The rush to be as inclusive as possible has left some feeling a little discombobulated, writes Amanda Cassidy
The ladies toilets have solved countless problems in my life - from rows with pals, whispered admissions of lust, a snotty sob, or an escape of persistent handsy men.
I've considered it a safe space, a pit stop, where my fellow women champion each other, point out toilet-paper-stuck-to- shoe-misfortunes, lend an emergency pad or sympathise with our latest breakout/sweaty complexion.
In short, I value that short escape from men who despite the equality brigade, are very different to me as a women (especially from a bathroom aspect), they don't have periods, they pee standing up, they mostly don't need to re-touch make up, adjust their bras etc.
I also actively avoid gender neutral toilets after too many incidents in which I felt quite uncomfortable being on my own in a small confined room with very drunk, very inappropriate men who outmatched me in strength and size. Everyone has their own story.
Equally, I would hate for anyone else to feel that same level of discomfort. I also understand that we live in a world where Trans people experience this every day of their lives, in addition to ignorance, bullying, isolation and fear.
M&S is the latest taking point when it comes to gender inclusivity. It has polarised shoppers with its new gender neutral fitting rooms. Not everyone is happy to share the space with members of the opposite sex. Feminist campaigner Jean Hatched took to Twitter to express her alarm after a friend took her 15-year-old for a bra fitting and “had to queue up with a man clutching a load of bras”.
Her comment sparked many comments, some sharing her idea of discomfort while others dismissed it as hypocritical. Hackett asked the retailer on social media why they were taking away their female-only spaces. "Cubicle or no cubicle. Curtain or no curtain. Open space changing or not. Men should not have access to any of these female spaces alongside women. @marksandspencer please clarify your policy on female changing rooms".
The company replied by explaining that all of its fitting rooms have lockable cubicles designed to protect its customer’s privacy.“As a business, we strive to be inclusive and therefore, we allow customers the choice of which fitting room they feel comfortable to use, in respect of how they identify themselves,” the statement continued.
“This is an approach other retailers and leisure facilities have also adopted. We understand your concerns and I want to make it clear that if any customer was to act inappropriately or cause intentional offence, the necessary action would be taken.”
Some shoppers pointed out that they weren't given any indication that they might be sharing the space with men.
"You need to put up clear signage that lets women know your female changing area is open to males" wrote one Twitter user. "Female customers have the right to know this is your policy & decide whether they're comfortable with using your changing facilities. The fact you haven't done so is worrying".
It has always been that you can't please everyone, so the world aims to please the majority.
This leaves minority groups vulnerable. But isn't it possible to find a solution that allows everyone to feel at ease as they go through their day, no matter how they identify?
Gender shouldn't be a prison, or an excuse, or a reason to isolate. But equally, there are historic reasons behind why segregation by sex was initiated.
I happen to feel more comfortable doing certain things in a female-only space, mostly private moments, like using the bathroom and trying on clothes. Does that make me an intolerant monster?
I do not consider myself to be one. I do also understand the irony that the discomfort and anxiety people feel about this topic is how trans people feel every day.
There is a grey area that still merits careful and inclusive teasing out.
I think we need to understand further and explore the nuances between why a woman might feel more uncomfortable around a man using traditionally matcho behaviour to intimidate in small spaces like toilet cubicles, than a man who, say, identifies as a woman and wants to just feel included and use the toilet without incident.
Of course, that shouldn't matter but the reality is that it does.
There is a grey area that still merits careful and inclusive teasing out. Nobody should feel intimidated in their day to day life, especially not because of your sexual orientation, your sexual identification, or your gender.
It seems these days that you have to be either one thing or another. Still black and white, despite the rainbow of lives and life choices and people all around. We have to be either inclusive or exclusive. Male or female. Tolerent or intolerant.
That is not the world we now live in. It is the in-between parts that need better systems, more thoughtful solutions, so that going to the toilet isn't a minefield, for anyone.
Image via Unsplash.com
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