Women Wait Longer: Why There's No Such Thing As 'Potty Parity'
It's not just because women are more likely to wash their hands.
Women's toilet queues tend to be twice as long as the wait to use a men’s amenity. It's not only inconvenient for women -- it's also why almost half of women have reported they have avoided going to public places or outdoor events.
Most women are well-acquainted with the frustration of waiting in what feels like an endless bathroom line -- while their male counterparts casually stride right in and do their business.
An Aussie expert has gotten to the bottom of WHY women take an average 50 percent longer than men in the toilet and what this means for lifestyle choice. And despite popular beliefs that it's to do with makeup or gossip by the hand dryer -- that's not what research shows.
Waiting for toilets, at a music festival. IMAGE: Getty Images
It's a complex array of biological, fashion-related and even social factors as well as the way public infrastructure is built.
“Women tend to have more elaborate clothing -- not just pants and zippers but long coats, tights, underwear and removing all of these layers adds to the time it takes,” said Dr Lisel O’Dwyer adjunct Senior Lecturer, School of Social and Policy Studies at Flinders University.
Biology and physiology
From menstrual care, to looking after small children, and pregnancy -- taking longer than men in the bathroom is inextricably linked to biology.
“Women use toilets for more than number ones or number twos. They also have to deal with menstrual care and quite often women with small children have to take the kids into the toilet and help them with their clothing," she told ten daily.
Females are also more prone to bladder infections such as cystitis, a urinary tract infection that means you need to use the toilet more frequently.
O'Dwyer says there’s the irony that some facilities still don’t have sanitary disposal bins – often resulting in more women’s toilets clogging up and in need of repair.
It also takes longer to be hygienic. Women are known to be significantly more likely to wash their hands after going to the toilet than men.
In addition to layered and more complex clothing, O’Dwyer says women tend to be carrying a lot more bags than men.
Infrastructure is "inequitable"
It’s not just the biological factors that are affecting women’s queues. O’Dwyer says that the delay comes down to the very design of women’s toilets – which she says is inherently inequitable.
Male and female toilets tend to be exactly the same size. But this assumption is actually inherently sexist, she says.
“The general thinking is it should be equal which on face value seems not to be sexist but if you consider all other issues women have to deal with that men don’t it’s not equal. It’s inequitable. Women really need more space," she said.
“Men don’t have to deal with opening doors, cleaning toilets, looking for somewhere to put things, use urinals and hopefully wash hands before they go out. Whereas women have to make sure the toilet is not engaged, lock the door, maneuver round, this adds to the time as well.”
Dr O’Dwyer’s research also found that women’s toilets tend to be more obscured or isolated than men’s. That is, not only do they tend to be further away, but often behind bushes or harder to access.
“Then there’s safety concerns. Women’s toilets are more obscured by vegetation or are placed further back in a park, which detracts from the sense of safety that people feel.”
"Less acceptable for women" to use a public loo
There’s also the fact that socially it’s seen to be less acceptable for women to go to the toilet in public than men, says Dr O’Dwyer.
“I know I find it quite bizarre there is that different level of inhibition about toileting between the genders ... even in public streets in Paris for example even in England pop-up urinals, men quite freely peeing ad most women would not do that.”
This explains why men’s queues at festivals are always non-existent, while women’s queues drag on for days.
Some women refuse to go out because of public toilets
The delay has gotten so bad that some women are refusing to go out, or having to change their plans to accommodate their bathroom dash, O’Dwyer says.
Half of the women she surveyed said their plans were affected by this and they had to plan around going to the toilet, O’Dwyer found.
“My research has shown some people refuse to leave the house and go to a special event or concert if they do have toileting issues because they don’t want to take the risk that they’ll have an accident".
But this can be fixed
Despair not, this can all be fixed. But we need building code developers to get their act together and amend the codes for bathrooms to allow more room for women’s bathrooms, Dr O’Dwyer says.
She said it’s been done in other countries, like Hong Kong, where it’s made a world of difference.