When you think of design and architecture, do you think of toilets? Probably not, and maybe that's part of the problem. The bathroom is one of the most used rooms in any house, business, or venue, yet it's often poorly designed. More than just being an aesthetic eyesore, bathroom design flaws have become a political and civil rights issue in the fight for "potty parity."
It's a fact: the average woman takes twice as long as the average man in the bathroom. Yet in the design process, an equal number of stalls are usually allotted to each gender. Men zip in and out of bathrooms, while women wait in line-ups that extend out the door and around corners, often whilst performing Kegel exercises and odd shifty dances, and making silent deals with God that they'll make it to the loo without leaking.
|Potty Parity (Source: livemint.com).|
Some of this can be attributed to the intensely male-dominated industry that is architecture. Historically, women have been relatively rare in the field, and even as of 2010, only 17 per cent of registered American architects were female.
Amazingly, the so-called "Father of Potty Parity" is a man. Professor John F. Banzhaf III of George Washington University Law School has been a major force behind legislation in the United States that would increase the ratio of women's toilets to men's in public restrooms. "Can women truly be said to be liberated when they often stand on [sic] interminable lines at the theater, concerts, some restaurants, and in other public places to perform a necessary and often compelling biological function that men usually accomplish with virtually no wait? Does this problem, which certainly can be corrected by adding additional toilet facilities, amount to unfair discrimination?" asked Banzhaf back in a 1990 edition of The National Law Journal.
But is the extra time women spend in restrooms actually the result of unavoidable biological imperatives? Has nature burdened us with horribly inefficient genitalia, or is it our own fault for being silly, slow females? This question is key to whether potty parity can actually be considered an equal access issue. Time-consuming habits such as reapplying lipstick and pouting for Instagram portraits aren't absolute sex-based characteristics. These inefficiencies of nurture, not nature, don't make a good case for charges of unfair discrimination. Even biological arguments might not stand up - no pun intended - as scientific studies show that women can in fact urinate standing up, probably as well as men, provided that they tilt their pelvis. There are even facilities, aptly/ridiculously named "urinettes," that facilitate the stand-up piss process for women.
Fashion also comes into play (as it usually does somehow, in some way, with women's rights issues). The conventional zippered fly doesn't allow women the same freedom as men to urinate while standing. To achieve this feat, women have to wear short skirts (go figure) sans "unnecessary undergarments." Apparently when it comes to efficient bathroom-ing, women either have to go Britney or go home.
The consensus among some experts seems to be that our hosiery is holding us hostage. "Perhaps the most important restriction [against women urinating standing up] is that posed by our clothing… While in the not too distant past, girdles and so on were worn mostly by women who obviously needed them and, even then, usually only on special occasions, the pattern today is for some form of restrictive undergarments, or combination garment such as panty hose, to be worn almost universally, even by some teenagers," writes Alexander Kira, a professor of architecture at Cornell University, in his book, The Bathroom (1975).
Despite the doubts of some as to whether females have a right to be miffed about missing toilets, potty parity legislation has been moving forward in recent years. In 2005, New York City legislators passed the Restroom Equity Bill that amended the city's building code to require practically all new entertainment venues to have a two-to-one ratio of women's to men's stalls. The nature of potty parity laws varies between states, but at least 21 states have passed legislation on the issue. However, the key question of what exactly restroom equality means has yet to be unanimously answered. Is it equal square footage? Equal number of toilets? Or equal speed of access? The lack of consensus has been a good excuse for some states to lag behind the times and for the European Union to all but ignore the issue.
One of the biggest moments for potty parity came with the 2009 construction of New York City's new Major League Baseball parks. Both the new Yankee Stadium and the Mets' Citi Field were built in compliance with the city's recent-ish laws. The new Yankee Stadium, with a capacity of 52,325, needed a minimum of 358 women's fixtures and 176 men's, according to the city's Department of Buildings. Once the minimum requirements are met, builders can tailor facilities to a venue's needs, in this case, a baseball stadium with a typically male-heavy audience. The stadium now boasts 369 women's toilets, with 98 toilets and 298 urinals for men. Citi Field has 374 women's toilets, and 111 toilets and 240 urinals for men.
The potty parity or "porcelain privilege" issue is a great example of how seemingly irrelevant design, architecture, and fashion can sometimes make an unexpected, but dramatic difference in one's quality of life. It's often said those in the design fields don't save babies, but maybe, just maybe, they can save a few bladders.
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