Sunday, December 17, 2006

Standing in Line in Perspective

A friend emailed that, rather than more women attending AGU this year, there might have been fewer restroom stalls instead. She pointed out that the restrooms in Moscone Center have movable partitions to adjust the relative size of the men's and women's rooms.

I did wonder about the paltry size of the women's rooms and why there was no line on the men's side. There were so many more men than women, and how could they manage with only 3 stalls? Duh.

This revelation sent me on a walk down memory lane.

I recall a night at the Julia Morgan theatre in Berkeley. As the lights came on for intermission, I ran to the women's room. A long line had already formed and I spent the entire 20 minute intermission in line. Finally, when there were only 2 others in front of me in line, the house manager came through to clear the lobby.

He told the women still standing in line that we must return to our seats immediately or he would lock the door. There would be no late seating. Several women walked glumly back to the theatre.

I was boiling mad. I spent the entire intermission painfully waiting in line while Mark was able to breeze in and out of the men's room, buy a coffee and consume it leisurely while strolling around the lobby, looking at pictures of prior productions. I was not going to be denied.

I told the house manager that I did not dilly dally. I dilligently ran to the line as fast as I could. It was their fault that they did not provide women with enough stalls. Furthermore, I paid the same for a ticket as the men to see the play. If he did not hold the second act until all the women in line were able to use the facilities, then he would have to comp us seats for another night. (I was emboldened because I had worked with the house manager the prior summer where we spent many backstage hours together.)

He relented and led several women, including myself, to the backstage restroom and started the second act after all the women waiting in line were back in their seats.

I also thought about the status of women in science.

I have visited many science buildings that were built without women's restrooms except near the administrative offices. In some of those buildings, the signs were simply changed from men to women on alternate floors. In the tower where I did the bulk of my graduate research, the single stall restrooms went unisex by simply removing the men sign.

Late one night, I did sneak into the men's room in the laboratory wing. It was so huge relative to the two-stall women's room down the hall, you could play hockey in it. (Late at night, grad students sometimes played street hockey in the hallways to help stay awake and to alleviate the tedium of babysitting marathon experiments.)

And then I thought about the whole unfairness of the restroom business.

Much has been written about how women need more time in the stalls than men. But most writers ignore that women need to use the facilities more often than men. We simply have smaller bladders. The uterus takes up about the same amount of space as a typical female bladder. This is not even counting pregnancy! Men carry much of their gonads externally which frees up lots of bladder room.

So here we are, doing the human race a favor by bearing the young, and we are thanked by banishment to long lines to relieve ourselves. Grrr.

Every time someone (usually a man) brings up that women live longer than men, I quip, "Yes, but it doesn't really count because we spend it all waiting in line to use the restroom."

Read the earlier post, Standing in Line, to find out what brought this rant on.

1 comment:

  1. We had a unisex at Caltech that worked by flipping the "WO" part of the sign out from where it was folded behind the "MEN" part.

    I also fondly remember the materials science bathroom at U of I, which was a converted storage closet on the fourth floor. From a sitting position in the single stall, we ladies had a delightful view of the entire street below, until we covered it with Xerox paper and Scotch tape.

    Ah, good times.

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