Working for Justice

Checking My Male Privilege at the Door to the Men’s Room – Part 1

Posted March 23rd, 2015 by in Gender Discrimination and Harassment.

It’s not every day of the year that a full-blown epiphany smacks you squarely between the eyes and eradicates your fundamental attitudes about life and meaning. Epiphanies, after all, are rare moments of enlightenment and recognition, the polar opposites of the commonplace and customary. But sometimes, despite their extraordinary nature, epiphanies can erupt under the most mundane circumstances and in the most prosaically pedestrian settings. This is more than simple philosophizing. I speak from the pain of personal experience. Barely two weeks ago, I was standing in line with a group of irate, semi-intoxicated male hockey fans at the Nassau Coliseum. We were inching our way – millimetering, actually – to the men’s restroom just beyond Gate 9. That’s where it happened – the blinding flash that overturned my ingrained beliefs, shattered my hardened dogmas into tiny shards, and forced me to re-examine some of my most deeply buried biases.

The line to the urinal was my road to Damascus.

It was an early evening of Wednesday, March 11, 2015. Outside, the wind howled like a demented dingo. I, however, was warmly ensconced in a cab heading for the Nassau Coliseum to watch the New York Rangers play their hated rivals, the Islanders of Uniondale.

Soon, I spotted it: the graceless lump of crumbling concrete, officially known as the Nassau Coliseum, but popularly titled, “The Mausoleum.” No one would ever mistake the circular squatness looming ahead of me as an architectural wonder of the world. But I wasn’t there for the décor – interior or exterior. I was there for the game. I walked quickly through the charade of a security check and settled into my seat.

After one sluggish period of half-hearted play, the Islanders led 1-0 and I left to go to the men’s lavatory. The narrow corridor behind the stands was clogged with people, 80% of them male. I craned my neck, searching for the bathroom signs and the line. After several minutes, I finally found both. What awaited me was completely unexpected. I’ve logged more than five decades of sports spectatoring in my life, during the course of which I’ve visited all species of arenas, stadiums, et al, and their appurtenant bathroom facilities. But nothing prepared me for this: the men’s lavatory line stretched halfway around the coliseum, several city blocks long. And the line moved at the speed of a glacier. Behind me, ahead of me, all around me, were yobs (British English for “louts”), mugs of beer in hand, growing angrier and drunker as the wait to the men’s room dragged on.

For a while, verbal jousting provided a temporary antidote to the rising swell of testosterone-fueled rage. The air was punctuated with playfully warring salutations: “Rangers suck!” “F- the Islanders!” 10 minutes… 15 minutes… 20 minutes… Still no men’s room. Then, one of the more inebriated fans lost it and began tossing anything he could get his hands towards everyone and no one in particular. I ducked a trash receptacle headed for my head.

Finally, after 35 minutes, the holy of holies – the men’s room! But that’s not what stays seared in my memory. No, it was the hulking behemoth behind me yelling out when we finally reached urinary salvation: “Jeez! If I gotta wait this long to piss, I might as well be a woman!”

And that’s when I was epiphanized.

[to be continued in Part 2]

Jeremy Heisler is the Vice-Chairman and a Founding Partner of Sanford Heisler Sharp. Throughout his legal career, Mr. Heisler has had notable success in employment class actions and complex multi-party and multi-state litigation, producing more than $400 million in benefits to class members.
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