Bathrooms: They’re more than just organically messy. They cause different societies no end of legal and social questions.
Until recently, few Americans probably thought of peeing as political.
But in the last few years, the issue of which bathrooms transgender people ought to use has become a big political question. The most contested law has been North Carolina’s requirement that people use restrooms in government-run buildings that align with the gender on their birth certificate. But many other cities and states are considering ordinances that would restrict or expand people’s bathroom choices.
To some, this might seem like an odd realm for political discussion. If you look at history, however, you soon see that decisions about public bathrooms – and in particular, the women’s bathroom — have always been linked with controversial ideas about gender, race and class.
Harvey Molotch, a professor of sociology and metropolitan studies at New York University, took me through the contentious history of women’s bathrooms in a recent conversation. Molotch was the co-editor of the 2010 book “Toilet: The Public Restroom and the Politics of Sharing,” an anthology of papers by sociologists, anthropologists, architects, historians and others about the unfamiliar and dramatic history of the public restroom.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. [Click here to read]