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Archi Shah
Professor Russo
English Composition II
4 April 2016
Bathrooms and Feminism
The bathroom is essential. Most people dont realize how the often bathroom is used to
deepen the divide between the perceptions of men and women. There is a stereotype present in
American culture that women spend much more time in the bathroom than men. Why does the
amount of time women spend in the bathroom matter, and how does this stereotype impact
American womens perception of themselves? If looking at this question from the view of
Dorothy E. Smith, it becomes clear that the difference between the way the dominant group (the
men) sees the world and the way the marginalized group (the women) sees the world creates
feelings of alienation. Feelings of alienation then create low self-esteem within women, which, if
left untreated, can become depression. Just as important as mental issues that result from harmful
stereotypes like this one is what these stereotypes indicate about womens position in American
society. These negative stereotypes show that women are very clearly excluded from areas of
public power because the real reasons that women may spend more time in a bathroom than men
are rooted in the systematic oppression of women.
This topic is especially relevant today because of all of the controversy surrounding the
new laws passed in both North Carolina and Mississippi banning transgender people from using
the bathroom that corresponds with their chosen gender. In fact, the bathroom issue has become
so globalized that the UK just issued a travel warning to its transgender citizens preparing to

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travel to the United States, stating, LGBT travelers may be affected by legislation passed
recently in the states of North Carolina and Mississippi (OHare).
In order to understand why the amount of time women spend in the bathroom matters, we
must first prove whether or not women actually spend more time than men in the bathroom, and
prove that the historical reasons that women may spend more time in the bathroom than men are
rooted in the oppression of women. We will then use both Dorothy E. Smiths standpoint theory
and the theory of sex-role strain to explain why stereotypes like that one are harmful to the selfesteem of young American girls and women.
Potty parity, or the equal provision of washroom facilities for men and women in a
public space has always been an issue, and there are many instances highlighting the movements
necessity. Women in the House of Representatives did not get a bathroom on the Senate floor
until 2011, while the mens bathroom on the floor has a shoeshine stand, a fireplace, and a
television that is tuned in to the floors proceedings (McKeon). Prior to the bathroom that opened
in 2011, female Representatives had to walk several minutes across winding hallways in order to
use the restroom (Talev). On the ballroom floor the New York Hilton, the womens bathroom
only has four stalls while the mens bathroom has six stalls and six urinals. Before the admittance
of female students into the nations top universities, both Harvard Law School and Yale Medical
School cited that a lack of public facilities made it impossible for women to be admitted as
students, an excuse that was used again by Virginia Military Institute in 1996 (Chemaly). These
examples serve as a way to show the real world applications of what will be discussed in this
paper. Potty parity and the stereotype that women spend more time in the bathroom both go hand
in hand to showing how the bathroom is indicative of the way that women are held back in
modern, male-driven society.

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Historically, bathrooms have always worked against women as well. Old building codes
required bathroom space for men, but not for women since their place was in the private sphere,
not the public sphere. The home and family was considered the womens domain or the private
sphere, while men were in charge of the office and other public spaces. Women also had to pay
either five or ten cents to use a public restroom for a long time, while men had to pay to use
stalls, but did not have to pay to use the urinals. Even when pay stalls became less common, they
were first removed from mens bathrooms, and then were forced to be removed from womens
bathrooms by law (Banks). The exchange of money for women may have been a reason women
took a longer time in the bathroom than men. The mere existence of urinals also works against
women because of the lack of a female equivalent. Understandingly, because of stark genital
differences, women cannot pee standing up, but the urinals add more spaces to pee. With more
spaces to pee, the lines to the mens bathroom are noticeably shorter than the lines for the
womens bathroom. With longer lines, women would have no choice but to spend more time in
the restroom than men. Even the stalls reveal differences that favor men over women. When
examining the width of a stall, it becomes apparent that it was designed by a man with a man in
mind. Women have a wider pelvis, with the pelvic arch at an obtuse angle, while men have a
narrower pelvis, with a pelvis arch at acute angle. This means that, because of their wider pelvis,
when women sit on a toilet seat, their pelvises hit the seat, making the experience uncomfortable,
whereas men find it quite comfortable (Banks). This means that men can just sit down on the seat
and pee, while women may spend a couple of moments adjusting themselves in order to find the
most comfortable position in which to urinate, prolonging time spent in the water closet.
But with all of these factors working against women, is there a significant difference in
the amount of time women spend in the bathroom compared to men? In a study conducted by

