Taking the piss

Let’s talk about toilets, shall we? Writing in The Daily Dose, Ingebord van Lieshout describes how “pee’d off” Dutch women are waging war for gender-neutral toilets.

It’s an issue throughout the world, where so-called “potty parity” doesn’t exist: if you use the ladies’, you can expect long queues at any kind of public event.

In The Atlantic, Hoe Pinsker asks a simple question: the long lines for women’s bathrooms could be eliminated. Why haven’t they been?

Sexism is part of it, of course, but a lot of it is money. Regulations only stipulate the minimum number of toilets for men and women that need to be provided; beyond that it’s usually a financial decision, and that decision is still largely in the hands of male architects and other male stake-holders.

As Pinkster notes, all kinds of studies take place to analyse issues such as how long people will have to wait for a lift. But “it’s rare for developers to undertake any sort of timing study for bathrooms, even though it’s not clear that waiting for a toilet is any less important than waiting for an elevator.” And it’s difficult to add extra toilets to places that have already been built.

One option is to designate more bathrooms as gender-neutral, an option we already use in places where there isn’t much space – such as aeroplanes, small cafés and everybody’s bloody house. If we did more of that, fewer women would be queuing for so long.

If the bigots would stop howling about trans people we might be able to recognise the many pluses of gender neutral toilets, which The Guardian described in late 2017.

making existing WCs gender-neutral requires little more than changing the signs on the door. And it perfectly equalises the waiting times for men and women.

The difference is dramatic.

Suppose that we have a male and a female multi-stall toilet with six stalls each. We have 150 males and 150 females answering the call of nature over a one-hour period. Then the average waiting time for men is roughly 27sec and for women roughly 7min 40sec. This seems close to what we see in toilets in West End theatres. If we make them gender-neutral, then the average waiting time will go to 36 seconds – a small increase for men but a substantial decrease for women.

There are other benefits too. Male bathrooms often don’t have baby changing facilities, or sanitary facilities for people who were assigned female at birth but who identify as male or non-binary. They can be more useful for disabled people whose carers are of a different gender. And they are cheap.

And yet there are still some vocal people who’d rather make  women stand cross-legged past the point of discomfort than allow gender-neutral toilets. For example, this month a member of an anti-trans pressure group has written to East Renfrewshire, Angus, Dundee and Edinburgh councils (and of course, to the newspapers covering those areas) decrying gender-neutral toilets in primary schools, because of course primary school children are dangerous predators. Elsewhere, anti-trans activists demand trans people are excluded from toilets, propaganda that’s led to anti-trans bigots abusing women who don’t look “female enough” because they have short hair or aren’t conventionally pretty. That’s just taking the piss.