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Potty Politics: An Exploratory Look at Public Toilets as Public Spaces of Governmentality and Discourse
Public toilets have been around since the earliest human civilizations, dating back to the 4th millennium B.C. in Mesopotamia (Mitchell, p.23, 2015). Throughout much of history, the public toilet was not only a communal, and often gender neutral place to carry out bodily functions, it was also a public space where people socialized and caught up on the news of the day (Antoniou, et al., p.18-19, 2016). Despite the longevity of the public toilet and the universality of its usage, limited research has been undertaken to deconstruct its’ contemporary governmentality. The governmentality of toilet segregation based on a sex binary is not based in biological need, but in social constructs of gender and sexuality that ensure a social hierarchy and maintain the mystery of sexual anatomy, ensuring the dominance of heterosexuality and sex-role differentiation. This research project explores various state projects of governmentality globally, related to the securitization, morality, and hygiene politics of public toilets. I will also argue that despite the evolving governmentality and regulation of public toilets, bathroom stalls provide a public space for discourse to challenge these social constructs of gender and sexuality. An exploratory case study is conducted to determine how the toilet stall can be seen as a site of anonymous public discourse around these social constructs. Writings in women’s bathroom stalls are collected and used as a site of analysis to explore how stall users interact and challenge these social constructs. Samples have been taken from writings in stalls of women’s bathrooms in libraries at the American University of Beirut and at the University of California Los Angeles. More writing samples will be collected from women’s bathroom stalls in university libraries in Lebanon, Egypt, and the United States to offer a comparative and global analysis.
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North America
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