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Brooklyn College CUNY, 60 men and 60 women were observed over the course of 4 days
spanning 2 weeks. The results of the study show that there was in fact a significant difference.
Women spent, on average, 61.5 more seconds in the bathroom than men.
But what can account for the extra minute or so that women spend in the bathroom? The
most common reason that both men and women give is because women spend more time fixing
their hair, makeup, and clothes. However, studies show that women are more likely than men to
wash their hands. Women also often have primary responsibility of the children, and may spend
time assisting their kids or changing diapers. The taboo on breastfeeding in public also forces
women to retreat to the bathroom stall to feed infants. About a quarter of adult American women
are menstruating at any given time, which increases both the time spent in the stall and the
frequency at which they require using a restroom. Urinary tract infections are twice as common
in women as in men, and UTIs increase the frequency of bathroom use and the length of time
spent relieving oneself. Pregnancy also contributes to womens needs for more time in the
bathroom during early pregnancy, hormonal changes increase the need to urinate, while in late
pregnancy the uterus presses down on the bladder, reducing its capacity (Plaskow). As mentioned
before, the lack of stalls also increases the amount of time spent in a bathroom by increasing
waiting time. Women also tend to wear tighter clothes, which take more time to pull down. With
new womens fashion trends like rompers and jumpsuits, the entire article of clothing must be
removed in order to urinate, which also takes time.
When examining all of these factors, it becomes clear that the real reasons why women
may spend more time in the bathroom are all rooted in the systematic oppression of women. The
absence of womens bathrooms clearly reflects the exclusion of women from public power and
public space. The flimsy reason that first comes to mind when people are asked to explain why

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women spend so much time in the bathroom reflects a lack of understanding of the many issues
that women face that are completely unrelated to their appearance. By refusing to acknowledge
issues such as the taboo of breastfeeding in public or the expectations placed on women as being
primary caregivers, people are allowing these issues to perpetuate, which perpetuates the
oppression of women. And although the stereotype is ultimately true for women as a whole, it
can have a negative impact on the self-esteem of individual women.
Standpoint theory was created by Dorothy E. Smith, a renowned sociologist and feminist
scholar, in the 1960s. Smith understood that, at the time, sociology was lacking in the
acknowledgement of standpoint. Up until that point, all feminist and sociological theories had
been formed upon and built off the view of a male-dominated social world, unintentionally
ignoring womens experiences. The separation between how the minority, the women, see
themselves, and the way the majority, the men, see women, created feelings of alienation within
many women.
In the particular stage of the womens movement in which this theory was crafted,
women began to discover that they lived in a world put together in ways in which they had very
little say. They discovered the various ways in which they lacked a language with which to speak
about what they had in common as women, since the language used had largely been taken from
the cultural and intellectual world constructed by men. They learned a particular method of
speaking speaking from experience. This was a practice of showing that the speaker had
authority in speaking of her everyday life because she was active in it (Smith 1). This is relevant
because when individual women speak to each other, they might realize that that there are many
women who dont actually fit the stereotype that women take long in the bathroom. If they only
listened to the stereotype that men had created they might feel as though there is something

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wrong with them, especially because they might believe that the reason women take so long in
the bathroom is because they spend time fixing up their appearance. There are already so many
women themselves who believe that. And often times when women try to correct men who make
that stereotype, they are talked to patronizingly or condescendingly, as though they dont have
the authority to speak on their own experiences, a phenomenon coined mansplaining.
When investigating femininity, it is revealed that, to a man, the women often appears
passive, lacking agency, awaiting definition by a man, while she may see herself as an active and
competent person. This is often referred to as the subject-in-discourse, who is passive version of
the woman, and the subject-at-work, which is the competent version of the woman. While the
subject-at-discourse is deprived of agency, the subject-at-work behind her is active and skilled.
Thus, the trap for women becomes clear they often feel the need to produce an appearance
appealing to the ideality of the subject-at-discourse, which oftentimes doesnt represent who they
truly are. This means that their appearance, that of a women, speaks for them, but not from them,
which introduces contradictions in their relationship to men (Smith 161). In the case of
bathrooms, because of the prevalent stereotype, women often feel the need to present themselves
as explicitly feminine a woman who cares about her appearance very much, which is the
subject-in-discourse, while the subject-at-work may be a woman who doesnt even glance at
herself in the mirror while she washes her hands. But men might expect all women they meet to
fit a particular mold a vapid, shallow, materialistic individual who is a clone of any other
member of her sex. Thus they approach any women, even a complete stranger, with expectations
and prejudice firmly in place.
This is dangerous because it leads to feelings of low self-esteem, a concept that is further
explored in the related theories of sex-role strain and gender role conflict. Sex-role strain is the

