En route to Austin, TX this weekend, I spotted these bathroom signs.
We encounter bathroom signs almost everywhere we go. To many, they may appear innocuous and devoid of meaning. But bathroom signs are actually a way of upholding the male-female gender binary. As Marissa from This is Hysteria! wrote on Sociological Images, "Washroom signs are very telling of the ways societies construct gender."
In this case, the common, gendered man in pants vs. woman in dress bathroom sign has been taken a step further. The man is not only wearing pants, but blue pants. The woman is not only wearing a dress, but a pink one. The signs conflate gender with sex and assume certain types of gender performance (i.e. wearing a pink dress). They essentialize the idea of who a woman and/or man is.
Signs can designate bathrooms by depicting gender, even though bathrooms are segregated by sex, because most people assume gender and sex are synonymous. But, of course, they're not! This makes bathrooms a space where sex, gender, and sexuality are carefully policed and traditional binaries are reinforced. Trans people know this, as huge battles have been waged over who is allowed to use which bathroom. Fathers also know this, as they frequently struggle to find changing tables in men's rooms (a staple in women's restrooms).
I joked to myself as I entered the women's restroom that I should be using the other one, because I was wearing pants and the color blue. For others, however, the incongruity between their genitalia and their gender performance - and the difficult choice they have to make every time they enter a sex segregated bathroom marked with such gendered signs - is no laughing matter.