To Sit or Not to Sit: Gendering How We Pee

Tiffani W. at Peppermint Kiss sent in a great example of the social construction of gender and the devaluation of all things feminine, a comic posted at The Oatmeal:

According to Tiffani,

Women sit down to pee.  Women are sissy bitches.  Therefore, sitting down to pee makes you a “sissy bitch.”  If that second sentence weren’t there, the joke wouldn’t make any sense.

Not only do people think that it is girly (yuck!) to sit down and pee, they also think that it is natural that men stand. However, this is learned behavior. While peeing is biological, where and how we pee are cultural and imbued with meaning.

Whether you sit or stand depends on where you are in the world. I have personally witnessed women standing to pee in Ghana, and they did not make the mess that I, without any practice, would make. Enough Ghanaian women stand to pee for this sign to make sense (link):

Ignoring the fact that some women in other areas of the world stand to pee, many Westerners claim–because they assume we are more civilized–that men evolved to stand while women evolved to sit. They think it is natural.

However, it may really be natural to squat. There is speculation that many of the ancient toilets that we assume people sat on were actually squat toilets. We may have actually squatted throughout much of history. If you have ever spent time around small children, you know they instinctively squat before we teach them to sit or stand. Furthermore, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends teaching a young boy to sit first. When you really, really, really want a young boy to just use the toilet instead of a diaper, the last thing you want to do is make it confusing by trying to teach him that sometimes you sit and sometimes you stand.

But many parents will go to a lot of trouble to teach gender even though it might cause them more trouble and a messy bathroom, hence the existence of tinkle targets and potty-training urinals like the one shown here, which promises to give your son a “real ‘stand up’ experience”:

On the other hand, in line with our greater comfort with women adopting masculine behaviors than men adopting feminine ones, a quick Google search yields a plethora of sites teaching women how to stand while peeing. And if you just can’t master it, well then there is a product for that.

So even something as seemingly “natural” as peeing varies culturally and illustrates our insistence in the U.S. on emphasizing gender difference and placing gender-segregated practices in a hierarchy that values masculine traits over feminine ones—even ones as mundane as how we pee.

Reprinted with permission from The Society Pages

Comments

  1. A lot of those pros arent true. People with dicks still have to aim, and its actually a lot harder because you have to aim backwards or youll piss through the crack between the toilet seat, or pee on a surface way to close and mist everything. You still have to touch your penis.. to aim, and risk brushing your penis against the sloping portion of the toilet if you dont bend it right. Also, while squatting, you still have to aim to piss behind you, as you naturally spray forward (not down) and will piss all over your pants. This is all assuming you are completely flaccid, because if you arent, sitting to pee is impossible. If you can pull down your pants without undoing the zipper, youre missing the whole point of having a zipper on your pants.

    • The whole point to pants having zippers is so that you can put them on. Haven’t you ever tried to put your pants on or take them off without undoing the zipper and top button? If your pants fit correctly, you will not be able to easily put your pants on and take them off without un-buttoning the button and unzipping the pants. Zippers are there mostly to be able to comfortably put your pants on and take them off. Not for un-zipping to pee. If the point of a zipper were for peeing, then why do women’s pants have zippers?

  2. Aeon Blue says:

    As a girl, I urinated while standing and continued to do so until puberty. Despite clearly remembering this, for twenty years afterward I heard so often that women could only urinate while sitting – indeed, that this was part of our natural biological inferiority – that I assumed I must have been mistaken. Reading Samuel Delany’s account of his three year old daughter and her friends doing the same thing was a real eye opener. It still amazes me that american society’s disbelief in women’s ability to pee standing up was so strong I dismissed my own knowledge otherwise!

    • I sometimes pee standing up (if I’m wearing a skirt or naked) if I’m in a rush. I don’t understand the author’s claim that females need to “learn” how to pee standing up?!? What’s to learn? Stand. Pee.
      As Aeon says, it is implied in our society that females “having to” sit to pee (which is BS) is a biological inferiority (originating from a male-dominated society, always assuming and insisting their way is superior). However, sitting to go is preferable sometimes as one can go #1 & #2 at the same time. Since men, then, stand to pee and can’t do this, I submit their way is biologically inferior as they cannot partake in this convenience as women can. :D

  3. Not to mention the hand-washing bit!

  4. When I was 4 or so, I was playing in the backyard with the little boy from next door. “Just a minute,” I told him, “I have to go to the bathroom.” My Mother overheard this and when I came out of the bathroom she said, “Don’t tell people that you are going to the bathroom, or what you did in there. It’s personal and they don’t need to think of you with your panties down. Just say, ‘I’ll be right back.’” If, for health reasons, we discussed bodily functions, we used the words urinate and bowel movement. Anything else was low class.

