I’m a woman and I used the men’s single toilet bathroom at my town’s Super America gas station throughout high school, because the women’s bathroom was almost always busy late at night. When you “gotta’ go” after a night of partying, you gotta’ go, and it doesn’t much matter what the sign on the door says. My friends and I had the option of going behind the gas station like other girls did when the women’s room was occupied, but because of certain “perverts” we heard about around town who enjoyed watching such activities, we opted for the men’s room. Occasionally, I would see a guy coming out of the women’s bathroom at SA after I had been occupying the men’s room. Nobody batted an eye about the use of opposite gender bathrooms, because nobody’s right to privacy was violated in any way. That bathroom system seemed to work fine thirty years ago. I think it’s absurd that there is even a bathroom debate going on right now, and I can’t believe that I’m about to participate in it. I feel that only in the United States can we make an issue out of someone peeing where they feel most comfortable doing it.
There are so many layers to this conversation that I have multiple opinions regarding bathrooms and the people who use them. But, I believe that what is essentially happening with this debate is what happens far too frequently in the United States: separate issues are being twisted together and re-presented to the public for the sake of generating material for the media and for political gain. Conservatives do this. Liberals do this. Some politicians like to force people to pick a side by presenting gray issues as black and white. Many citizens align with their political party’s black and white response, even if it doesn’t really address the core issue because it’s easier than thinking for one’s self and considering both perspectives. I feel fortunate in that I’ve never fit into any political box and have developed my own independent perspective on issues.
Our country’s politically polarized citizens seem content with this divisive black and white way of functioning and they fail to understand that nothing will change publicly if this approach continues. I believe that Newton’s third law of motion can also be applied to sociology: “To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction.” When applying this law to politics, no one side is responsible for the outcome that is eroding our country’s ability to move forward; both sides are equally responsible for America’s political stagnation as they each exist to resist one another’s movement. I believe that what is required for advancement of American society is the introduction of a completely new force that transcends politics and doesn’t have a built-in force of resistance. I wish politicians on the right and the left would start considering the long-term consequence of how issues are being handled today.
What I see tangled up in today’s bathroom debate are two core issues:
Number 1) The right of transgenders to be treated with dignity and respect.
Number 2) The right of everyone to feel safe when engaging in an act that makes them physically vulnerable.
I feel that the two issues are being mixed together by both conservative and liberal media, but are also being presented differently by both. As a result, some conservative citizens are jumping on an extreme reaction bandwagon protesting having their children come in contact with transgenders in public bathrooms because they think the concept is too “weird.” Some liberal citizens are jumping on an extreme reaction bandwagon calling parents “bigots” for being concerned that non-transgender predators will take advantage of the diminished boundaries for transgenders and gain easier access to children.
My independent perspective is that, without question, 1) people who are transgender should be treated respectfully, but 2) so should everyone else. Concerning the bathroom debate, I think that Target chose a bandwagon to ride on too quickly, and in doing so, I believe they’ve run over a huge segment of their customers. They publicized their “inclusivity” stance last week: “Inclusivity is a core belief at Target. It’s something we celebrate. We stand for equality and equity, and strive to make our guests and team members feel accepted, respected and welcomed in our stores and workplaces every day . . . In our stores, we demonstrate our commitment to an inclusive experience in many ways. Most relevant for the conversations currently underway, we welcome transgender team members and guests to use the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity.” The American Family Association responded by boycotting Target over concerns that Target’s inclusive stance on transgender rights would allow for sexual predators to take advantage of the policy.
I have been spending most of my shopping dollars at Target for years and I feel like I have a right to an opinion on this issue. I’m not a fan of anyone who jumps to a side of an issue for the sake of political alignment. I don’t like it when people conduct their daily lives in a certain way because the media or an organization with political power is telling them to do so. I also believe that Target messed up by ignoring what “inclusivity” truly means. I believe that Target’s intent toward a very small group of the population was very very good; I’m all for treating everyone with compassion. But in its rush to make an announcement that sided with a group of customers, it excluded a large number of its customers who feel their concerns have been dismissed. For Target to assume that its parents who shop at their stores would simply be able to set aside their concerns over child safety was, in my opinion, a huge blunder. I like to believe that parents will typically align with their children’s safety rights over the rights of another segment of the population. Target corporation is not a compassionate social activist out to change the fabric of our country, despite what its PR efforts would like consumers to believe. It is a corporation in existence to make as much money as it can. I believe that with the company’s announcement last week marketing execs were banking on a belief that their public statement was what most of its customers wanted to hear.
