Stalls, Walls, Scrawls

March 9, 2013
Posted by Jay Livingston
Cross-posted at Sociological Images

In the third stall at a women’s room at the University of Western Ontario, someone had written, “What was the worst day of your life?” 

A few responses were humorous, but most were serious.
  • Every day, struggling with an eating disorder
  • The day I found out my father was an alcoholic
  • The day I was raped.
One student, Kierson Drier, who saw these, took a piece of notebook paper, wrote a sympathetic response to each of those, and taped it on the wall of the stall.

(Click on the image for a larger view.  Or to read the text, go here.)

It  went viral.  Reddit picked it up, and the story has been in Canadian newspapers.  But this example is not so unusual.  A study (here behind the Sage paywall) of bathroom grafitti at a New Zealand university found similar themes.
 inscriptions in the women’s toilets were talking about love and romance, soliciting personal advice on health issues and relationships, and discussing what exact act constitutes rape. Women also tried to placate more heated discussions (e.g., “Stop this. There is no reason to say these things. Why so much in-fighting?”).
The men wrote about politics and money (especially taxes and tuition).  Men also posted insults that were far more numerous and aggressive than those in the women’s room.  Only the men wrote racist graffiti.

Years ago, a colleague of mine had her students go into the opposite-sex bathrooms to look at the graffiti.  (I think it was for a course on language, not gender.)  I cannot remember what they found.  But I doubt that any men had written about things that were personally troubling.  Men are from insult-o-matic , women are from Post Secret

My guess is that in University Men’s Room USA these days you’d also find sports, gay bashing, and crude heterosexuality.  I don’t know how this would be different if all trips to the men’s room were to the stalls.  As it is, most are to the urinals, which afford the graffitista neither privacy nor hands-free technology. 

As for women’s rooms, a month ago a female colleague went into the ground-floor women’s room in our building and found racist graffiti that was so offensive she immediately reported it to have it removed. 

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