Shapes are everywhere in our daily lives, doors are rectangles while phone chargers are squares. But, has it ever occurred to you that the signs on particular doors signify a very important–and recently controversial–topic known as gender? The answer is most likely not, and that is completely fine, because not many have actually paid close attention to the shape of the signs on bathroom doors.
On the bathroom doors in public places, there is a sign for male bathrooms as a triangle and a sign for female bathrooms as a circle. This fact seemed rather curious and intriguing, so I decided to ask a few people what their thoughts were on the subject and whether or not they considered themselves to be a circle or a triangle.
The first person I asked about this interesting observation was Andrea Galindo, a Second-Year Psychology major here at UC Merced. Here is what she had to say: “I have never really noticed the signs but now that you mention it they are different for men’s and women’s bathrooms. I guess I consider myself a circle, but that’s kind of weird.” Andrea did not realize, like many others, that the signs on bathrooms are actually very important and they serve a purpose.
The second person to be interviewed was Yolotzin Morales who is majoring in Public Health and is a Second-Year as well. Yolotzin also did not pay much attention to the bathroom sign prior to being asked about them, but upon receiving questions on the signs she said that they were “interesting because the female inside the circle is actually a triangle and the man in the triangle is the silhouette of a man. I wouldn’t be a circle or a triangle.” So, according to Yolotzin the signs do not seem very important.
However, subconsciously the signs are noticed and this is what stops you from going into the wrong bathroom. Whenever you go to a public place, and this is something that I have noticed myself, the sign that you are looking for is really the shape and not the image. By this, I mean that the identifying feature on the door is not necessarily the image of a man or woman but rather the shape of a triangle or a circle.
Yet, upon researching why bathroom signs have circles or triangles a rather convincing theory arose. According to Nancy J Price, the shapes on bathroom doors “might just be oversimplified versions of the Greek/Roman symbols for man and woman.” This theory seems valid since the signs could “easily be seen as echoes of the top halves of these symbols.” Essentially, the circle and the triangle on bathroom doors would therefore be logically used.
The evolution of the signs could be summed up by the observations of present day bathroom signs along with the Ancient Greek/Roman symbols which they were presumably derived from. Although the signs are very highly overlooked, they hold a long and simple history.