    So think about it. Do you want your kids announcing to the diners at the other table that they have to poop? Do you want them being confused between pea and pee just because someone somewhere decided to substitute pee for the longer piss? We already have enough comedy writers who can only think below the navel. Let’s get our thoughts on higher planes.

    • As soon as I read the first paragraph I thought you were going to follow it up with HOW RIDICULOUS YOUR MOTHER’s COMMENT WAS. Imagine how confused I was when you didn’t.

      Pathologizing natural behaviors like going to the bathroom isn’t healthy. And while saying things like “I’ll be right back” is ok in most cases, i think it is potentially a good idea to know where someone is going in case something unexpected happens. What if the kid/person in question is epileptic? What if they aren’t right back, you will have no idea where they were heading; which makes it harder to locate them. Honesty and actual prudence, as opposed to being a “prude” are usually the best policy.

      • Yeah, so did I. I thought you were going to say that you barely recovered into adulthood to have rational discourse about your bodily functions like a grown person but that you eventually learned not to care about silly things like what other people thought about when you said the word “pee.” I second that surprise.

      • I agree, especially the pathologizing part. That is why so many people struggle with being pee-shy, not being able to be honest with doctors about “embarrassing” symptoms, and other phobias that can endanger one’s health. Some women don’t drink enough fluids if they fear they’ll be somewhere where they can’t get to a bathroom for a long time, because there’s a common conviction that they’re not “allowed” to urinate outside if they need to, which is not only unfair but unhealthy.

        I don’t see how being casual or having a sense of humor about what everyone does naturally should be so terrible. Maybe it is rude sometimes to get overly graphic, but otherwise that attitude just puts unnecessary shame and guilt on people, and its especially hard on children.

  5. David Rovics has a song in which he ihmplored men to “stand up for rights, but sit down to pee” This is to spare others in the household the consequences of our poor aim. I sit except when using urinals in public restrooms.

  6. To men who come up with a million non-sensical reasons on why men cannot sit and piss:

    Muslim men are advised to sit down, while peeing. So, at least a billion man in this world are trained to sit down and pee, it does not sound unnatural or disabling to them and as a matter of fact, standing up and peeing is very unnatural to them.

    • I just presented you with quite a few reasons why its harder for some men to sit rather than stand, from first hand experience, and not speculation.

  7. As a guy I have finally decided that the best thing to do is to sit when I pee. I have had too many instances where I thought I only had to pee and was hard pressed to stop the flow and try to run away from the urinal or try to get my pants down and reverse position at the toilet. This has ended with sometimes making it, sometimes having urine soaked pants and sometimes having more than just urine staining my pants. Now I set all the time and if I get surprised it is no longer traumatic. Also this eliminates the awful surprise (yes, even as a guy) of sitting on the toilet in the dark only to find that the seat is up and getting a surprise dip in a very tiny pool.

  8. As a child in the 1950′s, if we were going to go to a public ladies room, our mother went with us. We did not make the kind of announcements that people do today, “I have to go pee,” or “Wow, I feel so much better after that dump.” Of course, anyone with a health problem should take precautions and make sure that someone knows where they are going. But “going to the ladies” is a much better expression. Perhaps the person wants to brush their teeth or take their sinus medicine and clear their nose. Think people don’t do that in a ladies room? Guess again. But I don’t need to hear a public announcement about any of those. Espicially if I am drinking a lemonade, having brown lumpy gravy on my potato, or eating melted vanilla ice cream.

  9. The very 1st time I ever seen a man sitting while peeing, was when I accidentally walked in on my boyfriend. I laughed so hard I almost fell over. He told me that most of his friends sit down most of the time because it’s more comfy & just in case he needs to go #2, he is already in position to go. The only problem for him, because he is quite large, is that his penis touches the water most of the time. Therefore when he is done going, it’s not only his hands that he has to wash & clean. I did stand up a few times when I was like 12, to pee, just to experiment. And once I even peed in a snapple bottle in the car cuz there was no where to pull over and I got every drop in the bottle. Hey when you gotta go- you gotta go!

  10. Actually squatting is today the favorite way for both sexes to pee and shit in much of the Middle East, Asia and Africa. Muslim men are even advised to wash after urination, just like women. I’ve used primitive toilets in many countries and would take the squatting type over the dirty wooden seat any day– much cleaner for the user.

