Reasons why unisex bathrooms are good for all

When we talk about replacing gendered bathrooms with unisex ones, the conversation tends to focus on the important issue of giving those who don’t fit easily into the gender binary (whether they be trans*, genderqueer, intersexed, or even engaging in drag/cross-dressing) such a basic right as the ability to use a bathroom without the risk of being arrested, harassed, or assaulted.

But recently I read something that made me think about some of the other potential benefits of unisex bathrooms. A cisperson was arguing that since cispeople are the majority that we don’t need gender-free spaces, including unisex bathrooms. Now, of course, the easy answer to that is it doesn’t matter if it’s one person or a thousand, there’s no excuse for denying people their basic rights. But another thought occurred to me: this person was assuming that no cispeople were in favor of, or could benefit from, gender-free spaces.

Which, of course, is patently absurd. But it did make me think about the various “perks” for cispeople that could come from unisex bathrooms. So, I’ve made a lit of the potential benefits that a unisex bathroom could give over the traditional gendered ones:

  1. (Concerning men’s bathrooms) Raising the standard of cleanliness.
  2. Women’s bathrooms on average tend to be better maintained than men’s, and so combining them into a communal space would likely mean that the new bathroom would be maintained to the same cleanliness as the former women’s bathrom was.

  3. (Concerning men’s bathrooms) Access to a “powder room”.
  4. In certain cases, women’s bathrooms have what’s often called a “powder room”, which is a small area with chairs and mirrors. In a unisex situation, men would have access to this area as well.

  5. (Concerning women’s bathrooms) More available stalls.
  6. I can’t count the times when there has been a huge lineup at the women’s bathroom and none at the men’s where I wished I could just walk over there and use one of their stalls. Some places have tried to combat this problem by mandating that women’s bathrooms have more stalls, but shared stalls would solve the problem just as easily.

  7. Increased safety.
  8. While people may feel safer having a sign that designates “women” and “men”, the facts are that it’s no deterrent for perverts. Most of my female relatives have a story about being in a woman’s bathroom and having a man pop his head under the stall to watch her pee. For me it wasn’t a man, but a girl who was a classmate of mine. By removing the false sense of safety that gendered bathrooms provide, unisexed bathrooms would encourage increased security measures such as using dividers in stalls that go from the floor to the ceiling.

  9. Make it easier on families.
  10. While some places have introduced a “family bathroom”, most places just rely on the parent bringing their child into the bathroom with them. When the parent is not the same sex as the child, however, this can cause discomfort. Another problem is that not all men’s bathrooms have facilities such as baby changing stations (which has become standard for most women’s bathrooms) and so a man out with his children could find himself in a bind. Unisex bathrooms would solve these problems in the same way that family bathrooms do now.

Another thing to keep in mind is that many smaller venues already have unisex bathrooms, in the way of forgoing stalls in order to have one or two rooms with a toilet and sink. The transition would be the hardest part, but in the end I also believe that it would be more cost effective for buildings to have one larger restroom area rather than two smaller ones.

Can you think of any other benefits that could come from unisex bathrooms?

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16 Responses to Reasons why unisex bathrooms are good for all

  1. RhianWren says:

    *cheers*
    Unisex bathrooms for all!

    Sounds good to me! I really can’t think of any DISadvantages, but then I am dreading when the time comes when I am not passing as a man, but I don’t look like a chick anymore, so I’m not ‘objective’ anyway.

  2. Kimiko says:

    What about the shared bathrooms being brought _down_ to the level of uncleanliness of the men’s? That could happen just as easily I think.
    I’ve never seen one of those ‘powder rooms’ you speak of.
    The ‘easier on families’ and ‘more available stalls’ are good arguments I think.
    Increased safety through better dividers can be implemented independently from shared bathrooms.

  3. DoveArrow says:

    I think the idea that a unisex bathroom would be cleaner because it’s a shared space is really unlikely. Men’s bathrooms are, on average, not as clean as women’s, because, for whatever reason, some men actively vandalize their bathroom facilities. In my 27 years of experience using men’s facilities, I’ve seen people scratch derogatory remarks and gang signs onto the mirrors, spray paint the stalls, defecate on the toilet seats (I wish I was kidding about this one), take all of the paper towels out of the dispenser and throw them into the toilet, and release items, like stink bombs, designed to make the area less hospitable. I don’t know if this happens in women’s restrooms, but in the few cases where I’ve had to share restroom spaces used primarily by women, I have not seen the same kinds of destruction and mayhem. I have, on the other hand, seen things like flowers, changing stations, mirrors, and even doors on the stalls, be permanently removed from men’s restrooms due to chronic vandalism.

