You think that college humanities departments have gone down the toilet? Well, they have–literally! Two professors who claim to be teaching the humanities at well-repected universities, Olga Gershenson of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and Barbara Penner of University College-London are calling for papers for a book they’re editing titled “Toilet Papers: The Gendered Construction of Public Toilets.” (Thanks, Roger Kimball at Arma Virumque, for bringing this to our attention.)
I think that “gendered construction” means there’s a men’s room and a ladies’ room. But I’ll let the Gershenson-Penner “call for papers” speak for itself in its inimitable jargon of “gender theory”:
“Public toilets are amenities with a functional, even a civic, purpose. Yet they also act as the unconscious of public spaces. They can be a haven: a place to regain composure, to ’check one’s face,’ or to have a private chat. But they are also sexually-charged and transgressive spaces that shelter illicit sexual practices and act as a cultural repository for taboos and fantasies.
“This collection will work from the premise that public toilets, far from being banal or simply functional, are highly charged spaces, shaped by notions of propriety, hygiene and the binary gender division. Indeed, public toilets are among the very few openly segregated spaces in contemporary Western culture, and the physical differences between ’gentlemen’ and ’ladies’ remains central to (and is further naturalized by) their design. As such, they provide a fertile ground for critical work interrogating how conventional assumptions about the body, sexuality, privacy, and technology can be formed in public space and inscribed through design.
“We welcome papers which explore the cultural meanings, histories, and ideologies of the public toilet as a gendered space. Any subject is appropriate: toilet design and signage, toilet humour and euphemisms, personal narratives and legal cases, as well as art sited in public toilets. We invite submissions in the format of traditional academic papers of no more than 7000 words (including footnotes).”
I love that bit about how “the physical differences between ‘gentlemen’ and ‘ladies’ remains central to” the design of public restrooms. In other words, the gents’ room contains urinals, while the ladies’ room doesn’t. You, dear InkWell reader, might think the architectural difference has something to do with the fact that men and women are anatomically built differently–but that shows how ignorant you are of gender theory. Gender theory teaches that men and women are born exactly identical in every way, and that it’s “society” that forces them to think of themselves as either “male” or “female.” Society then shunts these erstwhile unisex creatures off into “men’s” or “ladies'” restrooms to attend to their personal needs, depending on which sex they’re assigned to under “binary gender division.” There, the “men” are forced by society to use urinals and the “women” are forced not to. In reality, say the gender theorists, there are zillions of genders, not just two–or maybe there’s no gender at all. If we could only have a revolution, we could then have urinals in every ladies’ room. Better still, we could ban urinals altogether ‘cuz they’re sexually discriminatory, making it easier for men to go to the bathroom than women.
And just in case you think these two professors aren’t qualified to write about their topic–you’re wrong! Penner wrote her master’s thesis on “The Ladies’ Room: A Social and Cultural Analysis of Women’s Public Lavatories,” and the BBC turned it into a 1998 radio documentary. Gershenson’s scholarship includes these two papers delivered last year: “Potty Politics on Campus: Debates over Unisex Bathrooms” and “Public Bathrooms? The Rhetoric of Space, Gender, and Power.”
Time was when being a humanities professor meant you devoted your life to analyzing “The Waste Land” or researching the 12th-century origins of Kabbalah. No more, as we see. Not only can you spend your scholarly career these days studying the “sexually-charged and transgressive” aspects of the toidy, but you can do so at taxpayer expense, at state-funded U.S. universities and via the tribute that all Britons must fork over to the BBC for the privilege of owning a television set.
Kimball says this pile of academic you-know-what reminds him of Hercules’ cleansing the Augean stables of their mountains of horse-ordure, an act that the administrators at U-Mass.-Amherst and University College-London might consider emulating: “Hercules had the right idea: flush it out and start over.” Trouble is, Hercules was most definitely a male, and the campus gender theorists have banished him.