buildings that have gender-segregated bathrooms have an equal number
for women and for men. Where there are crowds, there are always long
lines in front of women’s bathrooms but rarely in front of men’s bathrooms.
The cultural, physiological, and demographic combinations of
clothing, frequency of urination, menstruation, and child care add up to
generally greater bathroom use by women than men. Thus, although an
equal number of bathrooms seems fair, equity would mean more women’s
bathrooms or allowing women to use men’s bathrooms for a certain
amount of time (Molotch 1988).
The bathroom problem is the outcome of the way gendered bodies are
differentially evaluated in Western cultures: Men’s social bodies are the
measure of what is “human.” Gray’s Anatomy, in use for 100 years, well
into the twentieth century, presented the human body as male. The female
body was shown only where it differed from the male (Laqueur 1990, 166–
67). Denise Riley says that if we envisage women’s bodies, men’s bodies,
and human bodies “as a triangle of identifications, then it is rarely an equilateral
triangle in which both sexes are pitched at matching distances from
the apex of the human” (1988, 197). Catharine MacKinnon also contends
that in Western society, universal “humanness” is male because
virtually every quality that distinguishes men from women is already affirmatively
compensated in this society. Men’s physiology defines most sports, their
needs define auto and health insurance coverage, their socially defined biographies
define workplace expectations and successful career patterns, their
perspectives and concerns define quality in scholarship, their experiences and
obsessions define merit, their objectification of life defines art, their military
service defines citizenship, their presence defines family, their inability to get
along with each other — their wars and rulerships — define history, their image
defines god, and their genitals define sex. For each of their differences from
women, what amounts to an affirmative action plan is in effect, otherwise
known as the structure and values of American society. (1987, 36)
The Paradox of Human Nature
Gendered people do not emerge from physiology or hormones but from
the exigencies of the social order, mostly, from the need for a reliable division
of the work of food production and the social (not physical) reproduction
of new members. The moral imperatives of religion and cultural
representations reinforce the boundary lines among genders and ensure
that what is demanded, what is permitted, and what is tabooed for the
people in each gender is well-known and followed by most. Political
power, control of scarce resources, and, if necessary, violence uphold the
gendered social order in the face of resistance and rebellion. Most people,
however, voluntarily go along with their society’s prescriptions for those of
their gender status because the norms and expectations get built into their
sense of worth and identity as a certain kind of human being and because
they believe their society’s way is the natural way. These beliefs emerge
from the imagery that pervades the way we think, the way we see and hear
and speak, the way we fantasize, and the way we feel. There is no core
or bedrock human nature below these endlessly looping processes of the
social production of sex and gender, self and other, identity and psyche,
each of which is a “complex cultural construction” (Butler 1990, 36). The
paradox of “human nature” is that it is always a manifestation of cultural
meanings, social relationships, and power politics — “not biology, but culture,
becomes destiny” (Butler 1990, 8).
Feminist inquiry has long questioned the conventional categories of
social science, but much of the current work in feminist sociology has not
gone beyond adding the universal category “women” to the universal category
“men.” Our current debates over the global assumptions of only two
categories and the insistence that they must be nuanced to include race
and class are steps in the direction I would like to see feminist research go,
but race and class are also global categories (Collins 1990; Spelman 1988).
Deconstructing sex, sexuality, and gender reveals many possible categories
embedded in the social experiences and social practices of what Dorothy
Smith calls the “everyday/everynight world” (1990, 31–57). These emergent
categories group some people together for comparison with other
people without prior assumptions about who is like whom. Categories
can be broken up and people regrouped differently into new categories for
comparison. This process of discovering categories from similarities and
differences in people’s behavior or responses can be more meaningful for
feminist research than discovering similarities and differences between
“females” and “males” or “women” and “men” because the social construction
of the conventional sex and gender categories already assumes differences
between them and similarities among them. When we rely only
on the conventional categories of sex and gender, we end up finding what
we looked for — we see what we believe, whether it is that “females” and
“males” are essentially different or that “women” and “men” are essentially
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