By Chelsea Whitlow Shay (October 8, 2015)
Several weekends ago I worked the Corvallis Fall Festival, something I do every year to raise money for a youth group I work with. Each year I work several festivals, all of which use porta potties. The Corvallis Fall Festival is the only one where I’ve seen gender specific porta potties. I don’t mean that there were porta potties and urinal troughs. That is quite common at festivals and makes a good deal of sense to move a lot of people through the bathrooms at one time. What I’m talking about is pink porta potties “for her.” Those of you who know me or are familiar with my work will know that this new development in porta pottie offerings really irritates me.
These pink porta potties were set aside from the regular green gender-neutral pots. In addition to being set apart, these pink porta pots had large signage indicating they were just for “Her” with a pink flower. Once you step inside these hyper-gendered pots, you are blasted with a strong floral scent, possibly coming from the over abundance of fake flowers running up the exhaust tube. While I heard many people exclaim “how neat” or “how cute” these porta pots, I feel they are damaging to gender and sex equality and completely unnecessary. Why do event organizers feel women need specialized porta potties?! Will regular porta potties upset our delicate feminine sensibilities? No. No they won’t and you know why? Because it’s a toilet and that’s all anyone needs when they need to go to the bathroom at a festival. I don’t need fake flowers, pink décor and chemical floral scents to comfortably use a porta potty. Regardless of color, décor and scents it’s still just a toilet on the side of a road that a hundred other people will use that day.
As I queued up for the restrooms at the Fall Festival, I noticed men (people who appeared to be male bodied, as I don’t know for sure how they identify) queuing at the green porta pots and women queuing at the pink ones. Being a person who appears to be a woman, I queued up for the regular green porta pots and several men tried to direct me to the pink pots labeled “Hers.” When I came out of my green porta pot there were several people appearing to be women queued up at the pink pots, while no one was waiting in line for the green porta pots. When it was suggested that these women could use the green pots they had the immediate reaction of: “Oh, well those (green porta pots) are probably really dirty.” I informed this group of strangers that the green pots were in fact quite clean and the only difference was their color and lack of fake flowers and floral scent. The group seemed quite shocked either by my answer or the face that a woman was coming out of the green pots, and awkwardly giggled at my response.
Are we so bound by gender in our society that if pink toilets are presented women feel obligated to use them? And do so without question or offense?
As a feminist and a gender educator I for one am greatly offended by these gendered porta potties and the gendered stereotypes that they propagate. When I confronted the festival planners about this new addition I was told many people “really like them.” So, they will continue to have them each year. However, I was assured that they would have large clear signs stating that all of the porta potties are gender-neutral. While this will help it still doesn’t solve the issue of the pink porta pottie for me. Why is this needed and why do we as a society continue to buy into gendered stereotypes. We’re all people that just have to pee.