The Seat of Wisdom


I've been a feminist since the days when I wasn't even functionally male. Sure, I grew up in a household where Dad was the major breadwinner and Mom the main homemaker, but there was never any suggestion that this was an arrangement handed down from On High. If anything, it was a simple recognition that their respective skill sets gave the family more financial security and much better meals than the reverse would have done. (Dad's pretty good at breakfast, but Mom's roast beef hash and "greaseless" pork chops gave her the edge there.) Moreover, Mom was a charter subscriber to Ms. Magazine, which I often flipped through, usually ignoring the big stories about workplace harassment and abortion rights and dialing in on cartoons and the "Stories for Free Children" section. I spent a lot of time listening to Marlo Thomas's Free to Be... You and Me album, especially the sketch where Marlo and Mel Brooks played newborn babies attempting to figure out their sexes ("Tomorrow morning, the one that needs a shave, he's a boy.") When I started reading Doonesbury, I immediately considered Joanie Caucus a completely sympathetic character, and her attempts to find meaning in her life outside the proscribed role of homemaker made perfect sense to me.

Obviously, having a mother who was fiercely intelligent and thoughtful about her role in the wider world made an impression on me, but I should also note that I never... never... heard my father generalizing about women. There were never any locker-room comments about how girls were or ought to be. I was supposed to treat them courteously, that was for sure, and Dad did set me up with a remarkably cute blind date once, but that was done because she was the daughter of a visiting friend, not just as an attempt to hook me up with The Hotness or something. As far as my folks were concerned, women were people and that was that.

When I eventually found the woman for me, then, it's not surprising that she considered herself a person and that was that. She went by Ms., was pursuing her college degree, and told me about her own mother's complex role in her life. (Ruth was a traditional homemaker for over twenty years, but when Kelly's dad had a debilitating heart attack, she decided it was time to go back to school and get her pharmacy degree; she was actually in school at UNC at the same time as Kelly for a while.) I found myself surprised and delighted and occasionally bewildered by some of the gender differences that I was now confronting in a direct and daily fashion, but most of them made perfect sense. Of course when we married, Kelly would keep her own name. Naturally she'd work outside the home. We were partners, working together, equal in all things.

I mention all this to be clear: when it comes to gender issues, I am enlightened nearly to the point of incandescence. I was a Sensitive New Age Guy before there was a New Age, and even with 15 years' experience at an all-boys school, I remain as appreciative of and sympathetic toward the female experience as any straight male I know.

But there is one item in the male/female dynamic that remains, to me, utterly baffling. It's become a cliche, too, and that makes it an even more difficult area to discuss rationally.

I speak of the toilet seat.

The stereotype is that we men come barging in like neanderthals and callously, inconsiderately leave the seat up so that our women will then risk falling to their dooms in the abyss. Our failure to put the seat down is read by some women as an act of support for the Patriarchy. Meanwhile, some on the male side of the divide (including Dodge Motors' advertising agency) see the act of putting the seat down as some form of emasculation, one so horrific that the only possible compensation for it is spending thousands of dollars on a big metal prosthetic penis.

This is just stupid, folks.

I believe that I have a responsibility to my wife (and anyone else who may use our bathroom): Not to Pee on the Seat. That is the reason why the seat can be raised, after all. If not, it would be permanently fixed to the top of the bowl. I consider the expectation that I Not Pee on the Seat an eminently reasonable one, and I am therefore extremely scrupulous about raising the seat before I unleash Number One all over the place. I feel it's the least I can do.

But I see absolutely no reason why I should also be expected to LOWER the seat again.

Look, when it comes to elimination, women are not stupid. (Okay, there are a few exceptions. But generally they don't get to come to my house.) They know when they approach a toilet whether the seat is up or not; they do not back into the bathroom from the doorway. The supposed danger of falling in is non-existent.

The toilet seat is not a device that women operate less effectively than men; women are perfectly adept with tools ranging from hammers to whisks to laser pointers to scalpels, just as men are. The toilet seat is not a device intended exclusively for males; it appears in both men's and women's rooms, as well as unisex bathrooms, indicating that it is intended for use by both sexes. And the toilet seat is not unsanitary, at least not in any meaningful way; why should you fear putting your hands on something that you're about to rub with your naked butt?

In short, I expect any woman to be able to handle the responsibility of lowering the seat just as I handle the responsibility of raising it. For me to do otherwise would be to adopt a patronizing position that I feel cannot be supported by logic, courtesy, or the demands of equality, and I simply will not do that to half the population of Planet Earth. I consider the necessity of lowering a raised seat or raising a lowered one a small price to pay for a greater understanding between men and women and a fuller appreciation of our shared humanity. We shouldn't let underperforming automakers use it as a wedge to drive us apart.

Right, honey?

Honey? I love you.

And the seat IS dry.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on March 1, 2010 10:40 AM.

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