Poring through the images, I also noticed that the graffiti — aside from its obvious entertainment value — contained deeply held, gender-specific cultural beliefs. If a male graffiti author expressed emotional turmoil, he was met not with supportive messages, but with a barrage of unrelenting insults. As a sociologist, I was curious about the content of the graffiti text and artwork, the patterns in the response and replies — and whether these responses would vary by gender. Scrawls, doodles and stylized text adorn the walls of public bathrooms in places ranging from elementary schools to dive bars: A tiny sketch of a penis pointing to verses from Psalm
This finding seems to contradict reports that females are less inclined to vandalize , due to their inclination to conform to social conventions and norms. Above all, bathroom graffiti messages convey male desire to maintain the masculine hierarchy. Although this finding was unexpected, health studies do suggest that women are both more knowledgeable and more forthcoming about health matters and bodily changes than are men. As a sociologist, I was curious about the content of the graffiti text and artwork, the patterns in the response and replies — and whether these responses would vary by gender. If a male graffiti author expressed emotional turmoil, he was met not with supportive messages, but with a barrage of unrelenting insults. There was also no shortage of insults. The graffiti is usually anonymous. One person felt the drawing resembled more of a silverfish insect than a vagina. And unlike most forms of written communication that appear in public spaces books, newspapers, even graffiti on buildings , these images and messages are intended for the eyes of the same sex. However, in all-female spaces — away from the male gaze and surveillance — women may resist these cultural pressures through explicit dialogue about fecal matters, a freedom traditionally allotted to men. Out of the graffiti collected and analyzed, 59 As a whole, bathroom graffiti seem to reinforce gender expectations, although there were occasional breaches of — even resistance to — some of these expectations almost exclusively in female bathroom stalls. What remains unchanged, however, are the cultural messages about gender, and the intense enforcement of hypermasculinity. Insults, expletives and masculine bravado, as well as pictorial depictions of masculinity through drawings of erect penises, all serve as symbols of masculinity — markers that identify the graffiti artist as strong, powerful, competitive and sexually competent. While bathroom stalls are spaces of privacy, the graffiti is very much aimed at future occupants. On the other hand, flowers, stars, faces — along with poetry and advice in stylized, swirly font — were prevalent. Since the date of the original data collection, some walls have been painted over, revealing new graffiti; in other cases, old graffiti remain, with new ones cropping up. Such graffiti included explanations for what caused the artist to defecate coffee, the campus dining service , references to flatulence, and the obvious: A tiny sketch of a penis pointing to verses from Psalm Each bathroom contained multiple enclosed stalls, and I photographed each stall that contained hand-written or hand-drawn graffiti. In contrast to the male graffiti, female graffiti contained fewer vulgarities and sexual content. Power dynamics, therefore, are evident even in seemingly anonymous, unmoderated spaces — even without the physical presence of others. Gender differences in health disclosures and the reporting of health symptoms and physical manifestations could explain why there were more scatological content in female graffiti. Scrawls, doodles and stylized text adorn the walls of public bathrooms in places ranging from elementary schools to dive bars: Poring through the images, I also noticed that the graffiti — aside from its obvious entertainment value — contained deeply held, gender-specific cultural beliefs.
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