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Women Don't Feel Safe in the Bathroom with Men, Either

Why can't men use the men's restroom, and report other men who behave inappropriately with them there?

On February 17th I interviewed Dr. Timothy Roberts. The interview was originally set up to discuss results from a study Dr. Roberts recently did that showed that even after a year on testosterone blockers and estrogen, men who identify as transgender still have a significant athletic advantage over women. But we ended up talking about a wide range of subjects.

One comment that Dr. Roberts made that keeps reverberating in my thoughts was in response to a story I told him to illustrate my concerns about males having access to female spaces.

I told him about an experience I had in a woman’s bathroom at the Utah State Capitol. I had just driven an hour and a half from my home in Northern Utah to Salt Lake City and needed to change my clothes to meet with some legislators. All of the stalls were full so I started to change in the open area by the sinks. I had just taken off my shirt when a man walked in. He was wearing an emerald green dress and had on bright red lipstick. He ogled me and I hurriedly tried to cover myself. Thankfully a stall opened up and he took it, giving me time to put my shirt back on and leave the bathroom in hopes of finding somewhere more private to change.

I had hoped that Dr. Roberts would appreciate how uncomfortable and scary it is when men decide to violate a women’s bathroom. Instead he dismissed my concerns, suggesting that both men and women can behave inappropriately in a bathroom and anyone who has concerns can report such behavior. It left me a bit dumbstruck.

Of course Dr. Roberts is right that women can complain, but he and all those who make similar assertions to justify males violating women’s spaces seem to believe that for some reason women should be the ones put in a position to report this kind of behavior.

In fact, there is no reason why a man who goes into a men’s bathroom and is treated inappropriately by other men can’t report it. The whole justification for allowing men in women’s spaces is that some men are uncomfortable in men’s bathrooms because of the way they might be treated by the other men.

But that same concern, when voiced by a woman, is summarily dismissed.

In addition, Dr. Roberts fails to appreciate that if a woman reports a man in a woman’s bathroom or other sex-based space for women, she is called a transphobe, hater, and bigot as her concerns are dismissed. She may even face repercussions such as losing her membership to a gym, facing harassment from the public, or even being fired from her job.

Not only have women been told they must accept men in their sex-based spaces, but they are vilified if they dare to report a man for inappropriate behavior. Men who are mistreated in men’s bathrooms are able to report concerns without reprisal.

The fact is that women are far more likely to be assaulted and abused if men are allowed in women’s bathrooms is ignored or dismissed as hysteria. The very reason we have women’s bathrooms is that women are vulnerable if not provided sex-segregated bathrooms.

Women should not be put in a position where they have to report men behaving badly in their bathrooms or men behaving badly in any other sex-segregated space just because some men are uncomfortable in men’s spaces.

Those who support men who are trying to appropriate women-only spaces are saying loud and clear that men’s feelings are more important than women’s rights and protections.


Erin Brewer is a partner with Partners for Ethical Care. Contact Dr. Brewer via

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