Last week, I wrote about Pussy Riot, which uses a unique style of protest to address issues that are common concerns all around the world right now, such as opposing government corruption and promoting radical political change. Today, however, I want to talk about a protest in China that, while appearing conventional on the surface, is using a unique issue to frame the fight for gender equality in a new light.
Women in Guangzhou are protesting the wait times of public restrooms. Recently, protesters gathered outside restrooms at a public park in the city and made their dissatisfaction with the wait time for the women’s room known by using the men’s bathroom instead. Adopting the symbolic language of the “Occupy” movement, these activists are interested in advancing gender equality by campaigning for “potty parity.”
We gathered here not to forcibly stop men from using their toilet, but to arouse consciousness on gender equality in both women and men…
…Our final appeal is to influence state legislation in order to create a reasonable ratio for male and female public toilet space by providing more toilets for women.
The bathroom activism with which I am most familiar is typically spearheaded by transgender and genderqueer activists, when campaigning for gender-neutral bathrooms. Understanding that bathroom divisions based on a binary gender system often leaves queer people in difficult and uncomfortable positions, I fully support gender-neutral public restroom options. And as I read about this situation in Guangzhou, it occurred to me that gender-neutral bathrooms may be an important goal to work toward even in contexts that are not explicitly queer. Right now, Guangzhou is launching “a plan to increase the level of toilet parity from a ratio of 1:1 to 1:1.5,” which likely will involve expanding the facilities in women’s restrooms. However, as long as there are restrooms divided by gender, we will continue to encounter discrepancies between men’s and women’s restrooms. Gender-neutral bathrooms, while perhaps not perfect, may be a better long-term solution. I don’t know if this is a goal with which Li and her colleagues would agree, but it is an option worth considering, and one that should be addressed in similar situations of potty parity campaigns.
What are your thoughts on potty parity? What is the best way to address issues of gender equality as they relate to restroom accessibility?