Thoughts on a Porcelain Throne

By He Yutian, Martel '15, Major in Architecture and Visual Arts, Minor in Anthropology

Upon conducting a comparative survey of various bathrooms at Rice University, a banal daily functional space that we are all too familiar with was defamiliarized and seen in a new light, allowing many intriguing insights to be drawn. The bathrooms of Herzstein Hall, the RMC, Anderson Hall, Rayzor Hall, and Martel College were selected as case studies, with their interior features carefully observed and recorded.                

All the bathrooms were housed in buildings that could be roughly categorized into older buildings constructed during Rice's initial conception a century ago, and newer buildings that were retrofitted as recently as just a couple of years ago. The age of the bathrooms was almost the strongest differentiating factor in the variety of materials, space organizations, uses and style present in the bathrooms surveyed – more so than the function of the building or the location of the building.           

The materials varied from bathroom to bathroom considerably. The RMC bathrooms had a distinct color palette of red, black, and while, with patterning ceramic wall tiles and bold red accents on walls with black framing on the large mirrors within, giving the bathrooms the most modern aesthetic out of all the bathrooms surveyed. The Rayzor Hall bathrooms also looked to be of a more recent, modern style, with both featuring tiled floors and sleek wood-veneer stall doors. There were even potted plants in the female bathrooms. So was the Martel quad single bathroom, which had basic simple tiles and white-washed walls. The most anachronistic bathrooms were the ones at Anderson, as the floors were made of terrazzo and the walls of marble, corresponding to an older style, but the bathroom stall doors were all made of steel and plastic. This is consistent with the fact the the stalls were renovated just recently in 2011. Herzstein Hall, on the other hand, had undeniably the oldest bathrooms, characterized by its distinct style of square sinks with double taps, high clerestory windows, and ornately carved door knobs.

One thing consistent throughout all the bathrooms is the binary division of each of them into the men's and women's bathrooms. Notably, the women's bathroom in Herzstein is significantly smaller than the men's, with much fewer stalls. This could possibly reflect how there were more men than women enrolled as students and employed as faculty members when the bathroom was built. Also, given so many design considerations that maximized efficiency, the gendered nature of bathrooms does not always correspond to functionality. For example, in Anderson Hall, the men's and women's bathrooms are on two separate floors despite there being both men and women on both floors, necessitating a trip up or down the stairs for many.

In the book “Ancient Bodies, Ancient Lives: Sex, Gender and Archaeology” by Rosemary Joyce, it is said that “much of the the way we learn about how to be men and women in any society comes not through explicit discussions but through the inexplicit experience of a living in a world of things.” Indeed, the daily ritual of physically visiting a gender-assigned space reaffirms the dichotomy between the two genders, and subliminally re-enforces an individual's gender identity. In this way, bathrooms can be seen as one of the material factors in our lives that influences and dictates the performance of gender identities, and one that silently but not so subtly states that gender is binary, as if it were a functional fact. As a common space used daily by the general public of the university, bathrooms serve as powerful indicators of the prevailing social norm of gendered spatiality. But does it need to do so?

Looking at how the bathrooms at Rice have evolved over time, the shift from Herzstein Hall’s platform stalls and stepped urinals to the much more handicap-accessible bathrooms in all the newer bathrooms points to how meeting the needs of the handicapped have become a priority. This change in industry standards for bathrooms reveal a changing attitude towards meeting the needs of a particular group, by institutionalizing handicapped accessibility as a building requirement. The same can be said for the expansion of female bathrooms, or rather, having the same number of stalls for both male and female bathrooms in the newer bathrooms. More than just a functional result of changing university demographics, this change also points to the important trend of increased female enrollment and employment at the university. Hence, the gendered spatiality of current Rice bathrooms can similarly be challenged, firstly to acknowledge and serve the needs of individuals who might not necessarily identify consistently with either gender, and secondly to reflect the increasing ambivalence, even obsolescence, of gendered spaces.


Posted on March 24, 2015 .

Your Inner Feminist

By Micaela Canales

Are you a secret feminist? I have encountered many Rice students who agree with feminist ideals but are reluctant to label themselves as feminists, and I continually ask myself: why the hesitance?

