Straight Talk Advice

Aug 18, 2010

Girls’ bathroom brings out worst manners

DEAR STRAIGHT TALK: My sister is disabled and uses a wheelchair. She needs help in the bathroom so I arrange to meet her in the girls’ bathroom at school. Obviously, we need to use the disabled stall. When the bathroom is crowded we sometimes have to be assertive about demanding the right to priority for it. We get lots of dirty looks and cruel comments and some girls tell us to “wait our turn.” Our parents want to go to administration and demand that the kids be punished and that we be given priority since that’s the law. We don’t want to do that as it would cause us to be ostracized even more. Already girls say things like, “How can you stand to do that?” which is humiliating for my sister to hear. What is the best way to handle this without getting others in trouble? — Cathy

Akasha 16, Sacramento, Calif. Ask me a question

I attend private school and no one would think about treating you or your sister like that. You would be thought of very highly for helping her. The girls making rude comments are idiots. Say to them, “What, you wouldn’t help your sister?”

Lennon 23, Fair Oaks, Calif. Ask me a question

Really, why not just wait your turn? Whereas I’d let a disabled person use the large stall before me, these stalls are meant to provide access, not preferential treatment. Regarding the rude comments, I know nothing about girls’ bathroom rituals, but you might kindly tell them to shove it.

Gabriel 19, Ashland, Ore. Ask me a question

Act unaffected by the remarks. No matter how much they hurt, just let them go right through you. If your parents do have a meeting with administration keep it on the down low so it doesn’t cause more drama.

Katelyn 16, Huntington Beach, Calif. Ask me a question

Privately ask a female teacher to monitor the bathroom scene. Or get some friends to wait for you in the bathroom; they could also serve as witnesses if you need help from administration.

Maureen 19, Redding, Calif. Ask me a question

Ask about using a staff bathroom to avoid the whole situation. As for the comments, some kids are just rude and probably nothing will change that. You are doing a respectable thing. Keep reminding yourself of that when you are in this situation.

Graham 16, Fair Oaks, Calif. Ask me a question

You have some nasty characters at your school. If they are too full of themselves to understand the needs of others, who cares what they think of you?

DEAR CATHY: I commend you for telling your parents about the situation while at the same time seeking to solve it on your own. Not that I would recommend this in all cases of bullying. Sometimes a person must absolutely seek and accept adult intervention. But in this situation, I think you and your sister can handle it. Here is my suggestion: First, what you must realize (and what many people are confused about) is that Lennon is right. The handicap stalls really are to provide access. They do not imply exclusivity or priority. While people usually give a handicapped person priority freely, the situation is too complex to be governed by law. (For example, often you can’t tell when someone is handicapped and often there is only one toilet.) If you and your sister wait humbly in line like everyone else, and at the head of the line, wait humbly again for the handicap stall to open, you will find people going out of their way to offer you the stall ahead of them. Not expecting special treatment will also reduce the rude comments. For those rude comments that continue regarding your kind assistance, you have every right to be appalled and to speak up accordingly, whether to that person directly, or at the office.

Editor’s Note: I am saddened by the continual accounts of bullying in our public schools — especially as I know that it is not a fait accompli (meaning: beyond alteration). As Akasha notes, this kind of behavior is the last thing she would ever find at her private school. She attends a Waldorf school, which is the fastest-growing pedagogical movement in the world. The teachers and staff work diligently from Kindergarten onward to instill a moral code of conduct so that students “...stand guard over truth, look up to the noble, resolve on the good…” (extracted from a verse by Rudolph Steiner that grade school students recite daily). Principles of non-violent communication could easily be an ongoing part of our public school curriculum too. —Lauren

  1. By Lori, age , from Carmichael, CA on 08/18/2010

    I have a physically challenged friend who needs help in the bathroom.  Another friend and I take turns helping her at school.  We usually don’t have a problem getting priority to the handicapped stall.  However, we do sometimes get cruel comments.  One time when we came out of the stall this girl gave my friend a contemptuous look like she wasn’t even a human being and said to me in a loud voice, “Do you even have to wipe her?  That would be so gross!”  I do have to wipe her, but I really don’t think it’s anyone else’s business and I don’t understand why this girl was worried about it since she wasn’t the one doing it.  It was hard at first, but I was willing to do it since she’s my friend and I’ve gotten used to it and it doesn’t bother me any more.  But cruel comments like this do bother me, although it is only a small minority who do this.  Friends help their friends and that includes help in the bathroom if that’s what they need.

    Lori

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  2. By Steve, age , from Yuba City, CA, U.S.A. on 08/19/2010

    I’m a guy in a wheelchair who also needs assistance in the bathroom.  At my school, the school nurse’s office has a bathroom equipped for the physically challenged which I use with assistance from the nurse.  Even though the nurse is a female, she is very professional and I don’t have a problem with her assisting me.  I grew up with my mom and older sister assisting me in the bathroom, so it’s not a big deal to me by now to be assisted by a female and have her see me on the toilet.  In the beginning I was able to do this discretely.  However, one time this guy was in the nurse’s office to get a bandage for a minor injury and saw the nurse helping me into the bathroom.  He had to go and tell everybody and now I get teased about the fact that a female nurse helps me in the bathroom.  It doesn’t help that she’s young and attractive and some guys even make cruel jokes saying that there’s something sexual going on between us in the bathroom.  Nobody takes them seriously, but it still is very humiliating and embarrassing to be teased like this.  It’s bad enough to different and in a wheelchair and not even be able to go to the bathroom without help, and I don’t need to have kids rub it in.  My mom wanted to go to the principal about the harassment I’m getting, but I wouldn’t let her.  I have enough trouble being accepted and I’m sure that it would make it much worse if I got these kids in trouble, but it really hurts.

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  3. By Sherry, age , from Tacoma, Washington on 08/20/2010

    I know that kids can be mean and cruel to other kids, but the one’s who do this have to be the lowest of the low.  Anybody who would put somebody down because their disabled and need help in the bathroom or because someone is kind enough to help her sister or her friend this way has to be a total scumbag.  It’s probably easier said than done, but I’d try to tell myself who cares what a scumbag says or thinks!  Last year I had a freak accident on my bike and broke both my right arm and leg.  In the beginning my sister had to help me get dressed and undressed and use the bathroom and give me a sponge bath since I couldn’t take a bath or shower.  Since we’re sisters and share a room and aren’t shy about things with each other, the lack of privacy doing these things didn’t really bother me.  But what did really bother me was the feeling of helplessness of having to rely on someone else for basic things like this.  It’s very scary.  I’m very thankful that it was only temporary and this has made me much more empathetic toward the disabled. 

    Sherry

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