A woman almost won the nomination for president recently, women are heads of universities, CEOs of corporations and astronauts. The overwhelming majority of Americans are perfectly comfortable with this development in sexual equality. However, there is still a bastion of sexism that plagues our country. Few people bring up this topic, especially in “polite company,” but I think our society is ready to deal with it. I’m talking, of course, about public bathrooms.
At sporting events, the line for the women’s bathroom is often two or three times as long as the men’s. This isn’t right. Something should be done to fix this situation, especially since the world of sports purports to be dedicated to fairness.
This isn’t the only area where gender issues are involved with public bathrooms. They are the source of much anxiety. For example, when I’m at a restaurant for the first time and I enter the bathroom, there is often a moment as I step inside when I panic and say to myself, “Did I go into the right bathroom?” I can’t be the only person who experiences this. Fortunately, this is only a momentary fear, because you quickly notice other people of your gender or you see that symbol of masculinity — the urinal.
Some restaurants try to be clever with the way they identify the men’s and women’s rooms. Instead of just writing the word “Men” or “Women” on the door, they may have figures that supposedly depict men and women. The restaurateurs might think these drawings are perfectly clear, but often they’re not. If I’m in a dark hallway, how am I supposed to tell the difference between a male and a female elk? Sometimes restaurants use symbols that are supposed to represent men and women. They look like some sort of scientific drawings, and I can spend several minutes trying to sort them out. Some restaurants have what they think are clever synonyms for “men” and “women” on the doors like “Ballerinas” and “Danseurs.” Yeah, that’s really helpful. And of course, if you go to an ethnic restaurant, there’s a good chance that they will have the words for “men” and “women” in a foreign language on the doors. They might think this is cute, but the rest of us aren’t sure which door is which.
This anxiety about “men’s” and “women’s” rooms brings up the relatively new concept of unisex bathrooms. I’m all for them. OK, maybe they aren’t a good idea at ballparks where, well, things are just too public. But when it comes to those in restaurants and office buildings, why not?
I doubt that you have separate bathrooms for men and women in your house. No, I’m not suggesting that people of different genders use the facilities at the same time. But if it’s a public bathroom with just one toilet and a sink, why should someone have to wait for the one that has his or her gender on the door if nobody is in the other one?
What is it that those who set up separate bathrooms fear that a man or woman will experience if he or she is in the “wrong” one? Are people going to write some graffiti in there, claiming that their gender is better than the other one? “We’re Number One At Number One?” I don’t think so. My theory is that some of it has to do with the aforementioned plumbing fixture, the venerable urinal. I have the feeling that some women just don’t want to be in the same room with a urinal. It’s like that annoying cousin whom you avoid at all costs. Some women would rather wait 20 minutes for a room that has flowers and a little couch in it than go into a room immediately if it has a dreaded urinal.
There are two solutions to this problem: the first would be to get rid of these plumbing fixtures, and the second would be for women to just get over their urinal-phobia.
Designing and building more unisex bathrooms would solve so much of this sexual anxiety and politics. No longer would we have to worry that we were in the wrong place. We wouldn’t have to try to decipher symbols while we’re really in a hurry. And we’d never have to push open another door marked, “Caballeros,” “Cheerleaders,” or “Wahines” again. Obviously, the unisex bathroom is the way to go.
Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from “Sesame Street” to “Family Ties” to “Home Improvement” to “Frasier.” He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his website at lloydgarver.com and his podcasts on iTunes.