Male bias is inherent in our society because men have historically written the laws and shaped our institutions. It follows that a law that treats men and women the same or one that is “gender-neutral” often does not produce equitable results. As Judith Baer explained in her 1999 book Our Lives Before the Law, “[t]he problem is not how neutral you make it but how you make it neutral.”
This concept is illustrated in our separate but “equal” public restroom accommodations. Ladies, we have all experienced long wait times for restrooms at sporting events, concerts and even in more low-key settings like restaurants and movie theaters. It’s all the more irritating when our male friends and partners cruise in and out of the restroom and wait around for us, looking annoyed.
Disproportionately long lines not only drain our time, but the wait can be physically painful. I’ll be the first to admit that, on more than one occasion, I’ve said “screw it” and darted into the men’s room where I was greeted by angry stares, eye-rolling or rude comments about how I should use my own bathroom.
If you are not convinced from your personal experiences that the wait time for public restrooms is unevenly distributed between the sexes, consider these arguments:
- Women have to use the restroom more frequently. Men have a larger bladder capacity. Women also have to use the restroom for super fun stuff like changing our tampons.
- It takes women longer to use the bathroom. We have to sit down. Also, we have to make greater adjustments with our clothing. Although zippers conveniently facilitate a quick pee for guys, it’s not that simple for us.
- Many women (still) have greater care giving roles. From what I have observed, there are more kids in the women’s restroom.
- Waiting in long lines puts women at a greater risk for pain and infections. Women “tend to get more bladder infections than men… because women have shorter urethras.” According to Webmd, cystitis is also “most common in women.”
In an ideal state of public convenience, the thinking goes, women would not have to endure the long queues created by a simple 1:1 allocation of toilet space, female-to-male. It is waiting times, not toilet seats, that should be shared equally. The Occupiers are calling for a corrective adjustment.
Assuming that we are all on the same page that an “equal” ratio of male to female restrooms does not produce substantive equality, the question remains: what is the appropriate remedy for the problem?
Twenty states have enacted so-called “potty parity” legislation to address restroom inequality. A common solution is to increase the ratio of female to male bathroom stalls to 3:2 or 2:1. However, the American Restroom Association points out that, for certain venues, ratio mandates have led to the “ironic situation of potty parity legislation reducing the required toilet fixtures for women.”
A few states have amended or repealed the ratio requirements after receiving complaints from men. For example, LP Field in Nashville was built in compliance with the 2-1 ratio required by the Tennessee Equitable Restrooms Act. After men reported waiting in line for up to fifteen minutes the Act was amended to allow extra men’s restrooms at stadiums, horse shows, and auto racing venues. Florida also repealed their 1992 potty parity law, calling it “outdated.” Apparently women in Florida have learned to pee faster or hold it longer over the last twenty years.
Another solution is to make all restrooms gender-neutral. The movement for gender-neutral bathrooms gained momentum on college campuses over the past decade. Although the movement originated as a remedy for problems facing transgendered students, unisex bathrooms are also a practical solution for the unequal wait times that women experience.
My freshman dorms had gender-neutral bathrooms and showers. At first it felt a little weird, but I got used to it. I have also used gender neutral bathrooms at clubs and restaurants in San Francisco. I always feel comfortable. However, I suspect that there would be a great deal of backlash to making all bathrooms gender-neutral.
The American Restroom Association takes a middle-of-the-road approach. They suggest that establishments update the minimum number of toilets for both men and women and “increase the use of unisex toilets where possible.” The ARA explains that “small restaurants, for example, often have 1 men's and 1 women's toilet. Making them both unisex would reduce the chance of waiting for everyone.”
After doing some research, I learned that the ARA’s definition of a unisex toilet is a single-user, private restroom. While it’s a great solution for small restaurants, it would be expensive and an inefficient use of space to build the number of private unisex bathrooms needed to alleviate the longer lines for women at large venues like AT&T Park.
I believe that the best solution is to increase the number of multi-stall, gender-neutral bathrooms, like those that exist on college campuses. We don’t need to mandate that all bathrooms are gender-neutral. Venues can continue to have separate male and female restrooms for those who do not feel comfortable going to the bathroom with the opposite sex. Simply mandating that certain venues include large, gender-neutral restrooms will improve lines for women. It will also produce the added benefit of normalizing the concept of using the restroom with the opposite sex.
I'm interested in hearing what solutions you all prefer. Maybe we can even talk about it while we wait in line together tonight at bar review!