    You can’t be serious that anyone is claiming superiority based on how he pees…

    • Yes, it happens to me all the time to hear people claiming superiority over me/women or ostracizing me/women in general from their social group because they think I/women can’t pee standing up. That’s ridiculous, but yeah it happens.

  11. My parents (dad especially) were EXTREMELY uncomfortable getting into specifics about anatomy & physiology. I think my dad was afraid that if I even KNEW that men had penises, one would somehow find its way to me. At any rate, the stand/sit thing that men went through always confused me. I’m in my 50s and not too long ago asked my husband, if a man has to do “#1″ and then “#2,” does he stand to pee and then sit, or does he just sit for all of it? He said (and no, I am not making this up, and yes, I’m still married to him), “Sorry, it’s a secret guy thing and I’m not allowed to tell you.” Seriously, I couldn’t get any information about this. Reading this article has gone a long way in clearing up the confusion. Cross one off the bucket list…

    As for “announcements,” if you’re in a restaurant and you say “Excuse me” or “Be right back” and your friends know you’re NOT stepping outside to have a cigarette, I think your destination should be pretty obvious. I don’t think using the word “bathroom” is in terribly poor taste, but going into specifics about anything beyond the door is pretty gauche, IMO.

    • Thank you Elaine. It does show how far we have come from the 50′s that people have to be reminded that “announcements” of specifics are not needed. When I point this out to my college age students, they are surprised and to most of them it is a “new” idea. Privacy is an unknown subject. Ditto that they don’t have to answer the phone or the doorbell if they don’t want to. But that gets into another discussion. As to your husband’s reticence, men do get to have a few secrets, as long as they put the seat down when they are finished, flush, and put new paper on the roll with the end of the paper coming over the top. Oh, there, another few subjects. I am a talky old gal.

  12. Kynthia Rosgeal says:

    I am a trans woman (for those people reading this unfamiliar with this term, I was born a woman with male sex parts and raised as a man, until I transitioned to being a woman).

    I used to stand to urinate. It was expected of me. Sitting while doing so was considered “gay” (or some other derogatory term).

    Then I transitioned and could no longer use the mens room (Being dressed as a woman and entering the mens room is unhealthy in so many ways for a trans woman. Not the least of which is violence) I now use the womens room (My state ID reads Female). And even now am trapped by gender roles and teachings. Although conceivably I could stand to urinate, I don’t. I always sit because of who might see my feet pointing the wrong way (yes, someone asked me if I was a man because I wear size 11 shoes – it only gets worse form there) And I get enough hassle being a 6 ft woman.

    I wish now I had taught both my boys to sit, it is easier and cleaner in the long run with little boys. For me it frees me to change my liners (no, I dont menstruate, but a liner does keep my underwear cleaner throughout the day) And simply put, I relax because I am in a closed stall, not standing between strangers having a fit of shy bladder.

    • I feel the same way! I am a female and always stand to pee in public restrooms and sometimes at home. But since, it’s so taboo for women to stand to pee, I always feel a little scared of other women walking in and seeing my feet facing the opposite direction while peeing. I am a very confident female otherwise, but I still haven’t gotten over the shyness of even peeing while standing in a public stall! I wish that there were urinals in women’s restrooms. So, trans-woman, real-woman, or man, I’m sure anyone in a woman’s bathroom would be scared of other women seeing their feet facing the opposite direction in the stall!

  13. The Oatmeal really needs to stick with comics about grammar, the internet, or cats, because he just can’t cut it with the ~oh so edgy~ social commentary.

    Besides, this joke doesn’t even work on a logical level, because in most of the world toilets are close to the floor and designed for both genders to squat, because that’s how the human body naturally eliminates waste. The entire concept of sitting down at a 90 degree angle serves only to block the path, and it makes no sense for anyone in a tiny enclosed space to stand up and increase their chances of missing the mark.

  14. Your idea that the penis is safe from the zipper was obviously written by female that hasn’t learned how to pee standing up. he penis is always fair game to the zipper and believe me it hurts like hell when it gets caught!

  15. I’m a girl and I stand up to pee at home but sit down in public & at school. I sit down in public because yeah, I worry about other girls seeing my feet under the stall and getting creeped out…

  16. Matt Westwood says:

    As a male with radical body piercings, I have routinely been sitting down to pee for about 20 years. Basically, if you’ve got more holes than nature gave you, and lumps of metalwork through most of them, standing up to pee is a dreadfully messy business. Call me a sissy bitch if you like, but only if you’re prepared to part company with your teeth.

    But ultimately it’s purely a matter of preference. Do what you wanna do, baby. It’s a shame there are such strong social pressures in certain areas of the world that make people neurotic about such a natural act.

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