Sunday, April 14, 2024

For God’s Sake, Let Women Pee! The Case for More Ladies and Unisex Loos, Please and Thanks

Anyone else sick of queueing for the women’s toilets when there’s no queue at the men’s? Sarah Lang supports Toilet Equality because at the moment let’s be honest – it’s piss poor.

It was the half-time intermission at the NZ Comedy Festival’s opening gala, and I really needed to pee. But the women’s toilets had a queue of – yes, I counted them all – 18 people. I knew I wouldn’t make it in and out before the intermission ended. But I didn’t fancy pressure on my bladder when I was laughing, if you know what I mean.

But what choice did I have? Well, I decided I did have one. There was no queue for the men’s toilets. So, I did it. I used the men’s loos. A man coming out looked at me strangely but didn’t say anything. I was in and out quickly. I had gone against an entrenched social norm, but almost felt like I was committing a crime. Was my act unsanctioned or even offensive? Then I thought, screw social rules, because I’m so sick of queues. I just want to pee.

The following week, at a writers’ festival the same thing occurred. A queue for the women’s loos. No queue at the men’s. So I used the men’s. A woman queuing for the women’s toilets across the hallway looked shocked. When I was in there, a man said: ‘these are the men’s toilets!’. I said: ‘I’m not lost, I’ve just lost the queue!’. He looked dubious.

Some men might say, ‘but there are urinals, not just cubicles, in the men’s, and we don’t want women seeing that’. To that, I’d say “I don’t care to look and I doubt anyone else does either’. Can we just swear an oath not to look? Aren’t women’s full bladders more important than a few men’s quibbles?

Loo queues

Restaurants, bars, venues, public facilities, etc, tend to have an equal number of men’s and women’s toilets, despite the fact that it takes women longer to use the bathroom. We’re made to ‘hold it in’ while men duck in and out quickly.

Dr Rosaline Stanwell-Smith, a UK researcher public-sanitation expert, told Radio NZ’s Zoë George for an article that loo queues are common. “She [Rosaline] also found a lack of toilets acted as a ‘loo leash’ which deterred up to one in five people from venturing into public and more than half of the public restrict their fluid intake because of concerns about a lack of toilets.” Wow. Rosaline suggested we need a ratio of 2:1 toilets in favour of women. Others suggest a higher ratio.

The Guardian reports that “studies show that women take twice as long to use a toilet as men: about 90 seconds for women, 40 seconds for men” – and that “59% of women said they regularly have to queue, compared with 11% of men.” “The queues,” the article says, “are a result of centuries of gender bias in architecture and design, plus a dose of prejudice and taboo”.

‘Creeping’ in

Though most women don’t feel comfortable enough to do this, several women told me they’ve crept into the men’s toilets before. An article on this subject says that “in a bold and desperate move, we [women] may dare to enter into male territory and use the men’s restroom”.

But why, the writer asks, should women have to wait longer than men to access a toilet? “A woman spends more time in the toilet not because it’s a fun place to hang out, but due to biological, social, and cultural gender norms. Women must sit down while men can stand up. Women have to remove more clothing than men, whose clothing provides faster access… Women usually need to carry more things than men, they menstruate [changing a tampon or pad takes time], they must use the toilet more frequently when they are pregnant and when they are breastfeeding. These are all biological functions that women cannot control.” So no, we’re not just holding up the line by reapplying our lipstick.

Time magazine wrote a story called ‘The Everyday Sexism of Women Waiting in Public Toilet Lines’. “If you’re a woman, chances are you’ve a) spent time fidgeting in a long line waiting to use a public toilet, b) delayed a bodily function because you don’t want to or haven’t the time to waste standing in line to use a public toilet, c) considered sneaking into a men’s room—illegal in some places, or d) cursed loudly because of all of the above…. women are still forced to stand in lines at malls, schools, stadiums, concerts, fairgrounds, theme parks, and other crowded public spaces. This is frustrating, uncomfortable, and, in some circumstances, humiliating. It’s also a form of discrimination, as it disproportionately affects women.”

Closing the gap

There’s the gender pay gap, the orgasm gap (men have more than women), and now I’m arguing there’s the ‘loo gap’. How can we close it? Either by installing more women’s toilets relative to men’s toilets, or by having unisex loos. The latter seems the easiest solution. Sure, there are some unisex loos already, but there aren’t enough. In the meantime, I suggest that venues put up unisex or gender-neutral signs on bathrooms. If some men or women feel uncomfortable with unisex bathrooms, perhaps we can have a few loos segregated by sex, with the rest unisex.

Who knew that there is a social movement advocating for toilet equality? I prefer that term, but ‘Potty Parity’ has its own Wikipedia page, which describes it as “equal or equitable provision of public-toilet facilities for females and males within a public space”. Potty Parity is also an American movement that refers to advocacy efforts for legislation that addresses the longer lines for women at public restrooms. Excellent. We need a New Zealand branch. In the meantime, I’ll be choosing the men’s loo over a queue.

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