Approximately forty years ago, as a first year student at Hampshire College, I wrote a paper on bathroom behavior and etiquette, utilizing concepts and the sociological lexicon of the great Irving Goffman. Hampshire, you may remember was the first college to build dormitories that were co-educational by floor, and thus bathrooms were co-ed as well. It was a good paper, if I do say so myself, discussing some of the new and modified behaviors needed in such an environment.
I returned to Hampshire recently to speak with students. In the course of so doing, I was confronted with three incidents that suggested to me just how far the nonsense had progressed.
Upon approaching Hampshire by car, I was informed by a sign on the city road that there were protuberances sticking up in the roadway and to proceed slowly and with caution. "Hmm, what might these be?" I thought. It turned out that these protuberances were none other than-oh my god!- manholes. It would appear that in politically correct Amherst manhole is a sexually charged word, and thus no longer allowed to be used in polite company, let alone on a roadway.
After turning onto the Hampshire entrance, I was met by the sight of numerous bunny hutch-like structures which contained pithy phrases of enlightenment on their sides. Ah-ha, conceptual art, I realized. On a number of these structures was a phrase to the effect of “Seek ecstasy”. That is interesting I thought. Ecstasy I associate almost solely with the body, in a primal, non-thinking way. It is associated with an over-powering sensory experience, one that overrides the intellect. Kind of surprising for an institution whose basis is the enriching of the intellect. Perhaps the use of the word transcendence would be more appropriate. But that word has something of the religious about it, so I guess it is not appropriate any longer, particularly in an academic environment.
And then I come to my last incident, which brings us back to bathrooms. Upon entering the building in which I was to meet with students, I went in search of a bathroom. Finding such a place, I found a placard next to it stating, ALL GENDER RESTROOM--Privacy Lock Available--RESTROOM EQUIPPED WITH URINALS. Wow, a regular old bathroom in a public building is fraught now not just with sociological significance, but political import as well. How far we have progressed!