Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Potty Parity is a Good Centrist Idea

Public facilities that handle crowds should have more women’s toilets than men’s. This is not fair, but it is just.

Well-known class action lawyer John Banzhaff III made the case for “potty parity” in 1990. Since then, 20 states and many cities have adopted ordinances that require anywhere from a 60/40 split of women’s to men’s toilets, to a 2:1 ratio. This past summer New York City passed the Women’s Restroom Equity Act requiring twice as many women’s toilets in arenas, bars, concert halls, convention halls, motion picture theatres, public dance halls, stadiums, and theatres.

Why is this necessary? Because women take longer in the restroom. They take longer because they have more clothes to manage. They take longer because they are more likely to have kids to manage. They take longer because they Just Do. Everyone would be better off if women did not have to wait longer to get into a restroom. This is pretty much a win-win rule.

So who is against it?

Critics on the left say that the law should be sex-blind, treating men and women exactly the same. Any different treatment, they say, even those that benefit women, reinforce stereotypes that women are weaker and in need of help. This reminds me of a lawyer I once heard of who argued that if the town had a dog leash license, the equal protection clause of the Constitution required that there also be a cat leash license. But this is a silly argument: recognizing real differences is sensible, not sexist. Equity does not require strict equality.

Critics on the right say this is an absurd example of overreaching and over-regulating by the “nanny state.” But this ignores the fact that the state has already shaped public facilities in a hundred ways to insure health, safety, and equal access. You would have to have a very strong stomach for mob panics and crowded collapses to be willing to let a big sports stadium or concert arena be built without any regulation at all.

Potty parity is a common-sense compromise that recognizes that men and women have different bodies and that they have different cultural customs and responsibilities.

13 comments:

ancho and lefty said...

Speaking of different cultural customs, last week when I was at the cattle auction in Santa Anna, Costa Rica there was only one public bathroom, which featured two toilets with swinging privacy doors and two urinals. The sink sat in between the two urinals. There was no attempt to keep the bathroom unisex, so you might emerge from the toilet with men in the restroom relieving themselves in the urinals. It was a new handwashing experience for sure. Never washed up between to campesinos urinating before.

Down here it is not at all uncommon to have to pay to use a public restroom. If you are lucky, the price includes a little folded-up square of toilet paper. I carry toilet paper or tissue with me all the time, prepared for the worst, as usual. I wonder how much money public bathrooms would save in the USA if everyone was just culturally programmed to carry one's own toilet tissue?

Anonymous said...

Banzhof was a jerk in college in the early 1960s and he hasn't improved.

Gruntled said...

Interestingly, I went to college with his son in the early '80s. He was a nice guy who just wanted to be a doctor.

Ampersand said...

The sink-between-urinals bathroom is an example of terrible design! When I was at college, some of the student residences had co-ed bathrooms (including toilet stalls with walls), and that worked fine.

Logically, co-ed bathrooms are the best solution, guaranteeing that everyone waits on equally long lines. But in practice, too many people would be freaked out by the idea of co-ed public restrooms - even though probably all of them have co-ed bathrooms in their own homes. Since the most sensible solution is not culturally acceptable, I favor "potty parity" as the next-best solution.

Gruntled said...

Many of the cafes I hang out in have two single-toilet restrooms, one for men and one for women. I think a one-toilet restroom, whether in a public facility or in your house, could naturally be "co-ed" -- that is, first come, first served, of either sex.

It has been my experience that women not only use the rest room longer, they use it more frequently. I haven't counted (though being a sociologist, I suppose now I will have to), but I would guess that two thirds of the users of public toilets are women. If all public toilets were equally available to women in a small establishment, I would guess, making a very rough calculation, that women's toilet wait times would be cut by a third.

A question to women readers: do you think the quality of public toilets you deal with would decline markedly if you shared all the small ones with men?

WICatholic said...

As a nurse/hygienist who had to take Microbiology, and swabbed areas of the public bathrooms for culture, all I can say about the sink between two urinals arrangement is ... YUCK.

As for potty parity, as one who has had to stand in those long lines in stadiums, etc, yes, we need more!! As my child could no longer hold it and ... all over the floor, and I remembered that the diaper bag only had the BABY's clothes in it... yes, we need more!

and regarding your final question in your last comment, gruntled... having had four younger brothers, a son who had friends... and now, three grandsons out of four grandchildren, two of whom use bathrooms--uhm, yes, sorry to say, the quality of public toilets would definitely decline.

Gruntled said...

Paco Underhill, a leading consumer preference researcher, says that the way to appeal to women in a service business (he was talking specifically about gas stations) is the advertize "Cleanest Restrooms in the World." This could be a competitive advantage, which small businesses always need.

Anonymous said...

