Sunday, December 19, 2010

The sociology of peeing in public

From Graphic Sociology:
Of all of the things to study academically, public urination has to rank pretty highly. Doesn't it?

Laura Norén remarks
This was something I used to help me think through the two main axes that determine peeing behavior – biological and social control. Urination is a biological function that has been subjected to a great degree of social control. Unfortunately, urban design has not kept pace with the demand for clean, easily accessible public restrooms for humans. And there has been no attempt to create any kind of system to deal with canine urine. In most cities it is illegal for humans to pee in public but both legal and widely accepted for dogs to pee where ever they like (in New York, they cannot pee on the grass in parks). 
There's a pretty strong discrepancy between countries on this, as well-- not only can you get arrested in the U.S. for urinating in public, but in some cases you may be placed on the sex offender registry too.  Child molesters, rapists, and...people who peed on the street. Seems a little odd.  I suspect street pee-ers in the U.S. are more likely to fall on the "ashamed" side than in Denmark, where it's not unusual to see a parent out shopping with her son ushering him off into a side alley so that he can relieve himself against a building. I have a hunch that the fact that public toilets require payment just might have something to do with this relative laxness of laws. For those who can afford it, what looks like a large metal box on the sidewalk with a sliding door opened via insertion of a coin into a slot will be their refuge. My only issue with these is that they aren't quite as numerous as one might prefer.  I once gave up looking for one and popped into a McDonald's, hiking up three flights of stairs to find that they had a pay toilet.  But at that point I was only too happy to pay.

Women squatting in the street is awkward and obvious, not something that sounds like a good idea at all unless you're been imbibing...a lot. I've never seen a woman use one of these to pee in public, which is probably due partly to it just being weird and partly because that would require having the foresight to actually bring one along.  Wonder what the sales for the "magic cone" are like? 

The idea of framing it in terms of "liberation" is interesting.  I think this is one area in which people don't actually care to be very liberated-- maybe to the point of not being put on a sex registry, but most of us don't really care to be "unabashed" public pee-ers.  I've known people who won't even use a public restroom if at all possible, and would probably faint if you suggested urinating in public outside of a restroom.  Guys, by and large, won't pee next to each other if they can help it, and who can blame them?  How many women would urinate in public restrooms if there were no stalls surrounding the toilets?  Okay, yes, urinals have walls and men don't have to uncover as much of themselves to pee.  Still, it doesn't seem to be very private.  Clearly I'm not the sort to write my name in the snow-- maybe for those who are, things look a lot different.  Talk about unabashed.

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