'We believe that gender is not binary and that individuals should use the restroom that feels most comfortable for them.'
There are some really weird, outdated laws on the books in states across the country.
These types of lists pop up year after year. For example, did you know that in a number of states, it's illegal to sell cars on a Sunday? Or that in Massachusetts, you can be fined for singing the national anthem as dance music or in a medley?
Well, there's another law many states have on the books, and it has to do with how businesses should label their bathrooms by gender. But, in 2015, the law doesn't quite reflect reality for many people. And as we as a society become more aware of the fact that gender isn't as binary as bathroom doors might make it seem, well, what's a company to do?
Here's one company's creative solution:
Etsy made restrooms at their office gender-neutral. Or, well, as gender-neutral as the law allows.
An Etsy engineer named Sara posted this picture to Twitter.
That's cool, right? The fact is that not everybody neatly fits into "man" or "woman." Some people are a mix of both, neither, or something entirely altogether. When it comes to public restrooms, that can make things rough. The same goes for transgender people even within the gender binary.
"At Etsy, we continually examine our internal culture and practices, with a focus on fostering an inclusive, comfortable environment for everyone," Etsy vice president of people, workplace, and sustainability Brian Christman told Upworthy in an email.
"With this in mind, we’ve updated restrooms at our DUMBO headquarters to increase privacy and make them more accessible to all people, including transgender and gender nonconforming individuals. We believe that gender is not binary and that individuals should use the restroom that feels most comfortable for them."
So it's pretty obvious how Etsy's bathroom signs can be helpful for trans, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming folks, but what's this about state laws? And how does this story tie into ridiculous laws about dyeing ducks different colors or being unable to seek public office if you've ever participated in a duel?
In most states, it's required that businesses have separate restrooms for both men and women.
"Separate toilet facilities shall be provided for each sex. All toilet facilities shall be provided with soap, paper towels or electrical hand drying units, and covered waste receptacles. Suitable sanitary napkin receptacles shall be provided in toilet facilities used by females."
OK, got it. Businesses have to provide separate facilities with soap, paper towels, and covered trash cans, and sanitary napkin disposal for the women's room.
And where do these types of laws even come from? The 19th century.
In a great article titled "Sex-Segregated Public Restrooms Are an Outdated Relic of Victorian Paternalism," Ted Trautman gives a quick rundown of where the idea of sex-segregated restrooms even comes from and why they exist. After all, in your house, do you have separate men's and women's restrooms? Probably not.
"Sex segregation was seen by regulators at the time as 'a kind of cure-all' for the era's social anxiety about working women," Trautman writes.
"Women's growing presence in the factory workforce, and in public life more generally, triggered a paternalistic impulse to 'protect' women from the full force of the world outside their homes, which manifested itself architecturally in a bizarro parallel world of spaces for women adjacent to but separate from men's — ladies' reading rooms at libraries, parlors at department stores, separate entrances at post offices and banks, and their own car on trains, intentionally placed at the very end so that male passengers could chivalrously bear the brunt in the event of a collision."
So, in 1887, Massachusetts became the first state to require businesses to have sex-segregated restrooms.
And while women-only entrances to post offices and banks, separate reading rooms at libraries, and women-only train cars have become a thing of the past, the whole separate bathroom issue remains to this day.
What's so ridiculous about this law? Well, for one, it's inefficient.
Think about all the times you've seen the line for a women's restroom wrap around down a hallway while the men's room remains line-free. New York City realized this was a problem and decided the solution was ... to require places to build more women's rooms.
Like, this is what happened when more women started getting elected to Congress. As it turns out, the building was made for dudes. Lots and lots of dudes.
But really, if there's a situation where, let's say eight women and two men need to use the restroom, which of these layouts is more efficient?
This one, the one we're most familiar with, where three women are left waiting in line even though there are three perfectly available stalls to use in the men's room?
Or this one that takes up the same amount of space, but which all 10 people can use, do what they have to do, and go about their day?
But whoa whoa whoa, you may be thinking, "I don't want to share a bathroom with the men in my office!" or "I don't want to share a bathroom with the women in my office! I want some privacy!"
And you should get it! In an ideal world, restrooms would all be single-stall. I mean, who really wants to do ... you know ... next to someone else, anyway? But that's kind of the world we live in.
Breathe easy because it's unlikely all-gender restrooms will come to replace the standard men's and women's rooms anytime soon. Instead, as you'll see with more regularity, lots of places offer up men's, women's, and all gender restrooms. This way, people have a choice (and trans, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming people have the option of using that if they so choose).
An increasing number of places are moving forward with adopting inclusive restrooms. Especially colleges.
The names vary — gender-neutral, unisex, all gender, gender-inclusive — but the purpose remains the same: restrooms able to be used by anyone of any gender.
Illinois State University has all-gender restrooms. There are still men's and women's restrooms found across campus, but they recently decided to swap the names of the "family restrooms" with more straight-forward language. The same goes for Columbia University, Barnard College, and a growing number of campuses across the country.
In a move as simple as adding a sign to their restroom doors, Etsy is taking a stand for inclusivity and progress.
Yes, it's that easy. To the overwhelming majority of their employees and office visitors, the change will have zero effect on how they navigate the office. But for a few, it'll make a huge, positive impact on their stress and ability to navigate the work day.
"We believe that gender is not binary and that individuals should use the restroom that feels most comfortable for them."
While laws in many places may require there to be separate restrooms labeled "men's" and "women's," that doesn't mean it's impossible to make the world a more inclusive place. It really can be as simple as a sign letting transgender and gender nonconforming individuals know that yes, they are welcome here.