The question of the number of available restrooms as well as the designation of clean is a luxury. When space is a premium, there will likely be fewer options for all. Cleanliness, however, is often determined by the establishment caring for the restroom. In Boston, especially in older areas such as the North End, most establishments have only one bathroom, thereby necessitating unisex use and everyone appears to use the proper care --even if the seat is often up :-)

There are several other variables to consider, however, as for the sheer number/proportion of single-sex bathrooms (e.g., the expected demographic served, the purpose of the establishment and, of course, cultural norms that forcibly require women to travel in packs to the restroom) prior to attempting compliance.

So, although there often is an inequality in available space, many women "borrow" the space of their fellow man when necessary, often with the assistance with of a nice man. My guess, however, is that many women are not as receptive to sharing.

I'd be interested in the results of the gendered bathroom frequency study, as again, I think it greatly depends on the purpose of the establishment (e.g., sports arena - men drink more and therefore visit more frequently).

Gruntled said...

Yes, there are local factors. But if I were designing a new theater for the college, or a new big box store, I would make the women's room at least 50% larger than the men's.

Anonymous said...

As for co-ed bathroom design, I think that when you walk in the first thing you should see are the sinks. next you should see the toilet stalls where men and women use at any time. The last thing on the other side of the stalls should be the urinals since men are practically exposed when using them. Women would not have to walk that far in that co-ed restroom.

That restroom in Costa Rica is gross having the sink in between two urinals where women (and girls) would have a "free show" to see men (and boys) pee. There are no males watching females pee.

And if there comes a time when females are using devices such at P-Mate and She-Pee so that they can use urinals next to men, it is unfair for males to be exposed and the females covered with those devices.

Anonymous said...

Women, stay out of the men's rooms. why? Because it will cause numerous problems. Women would not be in an environment where they hear men fart , smell their crap, or smell the unflushed toilets with crap overflowing in abundance. Most stalls in men's rooms do not have toilet paper. Perverted men will be creative and think of many ways to intimidate women. For instance, the men will get quiet just to hear how the woman tinkles: "Oh, she's a gusher." "Oh, she may be a little pee-shy." "Oh, that's cute. I want to go in after her just to smell." Then they will look at the bottom of that stall to see what color panties she is wearing (when they are down to the floor). If she farts, the men will respond loudly and the woman will be too embarrassed to walk out of that stall. And she will try and glance at the men's penises at the urinals (or at the sinks if they are pissing in them). It is unfair for women to be granted privacy in restrooms and not men. Men have emergencies, too.

The establishments should do what they have to do to accommodate more women without invading the privacy of men. If there are two sets of restrooms, make one of the men's rooms a women's room, and have a sign pointing to the other set of restrooms where the other men's room is located that men can use. At that set, if there is a line of women at the women's room, have a sign pointing to that first set of restrooms where women are using exclusively. But beware.

One of these days this could lead to making all restrooms for women only and urinals will be built outside of the women's room for men to use (and women and little girls to watch them). To go beyond that, in movie theaters and concert halls where this takes place, there may be a side screen showing these men using these urinals (and the expressions on their faces).

Oh, and what is with the men's room doors are always open but the women's rooms are always closed? Isn't it proper etiquette for women to have doors already opened for them? No, society wants "men to be seen," especially at the urinals.

Okay, here is a great solution on expanding women’s restrooms in concert halls, movie theaters, stadiums, and other large venues where so many of them have to wait in long lines. In one, two or three of these major cities, one of those venues should rebuild the ladies’ room. Take those doggone couches and lounge chairs out of that area and build plumbing there. Install and wall or two full of urinals like in the men’s rooms. Let them have the divider between urinals (not latch doors like stalls).

After reading numerous articles about women can pee standing up (with and without any devices) and how many have done so is some surveys that indicate that over 80 percent have used men’s urinals, this is an opportunity to put it to the test. Take a crowded venue. It’s intermission, halftime, or the seventh inning stretch. A lot of women are standing in line with their bladders about to explode. If the women’s room have a wall of urinals and the toilet stalls are full while they are waiting, the power of suggestion (empty urinals = no waiting) will make women go to those urinals in this dire emergency and use them. The lines go down immediately. Those that don’t want to use the urinals can wait on the toilet stalls.

As more venues rebuild women’s restrooms and install more urinals, more women will know that they are available and can plan their outings accordingly. They can practice peeing standing up at home in the shower or bathtub. The female-oriented television channels and magazines can let women know that there is a solution. Women can insist on having urinals installed by petition, e-mail messages, to building contractors, owners of public establishments, “Potty Parity” legislation, and so on. Take a quote from a baseball story: “Build them and they will use them.” Now let’s see women using urinals in the movies like they show men using them.

Anonymous said...

Women just take too much time in the bathroom... they're no good.

Gruntled said...

Nah, I think women are great. They just have complicated plumbing.