Finding One’s Place to Be and Pee: Examining Intersections of Gender-Dis/ability in Washroom Signage

  • Mark Castrodale Western University
  • Laura Lane Brock University
Keywords: Washrooms, gender, disability, spatial justice, discourse


In this article, we explore power relations in space by examining how the intersections of gender and disability are discursively represented in washroom signage. To do so, we analyze various washroom signs found in public spaces and airports that the authors encountered in their travels in North America, Hawaii, and Europe and how they depict bodies in spaces, times, and contexts. We discuss dominant discursive representations of gender and disability in relation to constructions of family, caregiving roles, and cultural location. We argue that washroom signs constitute gendered and disabled subjects and mediate their subjectivities. Furthermore, they function to regulate bodies in space, influencing notions of who belongs, who belongs where, and how different bodies are de(valued).


Dans cet article, nous explorons les rapports de pouvoir dans différents lieux en examinant la façon dont les intersections du genre et du handicap sont représentés dans l’affichage des salles de toilette. Pour ce faire, nous analysons l’affichage des salles de toilette dans différents endroits publics et dans les aéroports que les auteurs ont remarqué pendant leurs déplacements en Amérique du Nord, à Hawaï et en Europe, et la façon dont les corps des gens sont représentés dans différents lieux, contextes et périodes. Nous discutons des représentations dominantes du genre et des handicaps relativement à la construction des familles, des rôles de soignant et de l’emplacement culturel. Nous faisons valoir que l’affichage des salles de toilette représente des personnes d’un certain genre et ayant certains handicaps, et nous discutons de leur subjectivité. De plus, l’affichage vise à réglementer les corps dans différents lieux, et influence les notions déterminant le sentiment d’appartenance des gens, à quel endroit ils appartiennent et la façon dont les différents corps sont (dé)valorisés.



Abel, Elizabeth. 1999. “Bathroom Doors and Drinking Fountains: Jim Crow’s Racial Symbolic.” Critical Inquiry 25 (3): 435-481.

Barnes, Colin, Geof Mercer, and Tom Shakespeare. 1999. Exploring Disability: A Sociological Introduction. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Ben-Moshe, Liat, and Justin J.W. Powell. 2007. “Sign of Our Times? Revis(it)ing the International Symbol of Access.” Disability and Society 22 (5): 489-505.

Berg, Laurence D., and Robin Longhurst. 2010. “Placing Masculinities and Geography.” Gender, Place & Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography 10 (4): 351-360.

Boswell, Maia. 1999. “’Ladies,’ ‘Gentlemen,’ and ‘Colored’: ‘The Agency of (Lacan’s Black) Letter’ in the Outhouse.” Cultural Critique 41:108-138.

Brown, Lydia. 2011a. “The Significance of Semantics: Person-First Language: Why it Matters.” Autistic Hoya’s Blog. Last modified August 4, 2011.

_______. 2011b. “Identity and Hypocrisy: A Second Argument Against Person-First Language.” Autistic Hoya’s Blog. Last modified November 28, 2011.

Browne, Kath. 2004. “Genderism and the Bathroom Problem: (Re)materialising Sexed Sites, (Re)creating Sexed Bodies.” Gender, Place & Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography 11 (3): 321-346.

Butler, Judith. 1993. Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex. London: Routledge.

_______. 1999. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. London: Routledge.

Castrodale, Mark, and Valorie A. Crooks. 2010. “The Production of Disability Research in Human Geography: An Introspective Examination.” Disability and Society 25 (1): 89-102.

Cavanagh, Sheila L. 2010. Queering Bathrooms: Gender, Sexuality, and the Hygienic Imagination. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

_______. 2011. “You Are Where You Urinate.” The Gay and Lesbian Review 18 (4): 18-20.

Christensen, Ann-Dorte, and Sune Qvotrup Jensen. 2012. “Doing Intersectional Analysis: Methodological Implications for Qualitative Research.” Nordic Journal of Feminist Gender Research 20 (2): 109-125.

Claes, Lien, Elisabeth De Schauwer, and Geert Van Hove. 2013. “Disability Studies and Social Geography Make a Good Marriage: Research on Life Trajectories of People with Intellectual Disabilities and Additional Mental Health Problems.” In Emerging Perspectives on Disability Studies, edited by Matthew Wappet and Katrina Arndt, 68-97. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.

