My bladder’s open letter to architects and designers around the world
Are sufficient female toilets an unobtainable dream?
Let’s talk about women’s bladders shall we? And the quiet suffering they have endured throughout the years.
For the uninitiated, women unlike men are unable to relieve themselves anywhere. A “I’ll just go behind the bush”, doesn’t quite cut it and as I am sure will come as no shock to you, this is nothing new.
In Victorian England a lack of female sanitary facilities effectively tied women to their homes as they could only venture out as far and for as long as they could hold their bladders. Even as public toilets started being built, they were still centered (conveniently) around male use.
This meant that as long as there were no easily available toilet facilities in the workplace or in public spaces, women were simply kept out. The unequal access to toilet facilities began to be challenged during the 20th century (presumably right around the same time as the rights to vote).
Fast forward to 2018 and today women (supposedly) have equal access to toilet facilities as men.
So why do I want to talk about women’s bladders then?
Well, I recently went to see a show at the O2 in London. The O2 is a (self-declared) state-of-the-art arena for concerts and all sorts of events that can afford to pull an enormous crowd.
As I walked around the halls of the arena trying to make my way through the crowds and trying to find the entry door closest to our seats, I recall seeing the toilets and thinking “ah they are there by door 15”. I also briefly saw that one side of the entry had queue dividers, which I found odd but was too busy trying to get to my seat to pay any attention to it at the time.
A pizza and a half a litre of water later and it was the intermission. So I raced out to find the ladies’ room again.
Now here is where it gets interesting, a little bit sad and just plain out wrong.
Remember the queue dividers I had seen earlier, you know similar to the ones they use at airports when you go through security or passport control? Well those very dividers were holding a very long queue of women, who were clearly all annoyed, albeit desperate to get in.
I looked the other way at the men’s entry and there was (as usual) no queue. Not only that, but since the women’s exit was right next to the men’s entry door I noticed that they had actually placed a security guard at the exit of the women’s toilets.
That’s correct, they had a bouncer at the women’s toilets, because evidently women’s toilets are just like exclusive night clubs.
The intermission was 30 minutes and I stood for the entire 30 minutes in that queue.
In fact, the queue was so long, that the partner of a woman who was waiting in front of me had managed not only to go to the toilet but also had time to buy food and drink which he was now sharing with her while she was still waiting to go inside.
And so ok. I know that as women we pee, a lot, and that’s probably because we take better care to remain hydrated, but that’s beside the point.
Not only do we pee a lot, but also we take longer than men because let’s face it we need to remove way more items of clothing and then put them back on (do you know how annoying tights are on a night out?).
If we know this fact and our partners know it and apparently everyone in the world knows this, WHY is the solution to put in queue dividers instead of MORE women’s toilets?
It appears to me that the request for equal access to toilet facilities was not properly thought out. Because we don’t only need equal access, we need appropriate access, which usually means more women’s toilets.
It is no wonder that in 2012 female demonstrators in India stormed men’s public toilets to protest not unequal but inappropriate number of bathrooms for women during none other than Women’s International Day.
Now, I know that my plight at the O2, might seem a bit silly. But if that is what can be expected from a “state-of-the-art” arena in a developed country, just imagine what it is like everywhere else.
My request (possibly on behalf of many women around the world)
Hence here is my open request to architects and designers of this world and I’m sure there must be some women amongst you and if there aren’t enough, then we need to work harder on that front.
Next time you are asked to design a brilliant new events arena (or any public building for that matter), think about the maximum number of toilet stalls that you can fit in… then double it… and then just for good measure add another 50%.
Then maybe, just maybe women in India, China and around the world won’t have to do another “occupy men’s toilets” campaign and at ‘state-of-the-art’ arenas, women’s toilets will be just that, instead of pretend night clubs with a bouncer.