Molotch 1988

Molotch 1988 - The Rest Room and Equal Opportunity Harvey...

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The Rest Room and Equal Opportunity Harvey Molotch University of California, Santa Barbara At the risk of appearing disrespectful, let me say that the best way to understand equal opportunity is to use the public toilet. Sometimes a gross approach can best clarify a subtle issue. Through the example of how society is organized to provide men and women with the capacity to relieve themselves, we can understand what it takes, as a more gen- eral matter, to provide members of different social groups with authen- tic equal opportunity. In many public buildings, the amount of floor area dedicated for the men's room and the women's room is the same. The prevailing pub- lic bathroom doctrine in the U.S. is one of segregation among the gen- ders, but with equality the guiding ideology. In some jurisdictions, this square footage equality is enshrined in law. Such an arrangement follows the dictum that equality can be achieved only by policies that are "gen- der-blind" (or "color-blind" or "ethnic-blind") in the allocation of a public resource. To give less to women (or blacks or Hispanics) would be discrimination; to give more would be "reverse discrimination."' Women and men have the same proportion of a building to use as rest rooms. Presumably this should provide members of both genders with equal opportunity for dealing with their bodily needs in a timely and con- venient way. The trouble with this sort of equality is that, being blind, it fails to recognize differences between men as a group and women as a group. These differences are not amenable to easy change. Part of women's demand for bathrooms can not exist for men because only women men- struate. Women make trips to the rest room to secure hygienic and socially appropriate adaptations to this physical fact. And because men's physiology suits them for the use of urinals, a large number of men can be serviced by a relatively small physical space. Women in our society use toilets to urinate, and toilets require a larger area than urinals. By creating men's and women's rooms of the same size, society guarantees that individual women will be worse off than individual men. By dis- * Encouragement and assistance was provided by Howard Becker, Gayle Binion, and Beth Schneider. ' Government acts that provide unequal resources in the name of progressive reform have been denounced in just such terms. See Glazer (1975) for a strong instance. 128
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Notes and Insights tributing a resource equally, an unequal result is structurally guaranteed. The consequences are easily visible at intermission time whenever men and women congregate in theater lobbies. When the house is full, the women form a waiting line in front of the bathroom while the men do their business without delay. Women experience discomfort and are excluded from conversations that occur under more salutary conditions elsewhere in the lobby. If toward the rear of the line, women may ex- perience anxiety that they will miss the curtain rise. Indeed, they may
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This note was uploaded on 02/07/2010 for the course SOC 1305 taught by Professor Mueller during the Fall '08 term at Baylor.

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Molotch 1988 - The Rest Room and Equal Opportunity Harvey...

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