Gender-neutral bathrooms: Solving the sign problem.
By Lisa Wade PhD
“But what would you put on the door?!” said a facility manager at an airport, his concern echoed by an administrator at a university: “When people are looking for a restroom, they look for the ‘man or woman’ icon. It’s what we know to look for that means restroom.”
We can’t have gender neutral bathrooms, you see, because there’s no symbol for it… or is there?
The symbol above is the one used at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. Sam Killermann, the social justice activist at which the above statements were aimed, doesn’t prefer it. “Even if you’re familiar with gender identity and diversity,” he writes, “the literal interpretation of this image (a half “man” half “woman”) is a disconcerting representation of ‘gender neutral.’”
So, what is there to do? Killermann has an innovative solution. “I had this breakthrough moment,” he says, “where I was like, ‘If I was urgently in need of a toilet, what visual cue that a room contained a toilet could I use?’”
“It’s really not that hard.”
Killermann wants us to replace all the man and woman signs on one-person, private public restrooms with this one — or with the British-inspired W.C., which he has decided stands for “who cares.” Print yours here and start carrying tape.
Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.