Opinion: Why We Need To Talk About Bathrooms

In 8th grade, a quiet girl in my P.E. class felt uncomfortable changing in front of others and would hide in a bathroom stall to put on her gym clothes. When she got teased for this, several of us joined her in taking our clothes to stalls to change so she wouldn’t feel alone.

In 9th grade, I overheard some girls in the locker room whispering about how a tomboyish girl was “probably a lesbian” and “watching [them] change” into their running clothes. I myself proceeded to change alone in a bathroom for the next four sports seasons.

In 10th grade, I walked into a bathroom before school started to find a girl straightening her hair, her friend beside her putting on mascara. Both of them were preparing themselves in this quasi public-private space.

In 11th grade, I threw up in a bathroom at a school I didn’t know, before sitting to take the SAT.

In 12th grade, I escaped to a bathroom to take a breath after my ex confronted me at lunch, demanding an ultimatum from me: love him or never see him again. I chose the latter but alas was not granted that privilege.

In my first year of college, I hid in a bathroom after spotting a nameless guy who had kissed me so aggressively at a party that my lips were in pain the next day. I had thought I would never see him again after running away that night.

In my second year, I stood in the shower, looking at the bruises on my fists from the frustration I took out on the gym heavy bag with my unwrapped hands, realized I wasn’t okay, and I then returned to seeing a therapist.

In my third year, I quietly retreated to a bathroom stall after getting a text saying a close family member had had a sudden plummet in health. I struggled to see clearly as I read the message, telling of how he no longer showed the signature snarky sense of humour I had known so well growing up.

Why am I sharing these personal moments from my own life? Why are they all centered around bathrooms? Likely as a surprise to no one reading this article, I want to make a point.

If you can connect with any of these emotions I’ve experienced as a cisgender woman (a woman assigned female at birth), then you can connect with the same emotions a transgender person (someone whose gender identity does not align with their assigned gender at birth) may have experienced in their lifetime; they too have felt scared, ashamed, and lost at times, but also safe, proud, and connected at others.

The key difference, in this case, is that I have never been made to feel unwelcome in a bathroom. Bathrooms have always been a safe place to escape to when life became a little too intense.

This issue has become a hot topic in the ongoing battle over gender-identity rights.

A recent legal case in the spotlight involves Gavin Grimm, a transgender high school student in Virginia, who was denied access to the boy’s bathroom by his school, largely due to strong backlash from several students, parents, and local community members.

The narrative of trans people being “sexual predators” or otherwise causing harm in bathrooms is statistically invalidated; they are much more likely to be on the receiving end of aggression and violence.

In fact, about 70% of trans people have reported being denied entrance, assaulted, or harassed while trying to use a restroom, according to a 2013 Williams Institute report.

Tell me why a trans person should ever be made to feel unsafe? Tell me how they are looking for anything beyond decency, respect, and the ability to use the damn bathroom in peace? I wish this wasn’t something we had to fight for, and I wish they could just exist without it becoming part of a political narrative that, above all, seeks to reduce their humanity.
But the reality is that this is not a universal wish, and in many ways, transgender and gender non-conforming people have to fight for some of the most basic rights that most people will take for granted.

Now, maybe you find this an ill-fitting audience. Why would Olin, a seemingly progressive and accepting campus, need to talk about these issues? My opinion is that it is simply not enough to tolerate and passively accept.
We need to have a dialogue on these issues and make it known that we care and are here to support those who are being silenced. Note that this doesn’t mean interrogating the trans and gender non-conforming people in your life, but instead looking for ways you can support them.

Massachusetts Question 3 on the November ballot, which questioned whether laws banning discrimination in public spaces based on gender identity should be upheld (you may have heard of the “Yes on 3” campaign which sought to protect transgender rights), passed with just over a two-thirds “Yes” vote.

This is a sigh of relief, and a win for transgender and gender non-conforming people everywhere, but also a great concern that it was even called into question.

As a community, these are the kinds of issues that we need to be vocal about to show people that we will be here to support them no matter what happens. Stay informed about what’s going on in the world, especially with respect to executive declarations that specifically target minority groups and seek to incite fear.

Think about the topics that you’re prioritizing in your everyday conversations and how interpersonal interactions can be just as, if not more, important than group projects and technical assignments. I am by no means doing enough and am writing this not just to the Olin community but to myself as well.

I really hope Olin can overcome its aversion to political discussions in order to take action and show support for people that may otherwise feel disenfranchised by the world around them.

P.S. I chose to publish this anonymously so discussion will be focused on the issue itself and not sidetracked by my own experiences. I am well aware that this is not my own issue and I was originally tentative to speak up about something that I have not personally experienced.

However, I believe this is a case where conversation about how we can do better as a community is necessary, and I want to use this opportunity to bring it up.

