Why are there Signs on the Bathrooms?

There have been signs on public bathroom doors for generations. As a kindergartener, long before I could read, I was taught that I was allowed to use a restroom that said, “BOYS” or even “MEN” but I was to stay out of those marked “GIRLS” or “WOMEN”. Even though I could not read, I used shape recognition to know who belonged in which bathroom.

Perhaps life was simple for me because I have an X and a Y chromosome which made me male and I considered myself a boy. At the time, I considered girls to be pests. I was thankful that I did not have any sisters. My best friend had four younger sisters who gave him no end of trouble. The only girl I liked, was my mother. Perhaps that is because she fed me good lunches. I could tolerate my grandmother, but that was because she baked me cookies. I knew I was a boy and was happy to use the restroom so marked. I had no desire to enter the other set of restrooms.

Of course, eight years later, when my hormones kicked in, I took a different opinion of those beautiful creatures bearing two X chromosomes, but that is a topic for a different discussion.

Suddenly we are told that a person should be allowed to use the restroom that conforms with the gender with which the person identifies. So why do we have signs at all? Perhaps all restrooms and locker rooms should be marked by their function without any mention of gender.

We would not have to go far back into history to find a time when modesty was of utmost importance.  It was common for children to be conceived by married couples who never saw each other undressed. Of course, men and women needed separate public bathrooms. Related to this was the problem of “peeping toms”. A woman who felt her modesty was compromised if a man were to see her even partially disrobed, needed to be protected from those men who got their kicks by looking at the forbidden part of a woman’s anatomy. At one time, the sight of a bare ankle was enough to get a man “hot and bothered”.

If modesty were all that were involved in this dispute, we could probably settle the issue with ease, but there are more serious problems than simply being seen by the opposite sex. Men get sexually aroused by the sight of female flesh, and I am told that some women also find a sexual interest in viewing the male anatomy. Most of us are civilized enough to control our arousal for those occasions when it is morally and legally acceptable to have consentual sex, but what of the others? Sad to say, there are some people who act out their sexuality by molestation and/or rape.

Perhaps a more important reason for the signs on bathrooms is to keep the predators out of bathrooms and locker rooms reserved for the opposite sex. A person in the bathroom with his or her pants down is most vulnerable both physically and psychologically. Whether eliminating body wastes, cleaning up or simply changing clothes, a person does not desire to be gawked at. Nor does a person want uninvited sexual attention. A person certainly does not want to be attacked physically.

Occasionally there are predators of the same sex, but usually the predator is of the opposite sex. That is why bathroom signs were invented. The majority of physical or psychological attacks are men attacking women, though there is a hypothetical risk of a woman attacking men. I think in particular of young boys who could be psychologically confused or embarrassed by a woman charging into the boy’s room. The point is that keeping members of the opposite sex out of a bathroom minimizes predatory encounters.

This is all political. There are politicians on both sides of this issue who could gain or lose by the image they present on this issue. Now, however, is not the time to be political, but rather to be practical.

The left is claiming that transgenders are in some way harmed if they are not allowed to use the bathroom of based on the gender they identify with. I am to straight to understand the psychological harm being claimed, but how many transgenders are there? Only a splinter of the population.

The traditionalists, however are worried about the physical and psychological dangers, particularly to young girls, who might find themselves victims of larger, stronger male predators. Though this may not happen often, the occurrence of women being attacked by a man in a woman’s bathroom are higher than the number of transvestites who are inconvenienced by the signs. Add to this the fear factor. Girls often think themselves vulnerable, and thus could fear even the nicest man who might show up in their bathroom.

I think those ancestors of ours who started labeling bathrooms had a good idea. Perhaps we should simply continue with our “quaint” custom.


About Reynold Conger

Reynold Conger is a retired scientist, engineer and teacher. Now writing fiction. His books are CHASED ACROSS AUSTRALIA, MY KNIGHT IN SHINING ARMOR and REDUCING MEDICAL COSTS (AT THE COST OF HEALTH). He has also started a series of novelas called THE RICHARD TRACY SERIES. Residence: New Mexico, USA Hobbies: gardening, animals and running. website www.ReynoldConger.com
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1 Response to Why are there Signs on the Bathrooms?

  1. Ken says:

    This all strikes me as a solution is search of a problem. People are using whichever bathroom they want to use right now with few problems, except where a point is made to exclude them one way or another. People who want to use bathrooms as places to assault people are doing it now and will do it regardless of the sign on the bathroom wall and the rules established about their use.
    At the end of the day, I think this is a lot more about our discomfort with the LGBTQ community and the growing acceptance of their presence in our society.


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