Pick a random set of public toilets and there's a very, very strong chance you'll find a long line of women snaking around the corner as they wait patiently to relieve themselves. Indeed, in a recent YouGov survey, women were five times more likely than men to say they regularly have to queue for the loo (59% compared to 11%).
Long toilet queues are part and parcel of identifying as female, right? We have sanitary products to change, more clothes and bags to remove and often have kids to take care of (at least, more frequently than men), after all.
But while this may all be true, we're certainly not solely to blame for the long queues and never question why it's the case that men can swan in and out of the bathroom in seconds, while women are left in (often serious) discomfort and even risk giving themselves a UTI.
Let’s talk about ‘Potty Parity’. With 59% of women regularly having to queue to use toilets in public places, compared to only 11% of men, YouGov asked the public: would it be fairer to make women’s toilets bigger? https://t.co/jKUgsNDvEl pic.twitter.com/uwIN6A5Nks— YouGov (@YouGov) March 20, 2018
As with many things wrong with our society, the patriarchy is largely to blame. Centuries' worth of sexism in architecture and design has meant men's loos are very often easier or more convenient to find in public establishments, and there simply aren't enough ladies' loos to cater to demand, as the Guardian pointed out. There are often the same number of men's and women's toilets, when designers should instead be installing more women's cubicles to meet the need for extra toilet time, and bathrooms can fit more urinals than cubicles.
Many women get around the problem by skipping the ladies' queue entirely and heading for the men's (sometimes with awkward consequences, see: Lady Bird discovering her boyfriend making out with a boy in a loo cubicle). Most British people (56%) also believe it's acceptable for a woman who badly needs to pee and might otherwise wet themselves to do this, according to YouGov's poll. However, this doesn't do anything to address the root of the problem.
Movements such as Potty Parity in the US are doing good work to raise the issue with architects, while campaigners are lobbying for gender-neutral loos, which researchers believe would slash women's queue times by 63% – from six minutes to under a minute-and-a-half.
However, there is a perk to being forced to wait alongside other women for so long in a similar state of urinary adversity: it can be a real bonding experience. For many people, loo queues are a fruitful source of conversation, companionship and even genuine friendship. This happens to Meg O'Donnell, 25, Refinery29 UK's junior art editor, on nights out all the time – much to the annoyance of her accompanying friends and boyfriend.
"Very often, a 'loo queue friend' will become my main focus of the night," she admits. "I usually initiate the conversation with a compliment of some sort. 'That's a nice skirt, your hair is amazing, or you smell delightful', and that's when the magic starts. I once made a loo queue friend who was actually a friend of one of the girls I was out with that evening, that was amazing and subsequently still really good friends now."
Gabi Gheerbrant, meanwhile, describes women's toilet queues as "magic judgement free zones" where people interact like long lost sisters or best friends. "It's female bonding at its finest," she tells us. "It starts with a simple question and within seconds we're sharing make up, clothes, accessories, sanitary items and stories that we don’t even tell our ‘real’ friends.
"I once met a French girl while queuing for the toilets at a [London] Roundhouse gig. I complimented her on her face glitter and before I knew her name, she was painting glittery butterflies on my face while sharing expat life tips."
Nurturing a loo queue friendship in its early stages isn't always straightforward though, and there's an unspoken etiquette that must be followed, says O'Donnell. "A true loo friend will always wait for the other before leaving the loo," and one must never come on too strong. "I recently gave a girl my number in a loo queue and she's been hounding me with texts and calls ever since," says Meg. "Following this rather terrifying experience I've been trying to change my ways to avoid a similar situation."
Nevertheless, the jury's out on whether most women believe these chance encounters are a price worth paying for a lifetime's worth of queueing.
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