Connell, Robert W., and James W. Messerschmidt. 2005. “Hegemonic Masculinity: Rethinking the Concept.” Gender and Society 19 (6): 829-859.

Cranny-Francis, Anne, Wendy Waring, Pam Stavropoulos, and Joan Kirkby. 2003. Gender Studies: Terms and Debates. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.

Denzin, Norman K., and Yvonna S. Lincoln. 2013. “Introduction: The Discipline and Practice of Qualitative Research.” In The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research, edited by Norman K. Denzin and Yvonna S. Lincoln, 1-19. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Doan, Petra L. 2010. “The Tyranny of Gendered Spaces: Reflections From Beyond the Gender Dichotomy.” Gender, Place & Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography 17 (5): 635-654.

Foucault, Michel. 1984. “Space, Knowledge, and Power.” In The Foucault Reader, edited by Paul Rabinow, 239-256. New York: Pantheon.

_______. 1994. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. New York: Vintage Books.

_______. 1995. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Second Edition. New York: Vintage Books.

_______. 1999. Abnormal: Lectures at the Collège de France 1974-1975. Translated by Graham Burchell. New York: Picador.

_______. 2003. Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception. London: Routledge.

_______. 2007. The Politics of Truth: A History of the Present. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e).

Freund, Peter. 2001. “Bodies, Disability and Spaces: The Social Model and Disabling Spatial Organizations.” Disability and Society 16 (5): 689-706.

Garland-Thompson, Rosemarie. 1997. Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Literature and Culture. New York: Columbia University Press.

_______. 2002. “Integrating Disability; Transforming Feminist Theory.” NWSA Journal 14 (3): 1-32.

_______. 2005. “Feminist Disability Studies.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 30 (2): 1577-1587.

_______. 2006. “Integrating Disability, Transforming Feminist Theory.” In The Disability Studies Reader, edited by Lennard J. Davis, 257-275. New York: Routledge.

_______. 2011. “Misfits: A Feminist Materialist Disability Concept.” Hypatia 26 (3): 591-609.

Gee, James Paul. 2011. An Introduction to Discourse Analysis: Theory and Method. Third Edition. New York: Routledge.

Gibson, Barbara E., Bhavnita Mistry, Brett Smith, Karen K. Yoshida, David Abbott, Sally Lindsay, and Yani Hamdani. 2013. “Becoming Men: Gender, Disability, and Transitioning to Adulthood.” Health 18 (1): 95-114.

Goodley, Dan. 2014. Dis/ability Studies: Theorising Disablism and Ableism. New York: Routledge.

Hansen, Nancy, and Philo, Chris. 2007. “The Normality of Doing Things Differently: Bodies, Space and Disability Geography.” Tijdschrift voor Economische en Sociale Geografie 98 (4): 493-506.

Ingrey, Jennifer C. 2012. “The Public School Washroom as Analytic Space for Troubling Gender: Investigating the Spatiality of Gender Through Students’ Self-Knowledge.” Gender and Education 24 (7): 799-817.

Imrie, Rob, and Claire Edwards. 2007. “The Geographies of Disability: Reflections on the Development of a Sub-Discipline.” Geography Compass 1 (3): 623-640.

Jones, Chelsea. 2013. “‘For Them, Not Us’: How Ableist Interpretations of the International Symbol of Access Make Disability.” Critical Disability Discourse/Discours Critiques dans le Champ du Handicap 5: 67-93.

Kitchin, Rob, and Robin Law. 2001. “The Socio-Spatial Construction of (In)Accessible Public Toilets.” Urban Studies 38 (2): 287-298.

Lazar, Michelle M. 2005. “Politicizing Gender in Discourse: Feminist Critical Discourse Analysis as Political Perspective and Praxis.” In Feminist Critical Discourse Analysis: Gender, Power and Ideology in Discourse, edited by Michelle M. Lazar, 1-30. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Lefebvre, Henri. 1991. The Production of Space. Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith. Massachusetts, USA: Blackwell Publishing.

