Reader C. contributed this sign, found in the modern art museum in Stockholm:
My new office building has many floors. On one floor:
On the next floor:
(Including, apparently, the ‘wheelchair gender’. Odd how wheelchairs keep being presented as some kind of stick-on gender feature. Or genderlessness feature: most wheelchair-accessible loos are shared among all genders. But that’s a slightly different topic.)
And then there was this one:
A brief instalment of the toilet picto saga.
In an earlier post, I shared an androgynous, or trans, or two-gendered WC symbol which I had found in an English café.
This week, I found something even more exciting:
Granted, it is somewhat curious that the person in the dress does not seem to possess any shoulders/arms. Or perhaps her hands are clasped firmly in free-kick position?
But for the rest, this toilet sign clearly signals that you do not need to look/feel like a man or a woman to enter these cubicles. (All genders in these WCs also share the same spaces, by the way.)
And what made seeing these signs even more special to me, was that they were located in a town hall, in the place where new citizens go to be registered. It is truly, therefore, how the Dutch city of Nijmegen presents itself to the world.
It’s LGBT History Month: a good moment for an optimistic look to the future.
In a previous post, I showed how pictograms can perpetuate sexism. That one was mostly about female stereotypes, but the signs on toilets can also be a headache for people who don’t really see themselves as either women or men, and for people who are not seen by others as ‘real’ women or men (summed up in the ‘T’ in ‘LGBT’, for trans-people). But things aren’t all bad. In fact, they seem to be improving.
Here is what I recently found in a Belgian cafe:
On the left: a unisex cubicle with a seat. On the right: a urinal. Hurrah!
Yet still designated with the well-known skirt/no-skirt pictures. And the phrase ‘gentlemen’ on the right; implying, perhaps, that those looking for toilets should turn left, and those looking for gentlemen will get satisfaction on the right?
Inside the cubicle, I found this etiquette:
So no gender restrictions: no rules about what you must be; only about what you must do.
And how about the following sanitary convenience, spotted last week in an English cafe?
Of course, this sign still refers to a binary choice. It says ‘whichever’, not ‘whatever’: ‘whether you are a woman, or a man, it does not matter.’ That’s why ‘post-sexism’ is an apt name for the stage many of us have entered: sexism still plays an important role in our lives, but we know how to distance ourselves from it from time to time.
To conclude with a more poetic interpretation of this last sign: someone in a summer’s dress, standing on the deck of a ship with winds coming from larboard?
More to follow…
Something funny happens when authorities try to abstract pictograms from human beings.
We all know that a figure with full legs means: man.
And a figure like a double ice lolly: woman. (Her arms are slightly shorter than the man’s, and helplessly pushed aside by the crinolined dress she is wearing.)
This is how we are supposed to recognize which WC to use. But what happens if we do not need to make a choice according to which gender we belong to? You get this:
Clearly, these pictures address everyone. Every human being is expected to be careful on the stairs, throw their rubbish in a bin, and so on. Even if you belong to that half of humanity who should feel that she becomes that ice lolly whenever she needs to pee, forget about that identity in these ‘neutral’ or ‘general’ cases.
Ok, so let us assume women and men have learnt this lesson – the lesson that in toilets, a figure with long legs means ‘man’, but that everywhere else, a figure with long legs means: ‘everyone’. And then they are confronted with this:
The photo was taken next to a Dutch train station and points the way to the buses, trains and city centre. But who represents the city centre? The woman who had to go to the loo! (Is that her powder bag she is holding?)
So according to the complicated logic we had just taken great pains to learn, the city centre is a non-neutral place where only women are welcome. Men will be shooed away from this intimate location. Maybe even hit with make-up bags.
Of course the implicit message is that if you recognize yourself in the specifically female figure, you must be happy to be directed towards you favourite pastime, which is shopping. And if you consider yourself a man and still venture to the place with the powder bags, your self-respect will suffer. On the other hand, to make a journey by bus or train would be a transgressive activity for a woman to engage in. (Or perhaps the advice is for both train spotters and lovers of women to turn right, and bring their binoculars with them?)
It is as if the institutions placing these signs think of their customers as belonging to several distinct species:
The skirted figure is the Homo hoogcatharinensis, well-known in the Netherlands and a subspecies of the more generally occuring Homo mercatus. This species can apparently only be found in its female form. It is suspected that they morph into the more usual male form of the other Homo species when not engaged in their primary hunting and gathering activities, when they can be found hiking, shooting arrows, and throwing little cubes in bins.