Anyone wanna talk about bathrooms?
Although the recent NC HB2 controversy may shine an uncomfortable spotlight on bathrooms and who goes where, what about exploring opportunities afforded by newly reflecting on design and gender-designation in bathrooms and locker rooms?
I’ll focus on the opportunity to listen to our kids about what is going on in the bathrooms at their schools. To reimagine school bathroom purpose and design. To question the necessity of having shared gendered space in schools. To acknowledge the need of all young children to have privacy from other children when they are using the toilet.
Here are some of the things I have heard this year from my own children about using the bathroom in their public school:
Some of the boys think it’s funny to pee on the floor in the bathroom, out where the sinks are. My friend couldn’t come to recess because he spanked another boy in the bathroom. Amanda [name changed] had to go to the hospital because she never goes to the bathroom at school and she got stomach problems. I’ve only gone number 2 at school twice this whole year. Usually I can hold it until I get home. Nobody poops in the school bathroom. Kids get stage fright.
This data, collected solely from my own children, indicates that bathrooms are not serving their primary purpose in their school. They are not a safe, private place to do your business. They are a potentially dirty, dangerous place to go when you have to pee or wash up. They are a threatening place to go when you have to poop. This, in and of itself, is reason enough for mothers to question the current design and designation of bathrooms in our schools.
While “Amanda” may have gotten a special bathroom to use after her medical intervention highlighted her discomfort with the lack of privacy, what about the other kids, like mine, who are still uncomfortable much of the day because they would rather not poop in school? How is it affecting their work? Their focus? Their behavior?
Can we do better with the design of bathrooms? Should we continue to make a “boys room” and a “girls room” and have these in the hallways of our schools? Are there other options?
I would encourage parents to ask their own children about the school bathroom situation and if it could be improved.
Can we make bathrooms beautiful instead of ugly? Can we make them private instead of threatening? Can we make them clean, inclusive, and caring?
School is difficult enough, and carries enough social pressures, without the pressures of sharing a potentially ugly, scary, smelly space to take care of your personal business.
What are your thoughts and experiences? As a parent, a former kid, a regular bathroom user?