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stress related to unsuccessfully meeting traditional gender role standards. Gender role conflict
was traditionally applied to males, but has been increasingly applied to females in recent times.
Gender role conflict is condition in which the standardized gender role (male or female) has
negative consequences for the individual and others. Gender role conflict and sex-role strain
typically occurs when rigid, sexist, or limiting gender roles result in the devaluation in a persons
sense of self. With over 240 studies conducted to date, the associations between gender role
conflict and sex role strain and various indicants of psychological health have been documented
Females are proposed to have more gender role conflict when they experience one or
more of several trajectories. Here we will on focus on the trajectories that relate most to the
bathroom stereotype. First, deviating or violating gender role norms of feminine ideologies. An
example of this would be when women fail to live up to expectations of hyper-femininity, which
includes spending time on appearance or enjoying doing makeup, something that goes hand in
hand with the bathroom stereotype. Second, trying and failing to meet gender role norms of
feminine ideologies. An example would be a women attempting to become more stereotypically
feminine by trying to learn to do makeup or spending more time on fashion. Third, noting
discrepancies between their ideal self-concepts and real self-concepts. An example of this would
be a woman noticing that, although she may see herself as a very girly, in reality she doesnt look
like all the women she admires for being the epitome of femininity. Fourth, women may
personally restrict or devalue themselves for failing to meet femininity ideology norms. An
example of this would be women thinking of themselves as being less, just because they do not
fulfill all the checkpoints for being a woman. Fifth, others may devalue them for deviating from
feminine ideologies. An example of this would be women or men tearing down women just

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because they do not fit the mold of womanhood they have in their mind. All of these trajectories
together make up gender role identity.
Research has found that gender role identity, which is degree at which one perceives
oneself as being masculine or feminine, is linked to self-esteem (Eccles). Perceiving oneself as
feminine was positively related to self-esteem in females while perceiving oneself as masculine
was positively related to self-esteem in males. To measure masculinity and femininity in those
studies, the domains of school, athletics, social ability, behavioral conduct, and physical
appearance were studied. Behavioral conduct and physical appearance are the domains that
matter most within the context of the bathroom behaviors of women, since bathroom habits
count as behavioral conduct and the assumed link to appearance count falls under the physical
appearance domain. The study found that failure to meet expectations in a domain deemed
important by society could lead to negative psychological consequences, such as low selfesteem. It is also important to note that while group norms should impact the influence of gender
role identity on self-esteem, individual differences in the importance placed on fulfilling the
gender role norms also influences self-esteem. The results of the study showed that there was a
significant positive correlation between gender role identity and self-esteem, and for men there
was a positive relationship between gender role identity and self-esteem (Eccles).
It is important to understand the long-term effects of low self-esteem. In a study
conducted by University of Basel researchers found that their findings almost overwhelmingly
support the vulnerability model of self-esteem. Over time, low self-esteem is a risk factor for
depression, regardless of who is tested and how. The study indicated that low self-esteem causes
depression but not vice versa. (Venzin). It should also be noted that women are twice as likely to
be diagnosed with depression as men (Mayo Clinic). Therefore, if a person has low self-esteem,

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theres an increased risk of developing depression. This is a very important discovery because it
shows that improving a persons self-esteem can make him or her feel better in the long run. A
person with low self-esteem is more likely to take things personally, and may also seek to verify
their negative self-concept by seeking negative feedback from those around them. These people
tend to focus on their inadequacies and on the negative feedback they receive from others, and as
a result become more depressed.
To show why bathrooms should be treated as a feminist issue, Ive addressed the
stereotype that women spend more time in the bathroom than men. Ive shown that, while the
stereotype may be true, it isnt because women spend more time fixing their appearance than
men. The reasons are much more complex and are often rooted in the oppression of women. This
is important because these stereotypes reveal something deeper about our society. They show
that stereotypes are often employed as a tool to keep women out of certain social spheres and
show an unwillingness to address the real issues that women face on a daily basis when
navigating a male-centered world. The fact that stereotypes like the one Ive constructed my
paper around exist is also important because they often have highly negative impact on womens
self-esteem, and low self-esteem has been proven to have an increased risk in developing
However, while reading this paper, Im sure that a number of objections could be raised.
For example, some people may think that the topic is too trivial a matter to be discussed,
especially with so many larger, more important feminist issues at stake all throughout the world.
However, those who raise such an objection do not understand that, oftentimes, a larger societal
issue becomes clear only when looking at it from a very small, highly concentrated view. As a
stated in my essay, the stereotype is important because it reveals the way that many men view

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women. They see incompetent creatures who do not belong in a professional setting because
their priorities are skewed their appearance comes before anything else. Why else would
bathroom provisions for women still be an issue in many highly professional settings, including
universities and government institutions such as the House of Representatives?
But its not just women who are now suffering because of bathrooms. The issue of laws
being passed in North Carolina and Mississippi banning transgender people from using the
restroom that corresponds with their gender is one that is especially pertinent today. The Home
and Family Association is also calling for a boycott of Target ever since the company revealed its
transgender bathroom policy, which allows transgender people to use the bathroom of their

Women need to start measuring their equality by public toilets. Only when the stereotype
no longer persists, when long bathroom lines are gone, when women no longer have to walk five
more minutes than men to reach a public restroom, will society be closer to achieving equality of
the sexes. In the meantime ladies, remember to continue going out and proving that, and other
silly stereotypes wrong.