As a feminist, I’ve never waded into a conversation over bathroom symbols. It’s not that I don’t recognize the overt sexism or how the symbols prescribe certain gendered stereotypes and two distinct sexes, but I suppose I figured it was a small battle, not worth the energy. Then, my son reached an age where in certain situations I feel comfortable letting him go to the bathroom on his own, and now those symbols seem a lot more problematic.
The other night at a restaurant, I told my son he could use the restroom on his own. The table we were seated at was between the bathroom and the door and I felt comfortable that I would be able to watch him make the trip there and back safely. He got a little anxious, which is typical of his personality, and asked how he would know which door to go in.
Before I even knew what I was saying, I told him, “look for the male symbol, the man wears the pants”. AHHHHHHHHHHHHH.
Ok, that felt good. I could not and cannot believe what I said to him. I began to stutter, “well, ugh, the man on the sign…”, but he was already on his way. It’s weird how certain parenting moments just happen when you least expect them or are prepared to adequately deal. Not too long ago I saw an image on facebook explaining the female bathroom symbol as a woman wearing a cape. It made me laugh at the time, but I didn’t think anything more about it. But now, thinking about how to explain the bathroom symbols to my son and then my daughter, although funny to me, it seems sort of rude that only the girl would get to wear the cape and the boy would not. That wouldn’t fly with my son (pun intended).
Maybe I can explain the symbols like the disk on the Microsoft word document used to indicate ‘save’ or like how we say ‘hang up the phone’, even though phones haven’t been hung up in years. I can just tell him that these symbols are relics of the past, not yet updated to reflect the fact that men and women are equal and can wear whatever they want.
I suppose anything would be better than my telling a six year old in front of his 3 year old sister that the man wears the pants… Oh, and I suppose I should have wade into this conversation a little sooner.