Target underestimated the political power of parents who choose to rise up. I fully realize that the likelihood of a predator taking advantage of Target’s publicized bathroom and fitting room policy is minimal, but when I had young children, I did not put them in situations where there was even the slightest chance that they could be harmed. I would never expect another parent to ignore their level of discomfort when it came to the safety of their child. That is what I feel Target is asking parents to do. Long before the transgender issue was on the table, I avoided letting my young children use the bathrooms or fitting rooms at Target without my presence. I felt like it was an environment where would-be predators could easily gain access to my children. There weren’t family restrooms available at the Target stores I frequented back then, and the men’s and women’s restrooms had entrances and steel doors that prevented me from feeling that I could monitor my children’s well-being from outside the door. It’s not that I want to hear everything going on in a bathroom, but I have experienced several bathroom designs where I did feel that my young children could call for my help if they needed it for any reason and I would be able to swiftly attend to them. I hoped that my young son would never need help in the men’s room, because I wouldn’t have wanted to violate anyone’s sense of privacy, but I most definitely would have put my son’s needs before that of a stranger at a urinal.
Maybe I’m more modest than most people, but I have always felt that attending to bodily functions should be a private experience. I’ve never been able to understand why groups of men are often expected to urinate together with little or no privacy. I could never expose myself in front of someone to urinate. When my son was older I had a difficult time sending him into public bathrooms with urinals, because of the potential exposure and vulnerability involved. I imagine that there are some modest men who also share my views, but they don’t usually have a convenient choice if the toilet stalls in their bathrooms are occupied. The fact that I’m even writing publicly about urination is something that is very uncomfortable for me – but, I think this debate clearly represents long-standing political issues in the United States that I need to shake off my brain. I had bathroom and fitting room issues with the lack of safety Target afforded my children twenty years ago, but I knew if I addressed my concern it would have fallen on deaf ears because there would have been no political motivation for anyone to support my viewpoint.
I would like to see everyone’s views being respected. Before jumping on a political bandwagon, Target should have assessed its current bathroom and dressing room designs and considered the experience of all its customers. To do so would have just required some thinking outside the political box. Then they should have announced a commitment to redesigning the space with gender neutral or family-style bathrooms that afforded respect and safety to everyone – including parents of young children. Had they done that, Target wouldn’t be dealing with the current boycott of over a million of its customers.
I believe that the failure of Target to address the comfort of all its customers, and North Carolina’s law banning transgenders from using bathrooms corresponding to the gender with which they identify, are prime examples of how exclusionary actions can allow extremist political candidates to rise up and gain support. So many people in the United States – on both sides of the political aisle – have felt that their perspective has been run over by either liberal or conservative bandwagons for far too long. As a result, these citizens will likely support someone who represents any aspect of their views, no matter how shocking some of the surrounding rhetoric is. These citizens who have felt run over are staying true to the law of motion – they react to the disrespect they’ve been shown by elected officials and the media by disrespecting the people whose views are being supported instead of theirs.
Back when I was in high school, I really didn’t care what anyone else was doing. All I wanted was safety and privacy. When I had that I was happy. I think all of Target’s customers would be happy if they had that, too. Respect for my views would have been nice in high school, too, but I didn’t know of a politician who could benefit from my very unique perspective. Today, now that I’m being forced by politicians and the media to think about the bathroom experience of other people, I believe that everyone deserves a safe, respectful experience and that they should use the toilet and try on clothes where they feel most comfortable doing so – as long as they don’t violate someone else’s right to safety, dignity, and respect.
I wish Target would just focus its energy on meeting the needs of all its retail customers and leave the social reform to those who are not motivated by financial gain. Now is Target’s opportunity to ignore political pressure on the left and the right and simply be the large corporation it is and make the bathroom experience comfortable for everyone. I believe that every single person who needs to use the bathroom deserves a door that provides privacy. I feel that I have personally spent enough money at my local Target stores over the last 30 years to finance the installation of re-designed gender neutral and family friendly bathrooms in those locations. Give everyone the same safe door to pee behind, Target, and you would be giving everyone – male, female, transgender, liberal, conservative, independent – the inclusive respect they deserve.
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© 2016 by Julie Ryan. All rights reserved
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