Gender and Bathroom Door Signs

Fresh off her discussion of gender distinctions in how people are addressed, Eszter Hargittai has an interesting look at public restroom door signs and how they differentiate men and women. She even has a public Flickr group set up for others to contribute.

Perhaps it’s a selection issue (she only photographed signs that were interesting) but almost all of them are instantly recognizable. The exceptions are the ones that use no graphics, limiting themselves to words. Those, of course, are fine for people who can read a given language but less so for the illiterate (small children, for example) or foreigners.

One pub I visited in Amsterdam, for example, had the block letters H and D on the doors. Because of the similarities between Dutch and German and knowing a smattering of the latter, I correctly deduced that these were Dutch variants of Herren and Damen and chose the former. The alternative, I suppose, is taking a 50/50 chance or hoping someone whose gender is obvious enters or emerges from the facilities soon.

FILED UNDER: General,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Bhoe says:

    The alternative, I suppose, is taking a 50/50 chance or hoping someone whose gender is obvious enters or emerges from the facilities soon.

    The real alternative would be learning basic words in the indigenous language of the country you’re visiting.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Bhoe,

    Not very practical for short trips, especially on short notice. And it would not necessarily be that effective in the case of D and H door signs. A visitor to the United States might reasonably learn “Men” and “Women” but not know “Ladies” and “Gentlemen.” Let alone “Guys” and “Gals” or “Dudes” and “Dudettes.”

  3. Tano says:

    Sex differences are biology based.
    Gender differences are cultural.
    Toilet discrimination is biology based.
    Why are y’all referring to gender here?

  4. G A Phillips says:

    How about a picture of a monkey for liberals of all flavors and the skirt-pants thing for the rest of us, I know the cost for another bathroom will be great, but its P.C..

  5. ICallMasICM says:

    And what about my favorite ‘Bucks’ and ‘Does’?

  6. One of my favorites was a bar/restaurant that is now closed. They had a urinal in the ladies bathroom and a robotized manikin standing in front of it. When you opened the properly marked door, the head of the manikin turned towards the door. Needless to say, it was quite the conversation piece, especially since the women tended to go in packs.

  7. DL says:

    Bah
    No problem -i recall in “53” at the age of 18 sitting on the john in abar in Yokasuka Japan only to have a cute you lady enter and use the john next to me -after quickly checking I discovered that Japanese custom was to share.

  8. McGehee says:

    …or hoping someone whose gender is obvious enters or emerges from the facilities soon.

    Some places, that could be a long wait.