Can children in wrong restrooms be managed?

Wan Lixin
A video went viral in which two women argued over the presence of a 6-year-old boy of one of them in the women's toilet.
Wan Lixin

A video about a quarrel between two women over the presence of a 6-year-old boy in a woman's toilet went viral recently.

At the time of the incident, the boy's mother was bringing him to the restroom in a Metro station in Harbin, Heilongjiang Province, out of concern that he could not be left unattended outside or that he could not be relied upon to conduct himself appropriately in a men's restroom.

A woman, surprised by the boy's presence, attempted to prevent him from entering. A fierce row ensued, and the mother of the youngster demanded an apology from the woman, claiming that her impolite behaviour had hurt her son.

Many citizens and experts have moralised the dispute from different perspectives, with some citing the need for unisex restrooms and others emphasizing the importance of educating young children about gender differences.

On closer inspection, however, it becomes clear that solely technical solutions cannot adequately address the issue.

In July of last year, a similar complaint was lodged against a 6-year-old boy in a women's locker room at a swimming pool in Wuhan, Hubei Province.

Last October in a women's bathroom in Yantai, Shandong Province, where the presence of a kindergarten-aged boy prompted complaints from some women.

Would an age limit clearly stated in a notice warning children above a certain age from entering be feasible? Well, some 6-year-olds could be taller than others, and they generally appear much younger in their mother's eyes.

Although technical solutions could be elusive, the confrontation could have been avoided if the two women in question had shown some consideration for each other's feelings.

For instance, the woman who felt her privacy threatened could have brought up the issue with the mother first, with delicacy, and the mother could have defused the situation if she offered an apology upfront. The boy, taking a cue, could have made himself scarce without much ado.

The inability to appreciate the delicacy of the situation, on both sides, was counterproductive, and the escalating of the encounter into a sensational public issue caught the boy in the crossfire.

In a recent TV interview regarding the incident, Chen Yaya, an expert on gender issues from the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, also explained that growing gender anxiety among some women might have led to a situation where the woman mistook an unintentional intrusion of the women-specific public space by the boy as something intentional.

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