On why we need A Restroom Revolution

If this isn’t a cause worthy of armed insurrection, I don’t know what is


Mr T and I went to Chicago this week, just for two days. We spent an afternoon at the Field Museum, which was named for and funded by the Marshall Field store guy, which I did not know but thought was pretty cool. Remember the days when really rich people felt guilty enough about their wealth that they funded philanthropic activities that benefited humanity?


I had to use the ladies several times because that is how I roll.

Mr T had to use the gents only once.

We compared notes.

As always, there was a line for the ladies.

As always.

And, as almost always, there was no line for the men’s.

Despite having been married to me for 11 years and having heard me complain about this for even longer than 11 years, Mr T does not understand why this is so.

I explained.

“In just one of my trips,” I told him, “there were five women in line waiting for five stalls. There was one woman who took her little girl into the stall with her. There was not enough room in the stall for her little boy, so he had to stand outside the stall and wait for her. So there’s a little boy standing out there while his mom is inside the stall and so she has to worry about that while she is also dealing with another child inside a tiny stall. And the rest of the women in the bathroom want to make sure we are not scaring the little boy and we want to be reassuring to him because he can’t see his mom and it’s probably a little scary to him.”

“There was a woman changing a toddler’s diaper on the changing table. She has a squirmy, very unhappy kid to deal with and no hooks anywhere to hang a diaper bag from or her purse or her coat. Because you know NOBODY IN CHICAGO EVER HAS STUFF IN THE WINTER.”

“There was a woman desperately feeding quarters into the tampon machine – which was squeezed in between the changing table and a toilet stall so there was no room for any of them – trying to get it to give her a tampon in return. Which, by the way, never happened. So that poor woman probably ended up rolling up toilet paper to stick in her underwear. I couldn’t even give her something – I checked my purse and I didn’t have anything with me or I would have.”

“Oh and remember how I had you hold my coat? It’s a good thing you did because there was no hook in my stall which meant there was no place to hang my coat.”

“Where did you put your purse?” he asked. “NOT ON THE FLOOR!”

“No. I had to balance my purse on the toilet paper dispenser thing,” I answered. “And then the stupid tap wouldn’t give me water and I had to go to a different tap and only one of the sinks had a booster step so the little kids could reach the water to wash their hands and then the taps had those stupid dryer things attached so you get your hands wet and dry in the same place but I couldn’t figure out how to make the air come out and then once it did, it was freezing cold so I looked for paper towels instead but they didn’t have any but they did have wall-mounted air dryers but they were being used so I had to wait.”

“And one of the other times I was in there, I had my coat with me and even though I had gotten a stall with a hook that time and could hang my coat while I peed, there was nowhere to put it while I washed my hands so I had to hold it between my knees while I washed my hands and try to make sure it didn’t touch the ground.”

“The only thing I have ever seen in the men’s room is men peeing at the urinals or going into the stalls,” he said.

“I. Know,” I answered. “That’s why women need more space. That’s why it’s BS that the building codes require the same floor space for the bathrooms. They should give three times as much space for the women as for the men.”

I read this paragraph in the book Toilet: Public Restrooms and the Politics of Sharing, in a wonderful piece (“Creating a Nonsexist Restroom”) by Dr Clara Greed.

From my frankly feminist perspective, patience, trust, and obedience to the powers that be will never result in urinary equality. At the micro level, I like to indulge in a little toilet evangelism when I am standing in the queue for the ladies’ with a captive audience, in spite of the looks I get. To paraphrase Marx, many women are suffering from false toilet consciousness. Why isn’t it a major political issue? And conversely, why doesn’t the government take toilets seriously?

Solidarity, Dr Greed. Let’s start The Revolution.

And the rest of us – let’s get loud. Start complaining when we are in public places and we have to wait. Write to the owners of the venues. Go to the planning meetings for new buildings. We can get building codes changed. This is something where we can actually do something. We might not be able to solve world hunger or climate change, but we have a voice – and money – locally.

2 thoughts on “On why we need A Restroom Revolution

  1. Booster steps for children??!! That’s a revolutionary idea. Seriously, older than you and have NEVER seen one. Good for the Field. Bad for all the rest of the stuff. Virginia does NOT allow for unisex restrooms, except in very small restaurants, where they can have a “onesie”, but i have taken part in my fair share of takeovers of mens’ rooms – especially at the ball park! Keep preaching, Sister!


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