Longhurst, Robyn. 2010. “Viewpoint: The Body and Geography.” Gender, Place & Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography 2 (1): 97-106.

Malacrida, Claudia. 2009. “Performing Motherhood in a Disablist World: Dilemmas of Motherhood, Femininity and Disability.” International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education 22 (1): 99-117.

McRuer, Robert. 2006. “We Were Never Identified: Feminism, Queer Theory, and a Disabled World.” Radical History Review 94 (Winter): 148-154.

_______. 2010. “Compulsory Ablebodiedness and Queer/Disabled Existence.” In The Disability Studies Reader, edited by Lennard Davis, 383–392. London: Routledge.

Meekosha, Helen, and Russell Shuttleworth. 2009. “What’s So ‘Critical’ about Critical Disability Studies?” Australian Journal of Human Rights 15 (1): 47–75.

Molotch, Harvey, and Laura Norén, eds. 2010. Toilet: Public Restrooms and the Politics of Sharing. New York: New York University Press.

Nash, Catherine Jean, and Alison Bain. 2007. “‘Reclaiming Raunch’? Spatializing Queer Identities at Toronto Women’s Bathhouse Events.” Social & Cultural Geography 8 (1): 47-62.

Pothier, Dianne, and Richard Devlin. 2006. Critical Disability Theory: Essays in Philosophy, Politics, Policy, and Law. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.

Prince, Michael J. 2009. Absent Citizens: Disability Politics and Policy in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Scott, Julie-Ann. 2015. “Almost Passing: A Performance Analysis of Personal Narratives of Physically Disabled Femininity.” Women’s Studies in Communication 38 (2): 227-249.

Serlin, David. 2010. “Pissing Without Pity.” In Toilet: Public Restrooms and the Politics of Sharing, edited by Helen Molotch and Laura Norén, 167-85. New York: New York University Press.

Shildrick, Margrit, and Janet Price. 1999. “Openings on the Body: A Critical Introduction.” In Feminist Theory and the Body, edited by Janet Price and Margrit Shildrick, 1-14. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Siebers, Tobin. 2001. “Disability in Theory: From Social Constructionism to the New Realism of the Body.” American Literary History 13 (4): 37-54.

St. Pierre. Elizabeth A. 2000. “Poststructural Feminism in Education: An Overview.” Qualitative Studies in Education 13 (5): 477-515.

Soja, Edward W. 1989. Postmodern Geographies: The Reassertion of Space in Critical Social Theory. New York: Verso.

_______. 2010. Seeking Spatial Justice. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Titchkosky, Tanya. 2001. “Disability: A Rose by Any Other Name? ‘People-First’ Language in Canadian Society.” The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology 38 (2): 125-140.

_______. 2003. Disability, Self, and Society. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

_______. 2009. “Disability Images and the Art of Theorizing Normality.” International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education 22 (1): 75-84.

_______. 2011. The Question of Access: Disability, Space, Meaning. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Tremain, Shelly. 2008. Foucault and the Government of Disability. Michigan: University of Michigan Press.

_______. 2013. “Introducing Feminist Philosophy of Disability.” Disability Studies Quarterly 33(4): 1-37.

Weber, Sandra. 2008. “Visual Images in Research.” In Handbook of the Arts in Qualitative Research, edited by Knowles J. Gary and Ardra L. Cole, 41-54. Los Angeles: Sage Publications, Inc.

Wendell, Susan. 1996. The Rejected Body: Feminist Philosophical Reflections on Disability. New York: Routledge.

_______. 2006. “Toward a Feminist Theory of Disability.” In The Disability Studies Reader, edited by Lennard J. Davis, 243-257. New York: Routledge.

Woloshyn, Vera, Nancy Taber, and Laura Lane. 2013. “Discourses of Masculinity and Femininity in The Hunger Games: ‘Scared,’ ‘Bloody,’ and ‘Stunning’.” International Journal of Social Science Studies 1 (1): 150-160.

Valentine, Gill. 2008. “Theorizing and Researching Intersectionality: A Challenge for Feminist Geography.” The Professional Geographer 59 (1): 10-21.

37.1- Transgressing Borders/Boundaries: Gendering Space and Place