bathroom-but Kogan says the idea that all women are in increased danger in mixed or gender-neutral bathrooms doesn’t make sense, as predators “ aren’t waiting for permission to decorate like a woman to get into bathrooms. ”