On Coed Bathrooms And Showering With Guys

Illustration for article titled On Coed Bathrooms And Showering With Guys

A student at Green Mountain College is suing the school because her dorm had only coed bathrooms — which reminds me of the year I showered with dudes.

According to Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed, freshman Jennifer Weiler's suit says all the buildings in her college should have separate bathrooms for men and women. When she first complained about the coed facilities, Green Mountain designated a women's bathroom in her dorm — but men kept using it. The bathrooms had shower curtains and stall doors, but according to Weiler, men often disregarded these partitions. Says her dad, "The men just disrobe in the middle of the room." Jaschik writes that transgender students have argued in favor of coed bathrooms, but Williams alum Wendy Shalit has complained about the "forced proximity" of male bodies, and even linked coed bathrooms to "the decline of traditional dating." And while I can't say I know much about traditional dating or its decline — I suspect the idea that people always loved, fucked, or hooked up in a certain way is total bullshit — I do know something about coed bathrooms.

When I was a junior, I lived in a co-op with a giant, communal, coed shower. There was an individual shower stall downstairs, but it was mainly for the purpose of Americans with Disabilities Act compliance, and I didn't know anyone who used it. Instead, everybody observed a certain basic etiquette — you were supposed to knock on the shower door, and the occupant had the opportunity to ask you not to come in. No one ever did this, and I sort of got the impression that it was bad form. On the other hand, people tended not look each other directly while showering, and there was an unspoken rule that you should face the showerhead at all times. Even so, I saw a lot of dicks in my time at the co-op, and every male resident there at some point saw me naked.


The story of my communal showering year tends to surprise people, especially women, to the point that it may actually be the most shocking thing I did in college. On the one hand, I don't totally understand what the fuss is about, since I got used to it pretty quickly. The general line on the shower, and on the co-op's pro-nudity policy in general, was that being naked didn't have to be sexual — and it's true that while shower sex was, in other dorms, a go-to solution to the roommate problem, I never saw or heard of anyone fucking in the communal shower. Nobody ever came onto me or made me uncomfortable, and I was generally relatively at peace with the whole thing. In fact, the experience so desexualized the cleansing process for me that I didn't shower with a boyfriend for years after that, mostly because it didn't even occur to me.

On the other hand, I did know several women in the house who were uncomfortable with the arrangement. Unlike Shalit, they weren't bothered by the proximity of dick. Rather, they felt that coed nudity was inherently unequal, that being seen naked would always be different for a woman than for a man. In a way, I agree with this. Women are disproportionately the victims of sexual violence and stalking, and the male gaze is much more frequently threatening to women than the female gaze is to men. Still, I remember the day when I came back from my appendectomy with strict instructions not to face a showerhead directly for three weeks. I prepared myself to explain to everyone why I appeared to be showing them my bloody abdomen in violation of all shower protocol. When the first guy entered the shower with me, I mumbled something like, "Sorry-I'm-not-trying-to-show-you-my-tits-I-just-have-all-these-stitches-and-I-can't-get-water-in-them." Rather than razzing me or, probably worse, turning away shamefacedly himself, he smiled and pointed to his own appendectomy scar. The moment was so innocent and relaxed that it made the shower feel like — cheesy but accurate — a safe space.

I don't think anyone should be forced, either by lack of alternate facilities or by social pressure, to use a coed bathroom. And I do think communal showering poses problems, especially if it provides opportunities for harassment. But I will say that I briefly experienced what the hippies hoped for when they built the shower in the first place — a breakdown of the woman-as-sex-object-man-as-predator dichotomy, an instant when I was a human being with a (slightly broken) body, and not an image to be evaluated for attractiveness. And I wonder if allowing young men and women to piss and shit and shower together (if not, perhaps, as close together as I experienced), might help them view each other as a little more fully human.

A Bathroom Of Her Own [Inside Higher Ed]

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While I don't take issue with the concept of co-ed showering, the concept of mandatory co-ed showering gives me pause. My college dorms were single-sex by floor, but boys & girls were, natch, allowed to visit about the floors freely. During the first month of freshman year, I accidentally dropped my towel while returning from the shower, setting off a flurry of the loudest wolf-whistles I've ever heard. I can't even imagine the wagging tongues I'd have endured had they been privy to the preceding lather.

Given my college experience, I'd have a hard time granting college-age boys the same level of maturity regarding female nudity that one finds during an average week at Burning Man.