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A Very Womanly Problem: Waiting to Wee

We’ve all been there: outside a public toilet in a queue a mile long, whilst the men next to you breeze in and out in no time at all. It seems that no matter where you go - university, shopping centres, restaurants or clubs - women are forced to queue for much longer than men. (Okay, the club situation might be our own fault, what with trying to fit as many girls as possible into one cubicle… But still.)

Unfortunately, what can seem comedic when drunk can be genuinely frustrating at a concert or a show. Many of us have experienced the stress of having to rush out the second the interval begins for fear of not making it back in time to catch the start of the second half. Even when you’re bursting, it can seem rude to use the disabled loo, and even at breaking point, using the men’s just isn’t an option if you want to retain a shred of dignity. The only option is to stand, grimace and bear it.

On the surface, having to queue for a while just seems like a bit of a nuisance. But according to feminist activist Soraya Chemaly, we simply shouldn’t accept it. She says that it ‘is frustrating, uncomfortable, and, in some circumstances, humiliating. It’s also a form of discrimination, as it disproportionately affects women.’ Chemaly believes this is actually sexist, as ‘women need to use bathrooms more often and for longer periods of time.’

Rules in the UK regarding public toilets seemingly do go against women’s favour, in ways you’ve probably never considered. For example, New York legislation demands that theatres must have a ratio of 2:1 female to male toilets, whereas theatres in the West End only need to have a 1:1 ratio. There’s some disparity in the workplace, too, as Welfare at Work rules state that for 76-100 female or mixed-sex employees five toilets should be provided yet for 91-100 members of male staff then four toilets and four urinals should be provided - not particularly fair figures.

And what about on campus? Interestingly, the toilets on the lower ground of the Trent building on University Park have been made unisex, which is perhaps a move forward into cutting down queueing times (although given that some double up as shower rooms, you might be risking it waiting for one of these!). However, in general, the issue is fairly under discussed and not something that many people perceive as particularly problematic; in fact, apart from Chemaly’s article, it was difficult to find many other people with an opinion. So unfortunately, unless specific legislation is implemented, we might just have to queue and deal with it.







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A 3rd year English Literature and Language student at the University of Nottingham.
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