History, cultural arrogance, and two images

We’ll begin with two images, the first a screencap of the home page of Public Radio International’s The World, and linking to this story:

BLOG Pee story

We used the capture image rather than text from the story for the simply reason that the headlines on the home page capture the critical issue: India portrayed in a way that enables cultural stereotypes to snap unconsciously into place, namely a vision of India as semi-primitive in a way endangering women. And to a certain extent that is true, expressed in the numbers of women killed or burned in attacks acid and kerosene and other burning fuels.

Come to think of it, though, America’s own record toward women isn’t anything to write home about either, what with the Cosby thing and the unfolding University of Virginia scandal.

At least we got lots of free toilets, with women having their separate facilities, right?

Well, as anyone knows, finding a place to pee isn’t all tht easy in most downtowns, where truly public toilets are non-existent and most retailers reserve their facilities for paying customers — making them pay toilets in all but name.

But pay potties in publicly owned facilities are outlawed here in California, unlike when we first came to live in the Golden State back in 1968 [although privately owned business in private building can and sometimes do charge].

In those days, toilets in public buildings often cost a quarter [equivalent to more than a dollar today], we recall the stall wall scrawl of a commode we sat down to enjoy at San Francisco International Airport way back when:

Here I sit
All broken-hearted
Paid a quarter
And just farted

But that would end in 1974, which brings us to our second image, a screencap of an Associated Press image in the Oakland Museum of California collection:

BLOG Eu smash

The woman with the sledgehammer was State Assemblymember March Fong Eu, taking down a toilet on the steps of the California Capitol on 26 April 1969 as she launched what would become a five-year campaign to win the abolition of pay stalls [men invariably peed for free in urinal troughs, while women had no such option, a point that particularly irked Eu].

The legislator’s colorfully campaign kept her in the news and her Oakland constituents kept sending her back to Sacramento, where she kept introducing her free john bills until she won in 1974, the same year Californian’s elected her Secretary of State — an office she held for the next two decades.

So while millions of women in India live where there are no toilets at all, when it comes to pay toilets in public buildings, they’re only four decades behind California.

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