Why Locks on Women’s Bathroom Doors are Not Obsolete

One night last year when I was showering in the women’s bathroom I heard a large group of shouting guys massing in the hallway outside on their way to the stairs. I rinsed off but stayed in the dripping shower stall, waiting for everyone to clear out. The thought of walking through a crowd of drunk men wearing just a towel made me uneasy. Suddenly some guy started banging on the door of the women’s bathroom and yelling. To my terror the keypad started beeping.

I don’t know what I thought would happen if the door opened but I didn’t want it to. The aimless punching on the keypad didn’t open the door. I stayed there with the sturdy door between them and me. I started to shiver but I could still hear them right outside so I stayed put. Eventually I bundled up in my thin towel, locked myself in a bathroom stall, and sat on the lowered toilet seat until they were gone.

I used to be indifferent on the question of bathroom codes, but now I’m pretty glad they exist. In the late 1970s, shortly after Princeton went co-ed in 1969, female undergraduates lobbied successfully for the installation of locks on women’s bathrooms. At the time, men outnumbered women two to one. “The going wasn’t easy for many of these young female pioneers,” an Alumni Day speaker recalled in 2010. The sexual climate was tense, the position of women in campus society precarious. A group called the Concerned Alumni of Princeton was committed to keeping numbers of women and minorities to “a combined 10-20%” of the student body. The three most prestigious eating clubs on Prospect Avenue were all-male. The then-social chair of one such club, Cottage, is said to have quipped, “Women are like pizza. If we want them, we send out for them.”

In 2014 it’s not so hard to be a woman on campus, but fears of male-on-female aggression are still justified. On the morning of September 28th, a male student allegedly came into the women’s bathroom and held his phone over the shower door to videotape a female student who was showering. Clearly, the bathroom door must have been propped open for the sake of convenience. Otherwise the alleged act of sexual assault would not have been possible. I don’t mean to say that anything like sexual assault would necessarily have happened to me if there had been no lock on that bathroom door last year, or that victims are responsible for being aggressed, in bathrooms or anywhere else. But the incident from a month ago suggests that keypads on the bathrooms are not obsolete and in fact can be useful safety measures. It’s just no use having locks on the doors if the doors are left open.

To be fair, it can be a pain for women to not be able to get into their corresponding bathrooms in buildings other than the one where they live. But a spreadsheet of the women’s bathroom codes for all buildings has long been in circulation—hit me up, ladies, I’ll forward it to you.

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