Academic studies can be fascinating... and totally confusing. So we decided to strip away all of the scientific jargon and break them down for you.
Bathroom stalls are one of the few corners of the IRL world where people can scribble out their unfiltered, anonymous thoughts with no expectation of repercussions or judgement. And since restroom patrons have traditionally been divided according to gender, they provide unique testing zones to see how men and women communicate when granted the rare privacy of a public bathroom stall. If these are spaces where people can express their controversial or socially unacceptable feelings, will there be a discernible difference between the secret thoughts roaming in the minds of men and women? Thanks to research on the topic dating all the way back to Alfred Kinsey's seminal 1953 study, Pamela Leong, a researcher at Salem State University, had a hunch that the sexes would approach their respective bathroom graffiti pretty differently.
For her study, Leong photographed the graffiti in 10 single-sex bathrooms at Salem State University in Salem, Massachusetts. After gathering a total of 202 graffiti samples, she analyzed the content and identified trends.
Bathroom graffiti in men's restrooms was "impersonal, vulgar, competitive and aggressive," according to Leung, as well as more sexually explicit (think: crude sketches of breasts and genitalia). The largest chunk of men's graffiti comprised of insults, sometimes expressed by disparaging a previous graffiti artist's female loved one. In fact, one drawing of a vagina elicited replies ranging from responders claiming to have had sex with the artist's girlfriend to "Well it is your mom's pu**y." As Leong put it, in this context: "Masculinity, then, comes at the expense of women's reputations."
Women's bathroom graffiti, on the other hand, was predominately supportive and philosophical, focusing on love, art, menstruation, religion and politics. Sexual themes were nearly absent. Here's a sampling of women's replies to graffiti: "AMEN"; "Thank you"; "Keep preaching sister!!!"; "It will be [better]. I promise. Don't ever give up." In contrast, when a person in the men's bathroom wrote that he was gay and autistic, the reply he got was "FYAD," short for "fuck you and die." Oy vey.
Just like the Internet has taught us, it's easy to be a big, strong anonymous man, even while defecating. Let's hear a round of golf claps for the male poets of America's restrooms, shall we?