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A Gym's Urinal Shaped Like A Woman's Mouth: Extreme Sexism Or Upside-Down Art?

In the Italian city of Turin, a gym has installed urinals that appear to be shaped like a woman's open mouth. From Duchamp to Warhol to Mick Jagger, everything we see is in the eyes of the beholder.

Gym's urinal shaped like a woman's mouth.

McFit gym's urinal shaped like a woman's mouth, Turin.

Giulia Zonca


TURIN — A photo posted online last week has sparked outrage and debate in Italy. The now infamous image from inside the men's bathrooms of the McFit gym in Turin shows urinals that are shaped like a woman's open mouth. While some are denouncing it as sexist, others are calling it art, or simply a joke — posing the broader question of why it's so important to discuss objectification?

The problem lies in the starting point, in the gaze that conditions all what we see, every perception we have of this country, every single prejudice.

Who said that large red lips, with a hint of teeth from a toothpaste commercial's perfect smile, are inherently feminine? Yes, there's lipstick, the heart-shaped line, but they are objects of fantasy, a creative design that doesn't belong to a specific gender: in this case, urinals that a chain of gyms has hung in its bathrooms in an attempt to use art for an easy laugh.

But our point of view changes, the game collapses, and since the game is always the same, it's time to dismantle it. And it's quite easy to do so. Indeed the inspiration originally comes from the famous design of Mick Jagger's lips and tongue. Yes, a man.

A Dutch designer turned the caricature logo into ceramic art. She created art, which may or may not be appreciated, but remains an bonafide act of creativity. The gyms, of course, didn't exercise much mental effort. Do they ever?

The classic association

The mouth is in the men's restroom, used after hours of training, which, as we know, produces that feeling of bliss and desire. So, when confronted with two enlarged lips in a pop art style, it immediately triggers a series of chain associations.

The chain of lascivious obviousness might appear even more spontaneous — but no.

Yet these gyms are frequented by the masses, and all sexual orientations are present. So this isn't your typical one-dimensional scandal. This is an enormous cartoon with a practical function, and there's no need to invoke Marcel Duchamp's iconic "Fountain." It's unnecessary, even though the pattern used is the same: there, it was the artist who acted, and here, it's up to the public. Duchamp decontextualized objects; now it's time to decontextualize concepts.

The mouths are there, open, in the men's restrooms, and thus, the classic association is immediate: lips, penis, sex. From this perspective, the chain of lascivious obviousness might appear even more spontaneous — but no. If even in the realm of porn we have uncovered a sustainable vein with the success of female directors, a focus on relationships that are somewhat more realistic and less acrobatic – why not urinals?

The contemporary art of lips

These aren't Warhol's mouths taken from Marilyn, certainly not, but those do offer a good example for a healthy approach: Marilyn Monroe was the "blonde bombshell," a terrible label that troubled her so deeply that it had to have played a role in her suicide. However, the mouths of the man who embodies pop art are a piece, they abstract from the body, live their own life, and become amusing, irreverent. They remain fascinating, demand attention, and promise nothing because they belong to no one.

These glossy lips are like those of Bettina Dupont, a French photographer who wants to disturb and creates an intermittent space between the simplest of laughter and lips stitched together. Contemporary art is full of lips, and no one ever thought of considering it obscene.

The romantic lips of Man Ray, stretched like a dream and more mocking than an awakening – something that, instead of finding you in front of his infinite lips in another world, opens your eyes to those in technicolor at the gyms. The enameled lips of Pino Pascali, intense red, closed, but not impenetrable, and there's an entire story to imagine there, while the Dutch designer showed us everything in her comedy, hastily classified as a suggestive invitation.

Who's getting excited?

Art also has a collection of toilets; we've already mentioned the noble father, Duchamp, then there's Maurizio Cattelan's golden toilet, with its ostentatious luxury. Imagine a CEO's bathroom, a flashy mega hotel restroom that wouldn't be out of place in the stadiums of the Saudi Super League. That one was intentionally vulgar, protesting against excessive wealth. Here, we're talking about gyms accessible to anyone.

Faced with a cartoon mouth, it's not obligatory to think of a submissive woman.

Claes Oldenburg's Soft Toilet would fit better: it's inflatable, and maybe a breath test would be useful for the treadmills. There's John Bratby; he paints toilets as depressing everyday scenes, a stinking room with peeling walls, a wooden seat, and a roll of toilet paper placed on top. It immediately suggests a certain unease, and it's not the same as what some customers might feel in front of a mouth-shaped urinal. Not exactly a furnishing element that puts everyone at ease.

Another detail to consider before interpreting it as an invitation for abuse: someone, feeling intimidated, might even struggle to take their tinkle into those lips.

There is better art with far more refined ideas, but in the face of this obvious descent into the vulgar, it's better to step forward and restore a more dignified sense to a debatable endeavor. Faced with a cartoon mouth, it's not obligatory to think of a submissive woman unless one has very little imagination and a terribly sad existence. The kind of imagination that envisions transgressive sex at the gym and spends evenings in masturbatory solitude at home, forever in search of compensating for having such a small ... brain.

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