‘Unfairness’

Public urinals, already controversial, targeted by protestors who denounced them as sexist

Two recently installed public urinals in Paris have been vandalized with cement and protest stickers complaining about sexist double standards, and has prompted a fierce debate over whether the city prioritizes the needs of men over those of women in their urban planning.

Critics of a plan to install even more public urinals, which was intended to help counteract a widespread problem of men peeing in the streets of Paris, have complained that the devices are unsanitary and disgusting to look at for passersby. Protesters took those concerns a step farther this week, destroying two of the new urinals by filling them with cement and festooning them with stickers that featured messages such as: “Women who expose their breasts to breastfeed are asked to hide themselves — men who take out their genitals to urinate are subsidized by City Hall.” The urinals have since been removed, but near the former location of one of the toilets, a lingering sign of the vandalism reamined — a spray-painted fist in the shape of a Venus symbol, The New York Times reports.

According to Chris Blache, the founder of city planning think tank Genre et Ville, said that in her opinion the protesters weren’t wrong to see the implementation of the public urinals as a tacit endorsement of a patriarchal worldview that treats public spaces as belonging to men.

“This kind of urinal, clearly, can only be used by men — and not any kind of man either, because a child, a little boy can’t use them,” she explained. “And I’m not sure that an elderly man would be comfortable using them either. So there is an unfairness in the perception of what is authorized or not authorized to do in public.”

And while French authorities, she noted, were also quick to espouse the freedom of men to do as they wish, women by contrast were “constantly being called to order” on their public behavior — particularly in regard to how they dress. As a case in point, she pointed out that French tennis player Alizé Cornet was penalized at the U.S. Open this week for briefly removing her shirt to rearrange it — despite the fact that male players continue to routinely change their shirts on court or sit topless courtside for minutes at a time.

City officials have defended the urinals as an experiment at reducing urination in public streets, adding that if more men used the urinals it would also lead to shorter wait times at the 450 unisex bathrooms around the city.

Read the full story at The New York Times.

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