Toilet gender signs

There was a conversation a few weeks ago on some Facebook group I’m in, I think it was the “International meme exchange” one. It was simply some person saying that they hadn’t known that not all countries use the triangle and circle icons to differentiate between toilets for males and females. I found myself surprised too – after all, I thought that the triangle and circle pair makes more sense than a person in a dress and a person not in a dress. Aren’t Western countries, such as the UK, enlightened enough not to assume that females wear dresses?

This morning on campus I saw a confused girl who mistakenly walked into what’s designated men’s bathroom. I know she did it mistakenly, because after less than 10 seconds she rushed out of there, clearly distressed, and went right into the designated women’s bathroom.

I thought: how could this happen? Did she not know the sign? But you know what, I quickly got it. When was the last time I wore a dress? I don’t even remember when I last wore a dress. And so, why wouldn’t I walk into a bathroom that has a person wearing trousers on it? It’s not even that the women’s bathroom pictogram has long hair. I have long hair and don’t wear dresses; the female toilet sign has no hair and wears a dress. Clearly, we have nothing in common.

The post I encountered on Facebook made me realise that I strongly believe in the superiority of the triangle and circle to any other forms of toilet differentiation. Sure, you can come up with some vulgar visual explanation as to why they’re divided this way. But these simple geometric shapes are less loaded than outlines of people with and without dresses.

To show you what I mean, here’s a nice picture of signs you can buy on this website:

The circle stands for females, the triangle – for males. Now you won’t get lost in Polish toilets.

This is all I wanted to say. That abstract shapes are better than differently dressed people. Do you agree? What’s your view on this?

There’s even an article (in Polish; use Google Translate if you don’t know this language) titled “Why do foreigners get lost in Polish toilets?”.

If you want to read some articles on toilets, click the links below:

Cavanagh, Sheila L. “You are where you urinate.” The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide, vol. 18, no. 4, July-Aug. 2011, pp. 18+. Gale Academic OneFile, Accessed 19 Nov. 2021.

Iio, Jun. The Semiotics of Toilet Signs. HCII 2019: Human-Computer Interaction. Design Practice in Contemporary Societies pp. 285-294. Relevant slides for Professor Iio’s paper can be found here, if you do not have access to the Springer content.

There are also signs on this WordPress, which I found the link to in Professor Iio’s presentation slides. This database goes a few years back and contains some very original toilet signs.

Published by kotersey

Graduated from the University of Edinburgh with a First in geography, and from the University of Brighton with a Master's in history of design and material culture. Probably drinking iced coffee and thinking about buildings.

2 thoughts on “Toilet gender signs

    1. Hi, I apologise for the mistake, I have corrected it now. Thank you for commenting on this post and for writing the paper in the first place!


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