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Copyright (c) 2007 Michigan Journal of Gender & Law
Michigan Journal of Gender & Law

ARTICLE: Sex-Separation in Public Restrooms: Law, Architecture, and Gender


14 Mich. J. Gender & L. 1


Terry S. Kogan*




This Article challenges the common assumption that legally mandated sex-separation of public restrooms is a benign recognition of natural anatomical differences between men and women. Relying on legal history, gender history, and architectural theory, my central thesis is that, contrary to common intuitions, there was nothing benign or gender neutral about the social and historical origins of the first laws adopted at the end of the nineteenth century that mandated such separation.

It all seems so obvious. Given human biological needs, public buildings require public restrooms. Given two sexes and concerns for privacy and safety, the law needs to mandate that public buildings provide separate facilities for men and women and, in turn, that persons of one sex be prohibited from entering the restroom designated for the other. 2

It all seems so obvious ... unless:

. you happen to be a wheelchair-user who needs the assistance of your opposite-sex partner in a public restroom facility. 3

. you happen to be a transsexual person dressed in accord with your gender identity who is prohibited from using the workplace restroom designated for the sex with which you identify. 4

. you happen to be a woman at a rock concert standing in a long line outside the restroom marked "Women," while no line exists outside the door marked "Men." 5

. you happen to be a parent tending an opposite-sex, five-year-old child when you or your child suddenly needs a public ...
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