Women need toilets more than men do. Why are there never enough?
Broadside: No to bad smells and wet floors. Yes to spacious stalls and sensible sinks
Public toilets for women: in a word, ugh. Photograph: iStock/Getty
Public toilets for women. In a word, ugh. For a start there are never enough of them. Never. I’ve lost hours of my life politely queuing with dozens of other women while we eyed the nonqueue for the men’s. This is not a rant about wanting gender-neutral public toilets. Anyone who identifies as female can use the women’s toilets. I just want lots more of them – and is it really too much to expect them to be clean?
Public toilets in cities used to be scary subterranean places whose smell reached you at street level. They’re all but gone from Dublin. Now we depend on the toilets in shops, bars, restaurants, theatres, cinemas, hotels and sports venues.
And there are never enough of them. Did I say that already? I can’t say it too many times. Women need bathroom facilities far, far more than men do. Women pee more when they’re pregnant. Mothers escort their young children to them. Women have periods. And sometimes they want a private space to change clothes in before heading out for an evening.
So women also need more than the toilet itself. They need a washbasin or a mirror, to apply make-up, brush hair, wash hands, confer with a friend or just take a few seconds away from everything going on in their lives.
I get that space is expensive. But that is no reason to make the stalls so small that you have to do a gymnastic manoeuvre to get in and shut the door behind you
And there are never enough of them. I get it. I get that space is expensive. But that is no reason to make the stalls so small that when you sit down you’re in danger of resting a buttock on the blue sanitary bin – a sanitary bin that is usually pretty unsanitary – shoved right beside the toilet. Or to make the stall so small that you have to do a gymnastic manoeuvre to get in and shut the door behind you.
If there are hooks on the back of the door – yes, please – they are almost always broken stubs. So you have to put your coat and or bag on a wet floor. I’m not fussy, but I’d prefer my belongings didn’t come in contact with urine not my own.
Once you’ve used the loo, the meanest public toilets provide no space to put your belongings down while you wash your hands. I don’t want a design-statement trough of a washbasin that runs the length of the bathroom. Or a tiny bowl standing proud alongside another teeny-tiny basin. I just want somewhere to wash my hands without putting my stuff on that wet floor.
As for drying your hands, will the designers of toilets in public places ever learn? If you don’t keep the paper towels stocked up, women will go into an empty stall, use toilet paper and then throw it in the loo – which creates what looks like an unflushed mess to the next user. Or if the toilet-paper-hand-drying person does flush it away, then it’s a waste of water. Either way, it shouldn’t be happening.
The only efficient hand dryers, in my opinion, are blade dryers, mostly because they’re so fast. Nobody wants to be standing with their paws under a dryer for more than a minute – and there are rarely more than two machines, no matter the number of stalls – while being eyeballed by waiting people. The alternative is to leave with wet hands. Or not to wash your hands. Neither is a good public-health option.
These are things I wish I didn’t encounter in public toilets: potpourri, saccharine pictures, framed ‘inspirational’ messages, plastic flowers
There are also things I wish I didn’t encounter in public toilets:
Framed “inspirational” messages.
On my perpetual wish list:
Hooks on the backs of doors.
Luxuries that are always welcome:
Fresh flowers, in fresh water, or a beautiful plant, such as an orchid.
A tissue dispenser, with tissues in it.
If the owners of the shops, bars and the rest whose toilets we use think their facilities don’t matter to the women who use them, they’re wrong. It’s all part of the customer experience, and if the women’s toilets are really bad – or really good – you eventually hear about them. I just don’t know why there isn’t a TripAdvisor for women’s toilets. It’d be an active forum.