Cross-posted at Montclair SocioBlog.
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 who saw these took a piece of notebook paper, wrote a sympathetic response to each, and taped it on the wall of the stall (transcript follows):
Transcript (borrowed from The Huffington Post):
To the girl who was raped: You are so strong. I cannot fathom the pain you must have gone through. The fact that you have the bravery to write it (even on a bathroom wall) gives me hope.
To the girl with eating disorders: I promise you, although I don’t know you, you are beautiful, you deserve your health. You deserve freedom from that hell.
To the girl with the alcoholic father: I am so sorry for the agony it must cause. Again, such courage is remarkable you must be such a strong person to see such pain.
To the girl whose father died: Missing them never goes away. The ache of their absence never goes away. But the love they had, the memories you share surely must last. I am sure, out of the bottom of my heart, the people who have left you in this world are exceptionally proud of the person you are.
Everytime(sic) I see these walls, these confessions, I feel so blessed to know I have the priviledge(sic) of seeing them. Your moments, these secrets, are all precious even though they are sad. To all of you (including those I did not mention, and those who have not yet written)
-You are worthy.
-You are strong.
-You are brave.
-You are loved.
It went viral. Reddit picked it up, and the story has been in Canadian newspapers. But this example is not so unusual. A study of bathroom graffiti at a New Zealand university (unfortunately behind a paywall) 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.
Drier’s note, then, is a nice example of a documented trend: anonymous women being nice to each other in their bathrooms.Jay Livingston is the chair of the Sociology Department at Montclair State University. You can follow him at Montclair SocioBlog or on Twitter.
thx — March 24, 2013
thx, I wondered what was written on toillettes asigend to women. At the university in Germany, which I study at, you also notice the differences between departments by what is posted in the stalls. In the department of social sciences it's quiet okay, a lot of radical leftists slogans. On other toillets it really bad, some antifeminist stuff and lots of plain stupid vulgarities.
Liz — March 24, 2013
This phenomenon is interesting in light of the common notion that all women are catty and in competition with one another.
BadKitty — March 24, 2013
Then there's the humor --
Seen on a women's room stall in the Microbiology building at the University of Texas: "Micro is the only place where you wash your hands before AND after you use the bathroom."
Casey — March 24, 2013
Men aren't allowed to show affection for one another. It's hella gay.
Who says? Everyone in society, man and woman alike.
Arcrawfo — March 24, 2013
I wonder if this has anything to do with the habit of women going to the bathroom together and men going alone.
The bathroom is often a haven for women, where men won't go, where you can talk to a friend in confidence. At nightclubs too, it's sometimes where you make a friend right there, while you can actually hear each other talk, and a few drinks has mades everyone more compassionate. Gee, I love bathrooms!
Anonymous — March 24, 2013
I like to burn things.
erin — March 24, 2013
That link's not very helpful for those who would like to follow it up. The reference is: Green, J. (2003) The Writing on the Stall: Gender and Graffiti, Journal of Language and Social Psychology 22(3): 282-96
Dani — March 25, 2013
I go to Western University and just the other day I found myself in a bathroom stall and read "you are beautiful".
Andrew — March 25, 2013
Most of the graffiti I remember from the men's room at my university concerned when and where to meet for clandestine gay sex. Alas, that was many years ago, and now there are apps for that.
While I've never seen male toilet-graffiti offering the kind of comfort and support depicted above, it would be a shame to omit the role that such anonymous scribblings have historically played for sexual minorities, especially in some of the more deeply homophobic locations.
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Constance — April 17, 2013
This is a kind gesture, but it's a shame they're all referred to as "girls" instead of acknowledged as women. This is a self-image problem that most women need to deal with but don't even realize it. How do we take control of our lives if we're still viewing ourselves as girls?