By Bill Taylor
It seems to me that the restroom ruckus that started over North Carolina’s law known as HR2 has expanded well beyond the original issue. Oh, sure, the most recent edict issued from Washington’s Imperial Palace (formerly known as the White House) to every school district in the country effectively ordering access to restrooms and locker rooms of their choice for any self-proclaimed transgender individual has raised a quite stir, but that’s not the only issue. Nope, a deep, long- simmering resentment has started to boil up regarding an alleged disparity between men’s and women’s restroom facilities – a problem some call “potty parity.”
The origin of this contentious dispute lies in the “separate, but equal” manner in which restrooms are generally designed. If the square footage and number of plumbing “positions” is the same for both women’s and men’s restrooms, the restrooms are considered “equal.” The problem arises because women have increasingly complained that the “separate but equal” approach to restroom configuration is inherently unequal. Women activists on this matter, including prominent syndicated female columnists, cite the frequent long lines of women waiting to use the “ladies” in public venues and the very short or no lines waiting to use the “mens” as “prima facie evidence” of inequality. (In law, prima facie evidence is evidence adequate to establish a fact unless refuted.)
Analysis of this problem shows there are three aspects that, in combination, result in this apparent inequality. The first is the difference in men and women’s anatomy – in particular the way the “plumbing” for emptying the bladder is arranged. One result of this difference is that the most common position for men to perform the bladder-emptying function is while standing but women must assume a sitting or squatting posture – and that’s a major distinction.
The second aspect lies with clothing. Men’s trousers and underwear have a feature known as a “fly”. This opening in the front of these garments allows quick and easy access to the male “plumbing” thus facilitating and speeding up the overal bladder-emptying process, particularly when combined with the standing, upright position. Women, on the other hand, must partially disrobe to permit the bladder-emptying process to occur and this, when combined with the “sitting” position requirement, results in a longer time than men need to perform the same function.
The third aspect of this problem lies with the plumbing fixtures in the restrooms. The women’s restrooms mostly have floor-mounted toilets almost always located in “stalls” which have walls open at the top and bottom and a door.
This arrangement is designed to provide both the “sitting” posture and privacy for the required partial disrobing and meets these requirements quite well.
Men’s restrooms, however, have another fixture, the “urinal,” that takes the place of one or more toilets. This wall-mounted apparatus permits men to stand upright and, using the convenience of the “fly”, to complete bladder-emptying in short order – and, since the user faces the wall, there is a considerable degree of privacy. This combination of factors results in men’s restrooms satisfying users’ needs more quickly than the women’s restrooms – hence, the potty parity problem.
OK, so what are possible solutions to this dilemma? One proposal is to increase the size of women’s restrooms to twice that of the men’s. This approach has already made its appearance in some newly constructed facilities and shows great promise. Retrofitting existing restrooms to this standard, however, would be very costly. Penalizing men by removing urinals or by banning the “fly” from men’s clothing would be impossible and wouldn’t resolve the dilemma anyway.
Well, there is one more solution that could reconcile this impasse – and it’s already being tried in several places around the country. Yep, you got it. It’s integration, that is, doing away with restrooms segregated by sex or gender. This would effectively eliminate the current potty parity problem, right?
You know, if this issue continues to escalate, we might well expect a decree from the Imperial Palace ordering restrooms in schools and all other public venues be open to everyone regardless of gender or sexual orientation. Past actions on immigration and other subjects make this a reasonable possibility.
Well, there’s an old saying about being careful what you wish for because you just might get it, and, solving the potty parity problem may be a case in point. At least that’s how it seems to me.