I’m sure you are all wondering what the title of this blog is about. Well, let me tell you a story about the height of my creative genius, back in 2011.
First of all, an alarming discovery I and my fellow female physicists have made is the lack of women’s restrooms in physics buildings. I guess, back in the day, there were no women studying physics, so people didn’t think it was important to build women’s restrooms.
As an undergraduate student, I worked in the sub-basement of the physics building most of the time, which had no restrooms at all. Eventually, I began a project that allowed me to work in the basement, which had one restroom – you guessed it, a men’s restroom. I got so sick of going upstairs every time “nature called” that I decided to take matters into my own hands and edited the sign outside the restroom. I thought I was hilarious. For a short while, this is what it looked like instead:
It didn’t last that way for very long, but I was proud of my artwork. From then on, I used that men’s bathroom whenever I wanted. I accepted the shocked looks of men every time one of them caught me in there, but none of them ever called me out on being in “their” bathroom. After all, they weren’t going to tell me to go all the way up a flight of stairs multiple times a day. They knew the situation wasn’t fair. OR, maybe they were afraid of calling me out due to my boldness. I will never know. Did they truly understand the inequality, or did I scare them? Either is fine.
And this isn’t the only instance where bathrooms for marginalized people in STEM have been unavailable. There is actually a scene in the movie “Hidden Figures” (a film about black women at NASA who were instrumental in putting a man on the moon) where Katherine G. Johnson has to run to a DIFFERENT BUILDING to find a POC restroom.
In graduate school, I encountered the same issue. Bear in mind that this was a completely different university in a different city. After complaints from the Diversity and Inclusion in Physics group (which I was actually not involved with, and now regret) to the physics department about limited working toilets on the second floor women’s restrooms, the department temporarily turned some of the extra men’s restrooms into ones for women. I believe that now, some of them are gender neutral.
If it weren’t so sad, it would be almost comical, but the number of men’s restrooms I have used since becoming a physics major as an undergraduate student has very rapidly increased over the years – this is a great example of “exponential growth”.
It is important to note that speaking up about injustices is the first step to implementing change, even if, in the beginning, it’s just about a bathroom.