I hope this can be taken as an appeal to each of us as part of the Olin community to make a space for honest and well-intentioned discussion, so we can better support the global community by starting with our own.

Partnering with a Start-Up

On campus, “startup” is quite the buzzword. Countless students are either working for one or running their own. I never saw myself as belonging to either group. In fact, never did I think I would be able to work so closely with a startup this early in my college career. But the knowledge I have obtained from the last few weeks from teaming up with a startup has been extraordinary.

As a student in the AHS Foundation course, Dirt to Shirt, I have been able to collaborate with Make Fashion Clean (MFC) and the Matilda Flow Inclusion Foundation (MFI) on projects that have a real-time significance and impact for them. I not only gained insight on how both a nonprofit organization and startup operate, but also learned about the challenges when working with someone overseas.

The goal of the partnership between the Dirt to Shirt class and MFC was to provide new ideas for the company by conducting research and prototyping new products for MFC that fell within their guidelines and principles. My group in, particular, focused on designing different products that could be made out of yarn created from old t-shirts.
As a team, we made countless knitted and crocheted prototypes. We did our research, both on crocheting itself and patterns we could replicate. I hadn’t touched a crochet needle before coming into class, and I was astounded by what I was able to create with little prior knowledge.

Our group decided to prototype kippah, which are brimless caps typically worn by Jewish men, for MFC. I didn’t realize the extent of knowledge needed to manufacture kippah until I started making them myself. We had to see if cotton t-shirts were an acceptable material to make kippah, determine the right size and shape for the crocheted product, and market test the prototypes to determine if they were even feasible products.

I was astounded by the amount of knowledge I gained from prototyping that didn’t seem engineering-related on the surface. I went through a lot of ideation and iteration in determining the optimal pattern for the kippah, reflecting on each prototype and adjusting the stitches to create the best product possible.

Working with a startup requires the ability to wear multiple “hats.” When there are fewer people and defined departments, each individual makes an impact in multiple ways. All the lessons I had in my first-year classes about stakeholders and user-oriented design weren’t truly put into context until I was physically handing my prototype to a co-founder of MFI. At that moment, I understood the impact of my design decisions and the work that I had spent several weeks on. The products I had created were going to be seriously considered and possibly put into production to benefit MFC and continue to provide jobs for women in Ghana.

I suggest every student have the experience of working with a startup. While the organization of a large and established company is nice, startups have a lot more fluidity and flexibility, and working with one is an extremely valuable experience that I am grateful to have had. While the fate of my prototypes is not yet known, I can finish this project knowing that the designs I created can improve the lives of workers overseas and continue to help the MFC grow.

CAPITALISM: The Real Enemy

How many times have you looked at a paragraph, or a title, or a proper noun, and thought, “Yeah, that looks fine”? How many times have you passively accepted the way Microsoft Word automatically capitalises the first letter of a sentence or the way phones automatically hit shift for you when you enter a text field? These injustices permeate our lives, and yet we don’t even question them. That’s because we’ve been brainwashed. By capitalists.

When we learned to read, were told that there were twenty-six letters and that each had an important role to play (well, except “q”, and “x”; those are objectively worthless). Yet it has always been a fact of life that while all letters are created equal, some letters are more equal than others.

There’s a war going on under our pens, anglophones, and it’s time to stop turning a blind eye and do something about it! This reign of terror and alphabetical abuse has gone too far, and it’s time to take up the struggle of the epistolary rights of the oppressed! It’s time we started talking about the subjugation by the wealthy uppercase of the poor lowercase. Or as I call them, the caps and the caps-nots.

Once upon a time, caps and caps-nots lived in equative utopia. Then, everything changed when the Deep State arrived.

Those in charge of the Roman, and later British and American, Empires knew that they could never trust the citizenry to subjugate themselves quietly and peacefully; they knew that they needed to find a way to convince us that inequality was a natural way of life and that we deserved to be so mercilessly stunted. And what better way to invade our minds than through our language?

This conspiracy has surely been going on since the beginning of time when America was first created. They employed coercion, subliminal messaging, and style guides to embed their evil philosophy into our words. The caps always lead. The caps hold the place of honour in the most important words.

And the rest, the majority, the caps-nots, are left to follow blindly. To finish the words that the caps started. Why else would they force us to learn cursive in elementary school? Force us to read terms and conditions in all caps? For what other reason would the name of the United States of America itself be capitalised?

The time for action is now, and the path forward is clear. Activist-revolutionaries have crafted a new, more equative form of writing. A form devoid of all filthy capitalism and lowercaseism. This is the one true form. This is middle case. Every letter is exactly the same, and no one can tell us otherwise. Down with capitalism! Up with the proloweriate! The upper class can ignore us no longer!

You hear that, Reptilluminati‽ We’ve seen through yer deception, and we have had enough! Are you scared, Xorn? You should be. Because I’m coming for you.

Writers of the world, unite!