This past week, I sat in a breakout room of the new Academic Innovation Center (AIC) here at Bryant University, attempting to soak in the fresh glamour of the new cornerstone of the institution. Reading “Urinalysis: On Leigh Shoemaker’s Standing Up to Pee,” a Fall 1997 article from Bitch Magazine, I could not help but feel uncomfortable in the fishbowl of a building. For those who do not know, the entire building is essentially transparent, with classrooms and study space separated from each other by panes of glass. While understanding the layout of the AIC is an attempt to promote collaborative thinking, I would often look up from my work as movement outside my glass room caught my eye, leading to matching stares between myself and those walking by. These glances were quickly brushed off, as we both averted our gaze from embarrassment. This endless cycle of attempting to engage with academic growth only to be continuously involved with a war of eye glances with passersby left me with a feeling of uncanniness. Like Poe’s paranoid The Tell-Tale Heart, I constantly felt the eyes of the building on me, peering into my work through its clear walls. The connection between the Shoemaker text in front of me and my feeling of unease was undeniable and lead me down the path of analyzing the architectural structure of the landmark building and its subconscious effect on the academic individual—for who doesn’t love voluntary introspective critical exploration.
Leigh Shoemaker’s theoretical article on the act of urination as a social separator of gender began as response to Camille Paglia’s Sexual Personae. Similar to this, I will utilize her analysis as the foundation for my own. While the essay is littered with interesting points—I specifically enjoy the comparison between styles of urination and lactation—the most useful perception for my analysis of the uncanny nature of the AIC lies in the social conceptualization of the male restroom. The widespread cultural commentary on the speed of men’s urination compared to women’s, Shoemaker claims, is not biological but rather social, emanating from many collective demands of each gender. A crucial point is the urinal—or trough in some restrooms—as the main structure of bathrooms. Men are socialized, from childhood, to the process of urinal etiquette; glancing around, talking to others, shaking too much/too little are simply a few of the unspoken norms of taking a piss in the public nature of men’s restrooms. Take too long at the urinal or fiddle with your junk too much and the creeping specter of homosexuality creeps in. Someone taking a urinal next to you, even though it is open, is a serious assault on the rigid heteronormativity and desexualization of the body.
Shoemaker synthesizes these experiences into a common social nature for men’s restrooms, describing it as a “proving ground of machismo… a site of systematic desensitization through a lack of privacy and forced public urination” (Urinalysis). While there is the constant threat of being labeled “gay” due to a too-lengthy urinal trip or a too-strong shake, there is a simultaneous stressor of a too-short bathroom break. Speeding through the urinal trip with little confidence or, worse, electing to use a stall to urinate all act as a social assault on one’s masculinity. This is where my experiences in the fishbowl of the AIC connects to the theory in Urinalysis. While academia does prosper from open collaboration of individuals and groups, not doubt furthered by the open layout of the building, the extremely open atmosphere takes students into the proving ground of masculinity and fear. The constant ‘watchman’ status of the building illustrates an academic version of the Panopticon, but I would like to take the unnerving fear of that institution one step further. Studying in the AIC is the academic version of taking a piss in the men’s restroom. Not working quickly enough induces a feeling of unease, as students feel the eyes of their peers on them, judging their academic struggles. Working too quickly induces a feeling of unease, as students feel the eyes of their peers on them, judging them for not engaging long enough with their academics. For those few students who still prefer the Unistructure rooms for their studies, opting for the solidarity of a closed room than the pissing match that open-area buildings can promote, find themselves experiencing a self-imposed sense of shame similar to using the stall in the restroom.
It is of my opinion that every essay does not need to produce an answer to a problem. Often, the synthesis of multiple aspects of theory and life into a coherent thought is a difficult goal for an essay. While I cannot offer a solution to the fishbowl nature of the AIC, being unable to separate the positives of open-floor building layout with the negatives of self-conscious study habits, I can point to the connections raised in my text. The core issue of bathroom unease is the constant competition eminent in masculinity and male genitalia; perhaps the core issue of the AIC fishbowl effect is the constant competition in our academic atmosphere. If the University focused less on numbers and rankings and more on feminine ideals of support and community, then the uncanny aspect of the AIC Panopticon may disparate.