Sit down, let it out and leave. That’s how a toilet tends to work. Yet, why is it that a public bathroom isn’t so straightforward?
Women have learned to adapt to the cubical. The ability to hover, to time yanking toilet paper out with the embarrassing noises or choosing a cubicle next door to the one least likely to attract a neighbour. Despite all of these factors, there is one that proves to be mysterious. It’s the conversation that is scrolled across the four walls.
Who puts it there and why? There’s no denying that it provides a decent giggle or eye roll, but what’s the story behind bathroom wall graffiti?
There is a degree of science and history behind the physics of a toilet door. An Englishman going by an alias of “Hurlo Thrumbo” collected this along with other vintage graffiti for his book “The Merry Thought: Or, The Glass Window and the Bog-House” published in 1731. However, since then bathroom graffiti has gained sexual connotations and various not safe for work innuendos.
“Well sung of Yore, a Bard of Wit/That some Folks read, but all Folks shit/But now the Case is alter’d quite/Since all who come to Boghouse write.”
The toilet cubicle has become a place to scribble insults about enemies or draw the occasional penis. Graffiti that Hurlo Thrumbo would possibly refuse to add to his collection.
Among the sexual are the anonymous scribbles that are often quite personal.
Pamela Long is a sociologist and she writes in a Conversation article that she visited ten single sex bathrooms to see if graffiti differs depending on gender. These bathrooms were in one building at a university in Massachusetts. Out of the 202 images of graffiti she took 29.2% were from the male bathrooms and 70.8% were from the female bathrooms. As for the contents of the graffiti, she found it to contain gender cultural beliefs. Insults, sex, poetry, pictures of poop, support or inspirational quotes covered the walls. Long concluded that female solidarity is expressed on the walls of the female dunny. That solidarity was absent in the boys bathrooms.
Perhaps the girl power that Spice Girls attempted to instil in us went further than they ever intended. They say that a great woman is one who builds another woman up. Perhaps this is another instance of that, despite the unique placement. A female’s bathroom is one of the places a woman feels most female. When a woman walks into the bathroom they are surrounded by scents of perfume and the application of makeup. Despite this there is an unwritten rule to avoid contact. An embarrassed ‘sorry’ when hands touch in the reach for the paper towel. The act of writing a message on the wall contradicts this. It’s flushing all order, promoting togetherness.
Although a janitor can paint the wall with a coat of uninspiring white, there is just another sharpie on standby to bring back the creativity.