Few can forget the media furor over Caitlyn Jenner's cover story in Vanity Fair last year.
Formerly known as Bruce, Jenner's public transformation from a decorated male athlete into a glam female persona dominated headlines left and right.
Amid scores of adulation for Jenner's bravery — including a coveted ESPN award — one opinion piece in the New York Times broke rank and drew a decent amount of ire.
Rather than laud Jenner, writer Elinor Burkett slammed the reduction of female identity into a caricature of pretty dresses and long red nails. As one who lived through the struggles and triumphs of second wave feminism, Burkett witnessed a seismic movement to de-relegate women from the confines of stereotype.
Her overall point? You, Bruce, have no idea what it really means to be a woman.
And what's more, the transgendered movement runs a dangerous and ironic risk of perpetuating a cultural chauvinism that we'd long hoped to be rid of.
Burkett's evidence of this ranged from the disconcerting to the absurd, citing an example of the controversial “Vagina Monologues” being canceled on a school campus last year. Was the show too risque for the taste of Mount Holyoke College? No. It was axed because the play was too “narrow” in its perspective on what constitutes a woman.
“Let me get this right,” Burkett wrote, “The word 'vagina' is exclusionary and offers an extremely narrow perspective on womanhood, so the 3.5 billion of us who have vaginas, along with the trans people who want them, should describe ours with the politically correct terminology trans activists are pushing on us: 'front hole' or 'internal genitalia'?”
Fast forward to the current uproar over North Carolina's bathroom bill, which would make explicit the requirement that individuals must use bathrooms, locker rooms and shower facilities that correspond with their biological sex, rather than their self-perceived “gender identity.”
Amid the cries of bigotry that ensued, sponsors and celebrities appear to be in a self-conscious race to see who can boycott the state first. There have even been calls to remove gendered bathrooms altogether.
Let's be clear: the concern is real. The transgender community can be victims of brutal violence, often at the hands of heterosexual males. A biological male walking into a men's bathroom dressed as a woman can cause serious, unmerited backlash.
But let's talk about what happens when we, in response to that, say that gendered bathrooms shouldn't exist. The question then becomes: are we fine, then, with violence against women?
The reality is, de-genderizing bathrooms in general poses a tremendous risk to women in the form of sexual assault by men.
A simple thought exercise should suffice here.
Picture any public venue — a concert stadium, an airport — where a group of men, say, slightly intoxicated, find themselves in a gender neutral bathroom with a lone female. That which was a relative rarity could now be a frequent occurrence, simply by virtue of the opportunity presenting itself.
And what about gym showers?
Women carry pepper spray. Women look over their shoulders when walking into a parking lot at night. Women think twice before going on a run after the sun sets. Women take self-defense classes. Women go out in groups. Women understand that assault, rape and even murder are ever-hovering threats.
While a skirted stick figure on a door won't necessarily protect a women from a truly predatory man, it's still a cultural deterrent: someone might see him enter, someone might say something. It's a safe space where women can change their babies’ diapers, reapply their lipstick, buy an emergency tampon, and feel relatively protected.
Even if bathrooms by and large aren't de-genderized, the push for for inclusivity would also end up defending predatory men. Men who could justify, by law, their presence in a woman's bathroom by simply stating that they "identify as female."
As quick as we are to take up arms against what we might perceive to be discrimination against the LGBT community, let’s pause for a minute and think practically of what this means for, as Burkett put it, “the 3.5 billion of us who have vaginas.”