Chapter

Restroom Doors and Drinking Fountains: Perspective, Mobility, and the Fluid Grounds of Race and Gender

Elizabeth Abel

in Signs of the Times

Published by University of California Press

Published in print June 2010 | ISBN: 9780520261174
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520945869 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/california/9780520261174.003.0005
Restroom Doors and Drinking Fountains: Perspective, Mobility, and the Fluid Grounds of Race and Gender

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This chapter brings together sites of assimilation and elimination, beginning with the imaginative bedrock of Jim Crow: the restroom doors and drinking fountains whose parallel alignment, derived from and reinforced by the sexual division, affords the illusion of a stable binary. The side-by-side arrangement also indulges the photographic fantasy of a neutral position. This chapter explores how that fantasy was betrayed by the association of specific racial labels and bodies. It tracks the evolution of perspectives along a historical axis from the 1930s through the 1960s and across the spectrum of subject positions occupied by the photographers. At stake in the depiction of Jim Crow signs for women were the boundaries of gender, destabilized through the juncture of race and waste, and renegotiated by the camera's extension of the visual frame to embrace contradictions and contiguities. The juxtaposition of front and rear with the lateral structure of gender was an especially disturbing feature of racial segregation's geography in the eyes of another observer.

Keywords: Jim Crow signs; restroom doors; drinking fountains; sexual division; racial segregation; gender; race; women; photographic fantasy; photographers

Chapter.  13939 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of the Americas

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