Maybe it’s because there is persistent confusion about what it means to be a feminist. I cannot offer a concrete definition of what the term feminism means, because like all social movements and philosophies, feminism is fluid. What matters is how you define feminist ideology for yourself. Feminism is something I encourage all people to discover for themselves, especially in the context of what it means to your life. To aide in this quest for the feminist within, I investigated definitions of feminism at Rice. Fortunately for us, as we begin to explore our personal definitions of feminism, we can draw on the opinions and ideas of others to build our own interpretations.

If you are in need of immediate guidance for developing your personal take on feminism, I recommend looking into a current campaign on campus. Duncan juniors Anastasia Bolshakov and Clara Roberts have recently brought the “Who Needs Feminism” campaign to Rice, aiming to promote discussion about gender equality.  Participants in the project are given a white board with the heading, “I need feminism because…” and then encouraged to fill in their reasons. When I participated in the campaign, the set-up was pleasantly informal. Anastasia was standing outside the Rice Women’s Resource Center in the RMC with a couple of the whiteboards and a camera. She casually asked passer-bys if they wanted to offer their input, and the response that I saw was impressively positive. The most significant part of the entire interaction was the moment before people wrote their statements, when they paused to think and engage in discussion with Anastasia. Men and women, young and old, took a minute to think about feminism.

According to Roberts, this the precise aim of the project, to get people thinking and to address misconceptions about feminism. “For me, this campaign was really about starting dialogue and getting people to give real thought to the issue(s). I know feminism can be controversial and it works to the advantage of the campaign. Controversial topics catch people’s attention. They cause tension and spark conversations. That’s the goal; I want people to question their assumptions,” Roberts said.

A quick tour of the Who Needs Feminism at Rice Facebook pages confirms that Bolshakov and Roberts’ hopes were realized -people are questioning their assumptions and bravely stating why they personally need feminism. One board states, “In four years of physics classes, I have still only had one female professor,” referencing the lack of female representation in STEM fields. Another reads, “Feminism doesn’t mean I hate men,” boldly answering an accusation frequently made by people who do not understand feminism. “I’m tired of watching movies that are told from a male perspective,” another board reads, reflecting the writer’s understanding of the monopoly the male gender has over media. Dr. Robin Paige, professor of sociology, offered her definition of feminism, “Feminism to me is seeing people as individuals before we see them as women and men.”

Browsing these quotes helped me remember some of the inequity that exists, but that is not in-your-face obvious discrimination. Not all sexism is prefaced with a “No girls/boys allowed” sign; rarely is it that obvious. Rather, these quotes illustrate the subtle sexism that we perhaps don’t as easily identify, like media monopolies, identity restricting gender norms, or the absence of women in the uppermost leadership positions. From this collection of quotes, one could conclude that feminism at Rice is about equality of the sexes and about questioning gender norms. Examining what feminism means at Rice allowed me to reaffirm why I myself identify as a feminist, because I identify with the opinions voiced in the quotes above. But that’s my feminism, and it is by no means representative of what feminism means to others, or what feminism can mean to you.

And now I challenge you, reader, to further investigate feminism and think about how it effects your everyday life. Think about how it affects your grandmothers, your mother, your sisters, your brothers, your fathers, and your grandfathers. Think about how it affects your friends. And finally, think about how it affects you. Are you already a feminist?

Posted on March 23, 2015 .

Letter from the Editors


This blog is a collection of thoughts, comments, and research on gender and related topics. It is a continuation of the discussions that are already happening within the Rice community and beyond. The purpose of this blog is to create a platform that collects ideas and perspectives to give voice to concerns specific to our Rice community. Our goal is to engage the entire campus by exposing students to conversations on gender and sexuality among other things through a unique lens - a lens created by and for our community!

Even as mainstream platforms propagate the fallacy that gender inequality is a thing of the past, we recognize that true equality of opportunity is yet to be realized. It’s even more difficult to find identities outside the gender binary of man/woman in popular discourse, but we firmly believe that the representation of diverse identities is essential to any movement towards equality and recognition of all human dignity. It is with this in mind that this blog was created.

We hope that this blog will engender discussion among friends, classmates, and colleagues about the many ways in which gender and sexuality shape and are shaped by our culture. We welcome your feedback and contributions - contact us at or stop by the Rice Women’s Resource Center in the RMC. Thank you for reading, and be on the lookout for future entries.

Many of these blog posts will be compiled into Engender, a zine publication available here: 

Posted on March 22, 2015 .