… the Queue for the Ladies
You’ll have to excuse any bluntness today. Like a lot of my coughing colleagues and commuters I’m coming down with something, made worse by aching legs after some crawling at Budapest Zoo, and blocked ears from the flight back (woe is me!)
It started with a long queue for the ladies at Gatwick Airport.
Airport toilets are generally quite good. They’re large enough to cope with luggage, and this was the second set that I’ve seen recently that have a shelf at the sink for personal belongings (I long for more shelves, I really do, but that’s for another day).
So why, on a not particularly busy Thursday morning at Gatwick was there a 5 minute queue for the Ladies? Or why, more significantly, was there no queue for the Gents?
I started to quiz my somewhat reluctant boyfriend on how many ‘places to pee’ there are in the men’s.
The first restaurant that we tested this in had 1 ladies’ toilet; the men’s had a toilet and a urinal.
“You see! That’s completely unfair. The men have twice as many places to pee as the women do!”
“Well add to that the fact women take twice as long to go as men do…”
(This, by the way, is scientific fact, usually quoted as 45 seconds for men vs. 90 seconds for women. It’s to do with a variety of issues, including the time it takes to use a cubicle vs. urinal, clothing, menstuation, likelihood of infection and incontinence and a higher proportion of older people being female)
“…so in the time it takes one woman to go to the loo, 4 men could have done the same.”
“But you’re always going to get more places in the men’s. Urinals take up less space and the toilet blocks are the same size.”
“But why are they the same size??? Really the women’s here should be, like, 4 times larger!”
“Oh architects are gonna love that…”
Well quite, but I really don’t care; I know I’m right about this.
What’s bothering me is the fact that women don’t seem to make much of a fuss about it. Queueing for the ladies has become an accepted part of life that we just ‘put up with’, as if we deserve it for not being as fast as men, or we lament the overall under-provision of toilets rather than considering that perhaps we’re under-provided for because men are over-provided for.
Part of this is our complete ignorance of men’s toilets. Public toilets always have had and always will have a strange position in society as a very private place in a public space. A trip to the ladies is sometimes just an excuse for a mental or physical break from public view, if feeling sick, overwhelmed, upset or uncomfortable. When public toilets are non-threatening they can become a welcome private escape.
However, there is no public place that a woman would ever be less likely to visit than the men’s toilets (and vice-versa). Apart from those rare occasions when there are so few men and lots of impatient women that they collectively ‘take over’ the Gents’ loos (Take That at Wembley springs to mind!) we have no idea how well the men are provided for.
Well until 1996 Part G of the Building Regulations stated that you must provide equal numbers of cubicles for men and women, plus urinals, basically making it a legal requirement to provide men with more ‘places to pee’. The latest revision has improved things slightly for workplaces and suggests referring to the British Standard BS6465 in other cases, which is no bad thing as BS6465 makes allowances for other things such as the gender balance of those using the facilities (a football match vs. a shopping centre, for example). Although as far as I can tell British Standards are just an expensive set of guidelines, not a legal requirement, so really you can do what you want.
But not all women are taking this queue thing lying down. It seems that there’s quite a movement on the other side of the pond called Potty Parity (!) Since 1989, different US States have been passing laws that insist on increased provision in favour of women, including New York City Council’s 2005 ‘Restoom Equity Act’ that requires 2:1 toilets in favour of women in all public buildings.
And earlier this year Congress were considering the ‘Potty Parity Act’, which requires that the number of toilets in federal buildings that are available to women must equal or exceed those available to men (including urinals).
So perhaps change is afoot. And as it seems that by the age of 80 women will have spent 2 years of their life in the loo (a stat revealed at the Potty Parity Act hearing by Dr Kathryn Anthony, Professor of Architecture at the University of Illinois), it can’t come a moment too soon!