This may be an issue only a woman can understand. Men may sympathize or even offer suggestions, but unless you’ve been forced to walk in circles or jump in place in the middle of a crowd, the magnitude of the problem likely escapes you.
I’m talking about waiting in line to use a public bathroom. If you’re a woman, you know exactly what I’m talking about. You’re probably chuckling in recognition right about now, though the desperation that precedes a dash to a busy toilet stall is far from funny. It can be extremely uncomfortable, actually, no matter how old you are or how strong your pelvic floor muscles might be.
Let’s just be clear about one thing: I very seldom use a public bathroom. I avoid it whenever I can, and it has to be a pretty dire situation for me to give in. When I’m on the road, I will plan my stops around reputably-clean restrooms, and that’s only if I’ll be gone so long that avoiding it will not be feasible. Also, I would probably rather be mauled by wolves than ever, ever set foot in a Porta-Potty. But despite my best efforts to use foreign washrooms, it happens, so I guess we’re all in the same boat.
I figure that nine out of 10 times I do use a public bathroom, I have to wait in line. The men, on the other hand, seem to zip in and out without ever having to cross their legs and shuffle around like they have ants in their pants. A perfect example of this is the airport. With four MacDonalds travelling, I being the lone female, we will all disembark the plane and usually head for the nearest bathroom in the terminal. I’m not one to mess around with primping or anything, I’m a do your business/wash your hands/get out- kind of girl, so it would make sense that I wouldn’t take any longer than the men.
Invariably, though, they’ll be waiting outside the bathroom for me, usually visibly annoyed and almost always asking, “What took you so long?”
Gender discrimination, is what I want to say, equally annoyed. But instead I say the same line I’ve been saying for almost 40 years, and that every other woman is also used to: “There was a long lineup.”
Long lines at women’s bathrooms are nothing new but, according to some, things have gotten better in the past couple of decades. Recognizing the problem, a handful of cities in the U.S., as well as the City of Vancouver, have been tweaking restroom laws by requiring more toilets for women. The campaign, advocated for by many female legislators for whom the struggle is just as real, has even adopted a catchy name: potty parity.
But there’s a catch. Those laws are for new buildings. The older structures stay the same, which means that relief is, at best, a matter of luck and location. The worst culprits seem to be airports, stadiums, and theatres or concert halls, there large groups gather and there are scheduled breaks in the action. God help you if you wait until the game is over to go to the bathroom at Rogers’ Centre, you’ll be there for a month. You have to play it smart and go when the bases are loaded, so everyone has better things to do than go to the bathroom.
To make sure this wasn’t just my individual experience, I did a little research. Turns out I was right, women can wait as much as 34 times longer than men to use the bathroom. Thirty-four times!
The reasons for this are varied. For one, you can cram more urinals than toilet stalls into the same floor space. For two, women generally take longer in the bathroom – some experts say twice as long. Women have more clothes to remove, they sit down for the act, they’re sometimes accompanied by children, lots of factors.
People who study these kinds of issues have proposed reasonable solutions. To guarantee what they call “equal speed of access,” gender-neutral bathrooms may be the best answer, since this way both men and women wait the same time for a toilet. I can’t imagine this arrangement would work in multi-stall bathrooms, but that discussion is way above my pay grade.
The ideal, of course, would be to install more toilets for women – three times as many, per experts – but I won’t be holding my breath (or anything else) expecting this to happen.