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American graffiti: deconstructing gendered communication patterns in bathroom stalls

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Bathroom graffiti, in both its text and pictorial form, represent viable means for strangers to communicate with each other. The text or drawings in the bathroom stalls, while written or drawn in a private space and presumably during a very private moment, are meant to be public, as they transmit ideas, images, and even responses. Using data collected in 10 bathroom stalls at a university (five men's bathrooms and five women's bathrooms), this study examines differences in communication patterns in women's and men's bathroom stalls through an analysis of graffiti content and style. Findings reveal that while communication patterns tend to be supportive and relationship-focused in women's bathrooms, the graffiti in men's bathroom walls are replete with sexual content and insults, in the course of the construction of hegemonic masculinity. In addition, an analysis of the response-and-reply chains suggests that, in the bathroom stalls, hierarchies of power are established and reinforced even in anonymous, unmoderated spaces, and even when no humans are physically present.
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Keywords: anonymous communications; bathroom graffiti; baños públicos; comunicaciones anónimas; comunicaciones generizadas; espacio; gendered communications; grafiti de baño; lugar y comunicación; public bathrooms

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Sociology, Salem State University, 352 Lafayette Street, Meier Hall 335E, Salem, MA, 01970, USA

Publication date: March 3, 2016

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