I affectionately joke that the small community living in my Wilson basement is a nudist colony. Despite our limited interaction as nearly strangers, my dorm neighbors and I have a healthy sense of platonic camaraderie when it comes to accepting the unintended consequences of living with members of the opposite sex in tight quarters. If we accidentally bump into one another wrapped in towels having just left the shower, or see one of our ranks sleepwalking in their pajamas or folding laundry in the hallway wearing nothing but boxer shorts, we still manage a neighborly “hello” sans prudish judgement.
As a proud member of our group, I consider myself extremely liberal in my willingness to give my fellow neighbors the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their reasons for needing to be less than properly clothed; I assume that none of us mean any disrespect or are intentionally acting as a creepy exhibitionist. However, I think a firm line needs to be drawn when it comes to men — both on my floor and from elsewhere — casually abusing the only bathroom in the basement (a designated women's room) simply because the appropriate men's bathroom is two floors up. In my housing contract, I never consented to having a gender neutral facility as my primary bathroom, so I consider it a disturbing violation of privacy and space when a non-female walks in and thinks that they are entitled to see me and other girls in various stages of undress.
In the past few weeks alone, I cannot count the number of times I’ve found myself uncomfortable to leave the stall or shower upon noticing hairy size-twelve feet and bare legs outside. Don’t get me wrong — I am willing to excuse possible cases of dire desperation on others' part. We’ve all had an “emergency” experience in which our needing to use the opposite gender restroom is not so much an act of rebellion as it is an awkward inevitability that could not have been avoided. However, I refuse to see anything innocent or justifiable in the case of a self-entitled male who simply is too lazy or ignorant to care that he could be violating someone’s privacy by using the women’s room. There are two instances in particular that I think are unnerving enough to be worthy of University attention in some capacity.
At the beginning of the month, another girl and I were changing outside of the showers when a man that neither of us had seen before strode into the bathroom. He glanced at us with complete disregard for our privacy and then proceeded to use the toilet in front of us without even closing the stall door. As casually as he had come in, he then left, but not before banging the stall door behind him while turning back to nod at us. We were both too stunned to say anything in the moment, but afterwards we mutually agreed that this behavior was beyond crude and that we should have spoken up because he had violated our rights.
I had almost forgotten about that night, when, during fall break, I ventured downstairs to use the bathroom at two in the morning. Half-asleep, I opened the door, thinking that I would be alone, when I was greeted by another man that I had never seen before. This individual was less than half undressed, to say the least, and was simply standing in the middle of the bathroom, doing nothing; clearly he had no intention of leaving, nor was he particularly perturbed by my being there. Finally, perhaps in response to my horrified gasp, he begrudgingly apologized and left, clothes in tow.
I don’t want to seem extreme and try to force a feeble connection between these examples, as disturbing as they are, and a pseudo-feminist argument. Still, given the setup of male bathrooms, I believe that as a woman, it would be more than a little awkward if I were to use one with a similar level of nonchalance and openness. I think it’s fair to argue that there is a double standard when it comes to my having the same rights as a man to use an opposite-gendered bathroom at my convenience. Furthermore, it would be naïve to ignore the fact that in both the cases that I described above, there seemed to be a mild gender-based motivation underlying the men's behaviors. Both guys knew that at any moment a girl could rightfully walk in half-undressed, and yet assumed that they had every right to see her or to show some part of themselves to her without her consent.
While it would be unreasonable to view these isolated occurrences as indicators of the prevalence of sexism or harassment on campus, I still have my suspicions that this is an under-highlighted phenomenon, due to the fact that it enters the hairy terrain of modern gender politics. However, I want to take a stand — I can’t deny or ignore my gut feeling that there is an inherent wrong underlying the Trumpian ballsiness of the actions of the men using my bathroom. I don’t doubt that my floor’s particular women's bathroom is not unique in experiencing this issue, and so I believe that some public outcry is warranted, especially if it draws awareness to the problem and convinces people to be more mindful of their actions.
Hayley Siegel is a sophomore from Princeton, N.J. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.