The premise is as simple as its answer, but we’ll address that soon. First, let me establish the ground rules. This is not a debate on whether sexism or stereotyping is good or bad. Nor is it a debate on whether the former exists in our society. This is simply a question of whether the signs, which distinguish male from female and which are seen on washroom doors, are sexist. And what baffles me is how this topic is not seen as one-sided.
The proponents of this claim (those believing such signs are sexist) believe these innocuous signs are ones that are powerful enough to dictate what society must or must not perceive. The symbol of the woman wearing a skirt is equivalent to presuming all women wear skirts. Likewise, the symbol of the man wearing no skirt follows the same rationale. In other words, these symbols, on harmless wooden doors, contribute to burgeoning stereotypes that make us more insular.
Now that we’ve given the proponents their momentary side of the spotlight, we can deconstruct (euphemism detected) their argument.
First, let’s address the purpose of these signs – simplicity. These signs are simple enough to demarcate; one is clearly male, and the other is female. It’s a no-brainer; it’s universal. So whether these signs are sexist or not, they are definitely practical; there is no close substitute.
Coming to the meat of the argument, it’s easy to put this in an understandable context. As I’ve mentioned earlier, the proponents claim that these symbols generalize what a man or a woman should look like. In that case, name one person who says “I think women should only wear dresses because the bathroom symbol on the door convinced me to believe so.” Impossible. Remove these signs from the equation and our society would still be as prone to believing in stereotypes. The only influence these signs have is assisting individuals decide which bathroom to use.
Now let me take another dimension of this argument to drive my point home. I view the male symbol to be a slim and tall man. Now does that mean this symbol indicates all men should look like that? Does that mean those who don’t look fit would be offended? Absolutely not. And this is akin to the dress example mentioned earlier.
The last point I want to make is ‘indifference’. Most people don’t care. There is a reason why the ‘HeForShe’ campaign did not address bathroom signs. It is simply made an issue by individuals (mostly feminists) who view anything distinguishing the two genders to be detrimental. They see it as more curry to their platter. I am left dumbfounded every time I see a petition asking for a change in bathroom signs. It would be hysterical enough if proponents stopped using washrooms just because they felt the small symbol on the door had emanated some uncanny form of sexism. But I wouldn’t be surprised, given how irrational they are.