The Pursuit of (Uterine) Happiness

November 7, 2018

Toilet-division.jpgWhile there are many that might agree that infrastructure and its functions and contributions are only noticeable at the moment of failure, and that otherwise there is an indifferent attitude towards it as it is often taken for granted, many would perhaps also agree that this is not the case for infrastructure of public sanitation access. Further, Sara Ahmed suggests that ‘objects that we encounter are not neutral,’ meaning that a preconceived idea is often in place as one encounters an infrastructure, and that the idea has an affective value that is either negative or positive.

One might be familiar with the general affective value for public toilets, where there is often an expectation of the bare minimum. There is occasionally a pleasant surprise when, upon entrance to a public toilet, it appears to provide adequate hygiene and sanitation. The words of Eric Shouse seem to well describe one’s affective value and expectations of the experience as they are about to use a public toilet; ‘affect is the body’s way of preparing itself for action in a given circumstance by adding a quantitative dimension of intensity to the quality of an experience.’ Frustration, anger, disgust, as well as sadness, are some of the affects one are confronted with in the encounter of public toilets.

Now, how come public toilets are embedded with such negative attitudes regarding the experience of the user, especially menstruators? One plausible explanation could be that most builders, engineers, architects are men, and women are excluded from the processes of decision-making and, perhaps most importantly, design. Exclusion from these processes results in inadequate access to comfortable, sanitary, hygienic, and well-located public toilets, much due to the lack of the perspective of uterine carriers.

According to Schmitt et al, ‘the unique sanitation needs for [uterine carriers] are rarely accounted for during the design and construction of toilet facilities, including needs related to their physiology, reproductive health processes, prevalent social norms and their heightened vulnerability to violence.’ It is critical that decision makers, designers, constructers, sanitation practitioners and others involved in the process of design and construction of public toilet facilities, adopt ‘specific design measures which account for [uterine carriers] menstrual hygiene, personal safety and dignity-related needs.’

It becomes evident that feminist approaches in architecture and infrastructure are essential for the development a built environment. Uterine carriers’ experiences with public sanitation facilities need to be included in the design processes, including the early design stages. By mainstreaming the provision of public toilets that meet the demands of uterine carriers, it will, hopefully, lead to public toilets abandoning their negative affective value and rather obtain the affect of happiness.


05_Infrastructural Affect_Sara Sako

Public sanitation access in Stockholm


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