Female vandals more polite than men: bathroom graffiti at Ryerson

By Arthur White

If you want to know the deepest thoughts of Ryerson’s student body, take a look in the bathroom stalls. What we scrawl across the doors, grout and linoleum tiles of our washrooms reveals the fruit of our most meditative and intimate moments. It’s what we choose to leave behind for the edification of those who come after us.

Sadly, with the toilets of the other gender beyond our reach, each of us can only access a portion of the wisdom on offer. Until now.

The Ryersonian sent a team of reporters to conduct statistical analysis on dozens of the university’s 524 washrooms. The results revealed striking disparities between male and female vandals.

Bathroom graffiti is a mostly male phenomenon. The majority of women’s washrooms we visited were completely graffiti-free. What we did find there was inspirational, positive and intelligent. Men’s washrooms were a different story.

Men are more likely to write highly offensive messages, occasionally crossing over to racism and homophobia, and display a singular obsession with their own bodily functions — and their own penises. The most common type of graffiti in men’s rooms is tagging, the vandal’s equivalent of marking territory with a generally illegible pseudonym.

Our sample suggests that women don’t tag or talk about body parts. Instead, they tend to wield their magic markers for the forces of good. Kerr Hall’s ladies tell their sisters to “find true love” and “dream.” Many show a talent for positive thinking, whatever the odds, with one woman writing “I will succed (sic).”

They also proved more willing to take on divisive issues from the confines of their toilet stalls. A women’s washroom in Kerr Hall hosted an 18 comment-long debate over abortion rights. One participant took it upon herself to cross out every use of the word “child” by anti-abortion advocates, replacing each with “fetus.”

Another heated dispute tackled the sanitary value of the DivaCup, a silicone-based reusable feminine hygiene product. Most women agreed that it’s “nasty,” with one asking “what if when you take it out it spills?” But another countered, “You guys have no idea what you’re saying. Period cups are fantastic. SAFER. GREENER, CHEAPER.”

Men occasionally approached politics as well, with one noting that the “war in Afghanistan is underfunded.” But male disputes tended to center on religion, what the best kind of dog is or the relative merits of different faculties. Graffiti in the Ted Rogers School of Management (TRSM) got pretty testy on one occasion, with one student claiming that “TRSM is full of psychotic business.” Two angry responses followed: “have fun with your general arts degree” and “have fun stocking shelves — from all of TRSM.”

Perhaps the oddest toilet argument saw a Catholic and a Protestant face off. The first commenter insisted that “Catholicism will prevail,” since “they still have the original copies of the Bible, so you know nothing has changed unlike protestants (sic). Then you wonder why the KKK exists.” His (supposedly) Protestant opponent accused him of “simplifying” matters.

We also asked our reporters to assess the quality of artistic expression in the washroom stalls. By a unanimous vote, winner was a drawing of an elephant in the theatre school. The artist managed to incorporate a coat hook jutting out of the door into this three-dimensional mixed-media work, using it to represent the trunk, face and eyes of the animal. Since most of the washrooms in the theatre school are unisex, we can only speculate about the gender of the artist. The only poetry we found, in a men’s room, focused on poo (see chart below).

Since women’s graffiti was concentrated in Kerr Hall, we stuck to men’s rooms for inter-faculty comparisons. Kerr Hall, the home of numerous science departments, was easily the most bigoted, with a high proportion of homophobic slurs and racial stereotypes. The most offensive message was a metaphor comparing US President Barack Obama to feces because of his skin colour.

The entirety of the engineering building’s graffiti was composed of tagging. As for the theatre school, the men’s washroom that we visited had the most positive vandalism we found outside of a ladies room, with messages like “I’m happy to be alive.”

The journalism and architecture buildings came in about average on most scores, with a good spread of scatological (poo, pee, etc.), political and what we classed as romantic messages.

That category, which included celebrations of relationships and yearnings for love and sex, confirmed an age-old stereotype. Men tended to send requests for “dick pics,” and provided phone numbers for those seeking a good time. Women seem to be seeking a more meaningful connection; the word “love,” completely unknown to male graffiti artists, appearing frequently in their writing.

But that doesn’t mean female scribblers are prudish. One provided helpful advice to her readers: “Have sex ladies! It’s good for your health and your heart.”

With files from Alicja Gradkowska, Robyn Sheremeta and Jordan Mady

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