Men are much more likely than women to be concerned about letting transgender individuals use the public bathrooms of their choice — particularly women’s bathrooms — according to an interesting study published this week in the journal Gender Issues.
The men’s concerns seem to be linked to their views of themselves as women’s “protectors,” although transphobic attitudes — particularly the belief that transgender men are lying or mistaken about their gender identity — also seem to be involved. (Other research, including this study, has shown that men tend to be more transphobic than women.)
The fact that men don’t normally use women’s bathrooms makes their “heightened concerns about transgender females in female bathrooms particularly curious,” writes Rebecca Stones, the author of the study and a postdoctoral researcher at Nankai University in China and Monash University in Australia.
For her study, Stones analyzed 1,035 comments posted by readers in response to 190 online news articles on the topic of male-to-female transgender individuals using bathrooms designated for women. She narrowed her focus to this class of transgender people because the overwhelming majority of online comments on the topic are aimed at them.
Stones also focused on opinions regarding the safety and privacy of women in female bathrooms because that issue has also been at the center of the public debate on whether transgender individuals should be permitted to use the bathrooms of their choice.
Her analysis revealed that men were 1.5 times more likely than women to express concerns about the issue. Furthermore, when women did express concerns, they tended to be more restrained in their negativism and less intense with their language choices.
In the study’s sample of comments, more than 70 percent of those posted by women were non-negative on the topic of transgender women using women’s bathrooms.
In addition, the negative comments from women were much more likely than those of men to raise a specific worry that did not directly involve transgender women. That concern was that men falsely disguised as transgender women might start using women’s bathrooms. Men commenters, on the other hand, tended to point to transgender women as being the main threat.
Men want to ‘protect’
A major reason many men are concerned about transgender women using female-designated public bathrooms, Stones suggests, is because they see themselves as women’s protectors, as evidenced by these types of comments:
I don’t want some guy-turned-girl in a restroom while my wife is in there.
What about my daughter’s rights to privacy in the bathroom?
I have a teenage daughter and I demand that her privacy is protected from a gender-confused pervert that might walk in on her while she’s in the restroom!
I’d pull my daughter out of school before they’d let some pervert in the locker rooms and bathrooms claiming he’s transgender!!!
Such comments also underscore that men are more likely than women to hold an unfavorable image of transgender women — specifically, the mistaken belief that they are actually male and either lying or misguided about being female, says Stones. That belief can be seen in comments like these:
Do you want a man going into a women’s bathroom where your daughter is because he feels like a woman?
Their feelings are of zero importance to me… their attitude, actions, mindset, and self-view are not just messed up or confused, they are wrong!
“It’s possible,” writes Stones, “that males believe they are voicing female concerns. However, many females do not share these concerns.” Here are some of the women’s comments from the study’s sample that highlight that point:
As a woman, I have no problems with a man, transgender or not, using a woman’s bathroom. I have lived in Europe long enough to know it’s not a big deal. Also, I’ve used men’s rooms and again, no fuss.
I’m a 63-year old woman, and I don’t see why this is a big deal. We aren’t dainty little flowers needing protection by men. I don’t care if the woman in the stall next to me is transgender or not.
People dress according to their gender. I dress as a woman, and a trans woman dresses as a woman. As women, we should both be permitted to use the women’s bathroom.
I’m a girl, and if a transgender was in “my” bathroom, so what?
Stones’ study has several important limitations. Most notably, people who post comments to online news articles often have an intense interest in the topic and, therefore, more polarized opinions than those who don’t post. Also, men tend to leave comments online much more frequently than women. The comments that Stones analyzed, therefore, may not be representative of the larger population.
Still, the findings are provocative. They also have some possible implications for “bathroom bills” — those controversial laws passed in North Carolina (where it is being reconsidered) and other states (and introduced earlier this year by Republican legislators here in Minnesota) that would require transgender people to use bathrooms that correspond with the gender assigned them at birth rather than with the gender with which they identify.
As Stones points out, bathroom-bill advocates frequently argue that such laws are needed to “protect women and children” and to ensure “public safety and privacy.”
But allowing transgender people to use the bathrooms of their choice appears to be much more concerning to men than to women.
FMI: Stones’ study can be downloaded and read in full at the Gender Issues website.