Friday, July 19

Another planet sounds inviting

Only “on another planet” do people care about single-sex bathrooms for women and girls, Christopher Luxon was quoted as saying in August 20231. Many women might wish to move to that planet, not because they are obsessed with toilets, as critics would have it, but to avoid being swallowed whole by the language and symbols vacuum busily being created by those in thrall to the ideological belief that humans can change sex at will. 

The latest iteration is the Ministry of Education’s updated standard for toilets and changing rooms in schools2, dated March 2024, four months after the coalition agreement committed to the removal of ideology from schools. Gone are separate spaces for boys and girls. Gone are signs simply saying ‘boys’ and ‘girls’. Gone too are the internationally recognised toilet symbols of a figure in trousers or skirt as, according to the MoE, “this suggests that a person’s clothing accurately reflects gender or sex”. Who knew that females wearing trousers might be confused about which toilet to use?

The new recommended icons (p23) depict a toilet, a toilet with access to period product disposal, and a disabled toilet. Anyone can use any toilet.

Reducing girls to a menstruation icon is deeply offensive and treats females as ‘other’ than the male norm. The ‘female’ icon is not understandable or relevant to young pre-menstrual girls in primary schools. In intermediate and secondary schools, it is an invitation for some boys to misuse the products in the ‘menstruation’ toilets as a way of harassing and ridiculing girls. If you don’t believe this happens, ask a secondary teacher. Sometimes teenage boys even target female teachers with jibes about having their periods.

The MoE standard does allow schools to continue to choose how they label their toilet blocks but nonsensical recommendations like this make their job more difficult by creating the potential for conflict within the school community and leaving the Board of Trustees to deal with it.

Labelling toilets in such an insulting manner is completely unnecessary when the perfectly suitable word ‘girls’ is available. It is also unnecessary because no child at a NZ school has had a physical change to their genitals, as that surgery is not available to minors. All students have the penis or vulva they were born with and should use the appropriate toilet for their sex. For the very few students who are upset by the words ‘boy’ and ‘girl’, a third unlabelled toilet space can readily be provided without disrupting the language that suits everyone else. A recent Curia poll showed 69% support for school facilities categorised by sex3.

This is not just a problem in schools. Gender-neutral toilets are now commonplace in new public buildings. When gender-neutral toilets are the only option in bars, women are forced to share toilets with poorly-aiming drunken men and they are denied the (much-used) opportunity to get away from unwanted male attention by retreating to the female toilets.

Women and girls, who are vulnerable when using a toilet, deserve secure, clean, and private single-sex spaces. Only females need to remove clothing, make skin contact with a toilet seat, and manage menstrual flow when using a toilet. Being able to do that without having to wipe a male’s urine off the seat first or have a male hammering on the door asking what is taking so long, is a female human right that was universally recognised until very recently.

The breakdown of the social licence that used to keep males out of female spaces urgently needs to be addressed and this has prompted NZ First to introduce a Member’s Bill to Parliament – the “Fair Access to Bathrooms Bill” – that would require all new, non-domestic, publicly accessible buildings to provide separate, clearly demarcated, unisex and single sex bathrooms4. Although there are some flaws in the bill, for example not differentiating between small and large businesses, the concept of protecting women’s spaces from male incursion is supported by a majority of New Zealanders (56%) according to another recent Curia poll5. For the sake of the feelings of a tiny number of people who don’t like being reminded of their physical sex, the rest of us are being bulldozed into having shared public toilet and changing facilities.

The desire of women and girls to have privacy from the opposite sex in public facilities has been framed as prudishness at best and bigotry at worst. Neither description reflects reality. Privacy is desired by both sexes for reasons of safety, comfort, and dignity, and a wide variety of social and cultural norms. To take this away without any opportunity for feedback or debate is unsupportable in a democratic society. If drawn from the ballot, NZ First’s bill will provide an opening for this much-needed public discussion.

Media response to the NZ First bill has been largely to scoff at it and say it is no more than a publicity stunt or to frame it as “transphobia”. That meaningless epithet is used to hide the fact that behind the push for gender-neutral facilities is a real irrational fear – a phobia of the sexed-body – whereby people wishing to opt-out of the reality of binary human sex say they are ‘triggered’ by the everyday words ‘male’ and ‘female’. People whose sense of well-being can be so easily undermined should be offered support and counselling and their beliefs should not be afforded any influence over government policy, least of all in education.

“Another planet”, where sexed-body phobia is not given deference and preference, and where female human rights are respected, sounds very inviting indeed.



  • Fern Hickson

    Fern is a retired teacher and spokesperson for Resist Gender Education, a group that advocates for relationships and sexuality education that is scientifically factual and age appropriate.

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