Ana Veciana-Suarez

Long lines leave women waiting for potty parity: Opinion

A line for the women’s restroom at the Imperial Theater extended down the hallway and staircase and into the lobby at a performance.
A line for the women’s restroom at the Imperial Theater extended down the hallway and staircase and into the lobby at a performance. New York Times

This may be an issue only a woman can understand. Men may sympathize. They may offer suggestions, too, but unless you’ve been forced to walk in circles or jump in place in the middle of a crowd, the magnitude of the problem likely escapes you.

I’m talking about waiting in line to use a public bathroom. If you’re a woman, you know exactly what I’m writing about. You’re probably chuckling in recognition right about now, though the desperation that precedes a dash to a busy toilet stall is far from funny. It’s actually painful, no matter how many Kegel exercises you do to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles.

I’ve figured out that nine out of 10 times I use a public bathroom — an activity that should be avoided whenever possible — I’m forced to queue up for the privilege. The Hubby, on the other hand, zips in and out without having to ever cross his legs and pray aloud. Invariably he’ll be waiting outside for me, wearing a sincerely concerned look.

“What took you so long?” he’ll ask.

Gender discrimination, that’s what! I want to scream. Instead, I smile graciously and sigh: “Same old, same old. Long line.”

In the past few weeks, I’ve been out in public places more than normal, which unfortunately has required me to use the facilities. On one occasion, The Hubby had to commandeer the men’s bathroom to avoid an “accident.” It’s not the first time he’s done so. I suspect it won’t be the last, either. What’s more, I bet plenty of men have done the same for wives and girlfriends.

When you gotta go, you gotta go now.

Long lines at women’s bathrooms are nothing new but, according to some, things have gotten better in the past couple of decades. Recognizing the problem, a handful of state legislators — as well as a few cities — have been tweaking restroom laws by requiring more toilets for women. The campaign even adopted a catchy name: potty parity.

But there’s a catch. Those laws are for new buildings. The older structures stay the same, which means that relief is, at best, a matter of luck and location. This may explain why I haven’t seen shorter queues anywhere, unless I sneak out in the middle of the first act of a play or during a touchdown drive in the third quarter of a tied game. So ... don’t be fooled by slogans. Lines remain, and the worst culprits tend to be airports, stadiums and theaters during intermission.

To make sure this wasn’t just my individual experience, I did a little research. Turns out, women can wait as much as 34 times longer than men to use the bathroom. Thirty-four times!

The reasons for this are varied. For one, you can cram more urinals than toilet stalls into the same floor space. For two, women take longer in the bathroom — twice as long, experts say. Women have more clothes to remove, they sit down for the act, they menstruate, and a lot of times they’re accompanied by children.

People who study these kinds of issues have proposed reasonable solutions. To guarantee what they call “equal speed of access,” gender-neutral bathrooms may be the best answer. This way both men and women wait the same time for a toilet. But while I’ve seen unisex signs for single-use bathrooms, I can’t imagine this arrangement would work in a multi-stall bathroom. Not in the U.S. Not in these discordant times.

The ideal, of course, would be to install more toilets for women — three times as many, per experts — but I won’t be holding my breath (or anything else) expecting this to happen. I can’t think of a single candidate for president, governor or mayor who would be brave and woke enough to include this in their platform.

Ana Veciana-Suarez writes about family and social issues. Email her at avecianasuarez@gmail.com or visit her website anavecianasuarez.com. Follow @AnaVeciana.

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