    That said, I do think unisex bathrooms would be a good thing for people of transgender, and for that reason, I would be supportive of a change. However, I think that, at best, unisex bathrooms would be somewhere between not quite as messy as men’s restrooms, and not quite as clean as women’s restrooms, but more likely that they would be just as messy as men’s restrooms are today.

  4. rebelleink says:

    While I personally like the idea of unisex bathrooms as a rule and not the exception, please check out this devil’s advocate idea. I can see that point too.

  5. steve says:

    Good list and good analysis… May I add one

    The occasional male abuser (pervert, rapist, bully..etc) would not have the advantage of being the only man amongst women. Other men would act as a policing presence.

  6. tekanji says:

    Kimiko said:

    What about the shared bathrooms being brought _down_ to the level of uncleanliness of the men’s? That could happen just as easily I think.

    That possibility, obviously, exists. However, I think that in most of the cases it’s more likely that the standard would be brought up, rather than down. One reason being that what most women will tolerate in, say, a gas station bathroom they’re much less likely to tolerate in, say, a mall’s bathroom and another being that people tend to feel more pressure to “put their best face forward” in mixed company, so there would likely be more effort made on the individual person’s part to be cleanly.

    I’ve never seen one of those ‘powder rooms’ you speak of.

    They’re much more prevalent in Japan, granted, but they do exist in the States. I’ve seen them in malls and on some of the Washington State Ferries, for instance.

    Increased safety through better dividers can be implemented independently from shared bathrooms.

    My point was that the false sense of security that exists currently with gendered bathrooms is a hindrance to increased security measures. Unisex bathrooms would get rid of that false sense of security and therefore the barrier to implementing better safety measures as well.

    DoveArrow said:

    Men’s bathrooms are, on average, not as clean as women’s, because, for whatever reason, some men actively vandalize their bathroom facilities.

    One thing to consider, though, is the difference between a homosocial environment and a heterosocial one. Men tend to be on much worse behaviour in an environment that’s all guys versus when they’re in mixed company and this undoubtedly applies to bathroom etiquette too. I think that most men would be less likely to do something lewd/disgusting if they thought they would be caught doing it by a woman.

    rebelleink: Re: liability: That would be a possibility if it was a single company that moved to implement the policy, but not so if it was done under government mandate.

    In terms of sexual assault, I believe that if implemented with increased security measures (the change in stall type is just one possibility; others include having the washing area be visible by staff, in cases of places like malls having a security guard patrol the area, etc) the actual reduction in sexual assault would outweigh the ability to use “it was a misunderstanding” as an excuse (which is not much of an excuse, anyway, since the communal area would act like any public place and sexual harassment/assault happens in public places all the time). Not to mention that with just one bathroom there is likely to be people there during most times, making it harder for a potential assaulter to have the necessary alone time with their victim to commit the crime (this is similar to steve’s point).

  7. Beste says:

    I would support unisex bathrooms as long they have urinals in them..

  8. Some Guy says:

    Aren’t women under pressure to maintain the illusion that they don’t sh*t?

    Given that throughout history, men are “supposed” to be the stinky, gross gender, while women are “supposed” to be perfectly clean and neat, how could they ever admit that their glorious and clean bodies produce the same brown stuff that us dirty stinky guys do.

    Pretty silly, huh? It is a subtle social attitude nonetheless. It may be still necessary to keep the genders separate, or men might figure out the big “secret”. There might be a lot of nervousness, if women feel the need to maintain the illusion, or if men should otherwise be totally ignorant of the processes of the standard human digestive system.

    I guess it will have to be 3 bathrooms like they have here in Newfoundland: Men, Women, and Unisex (usually called “Family”).

    The social attitude might be eliminated if women could feel free to say stuff like “Excuse me, I gotta take a crap/sh*t/dump, I’ll be back in 10 minutes” or stuff like that. Or maybe not, I don’t know. What would you think?

    It’s pretty weird how these attitudes occur. I’m pretty sure most people know that women indeed do defecate anyway. Heck, some heterosexual men even have a scat fetish. And somebody invented the term “Waffle Crapper”, Urban Dictionary could tell you more about it.

    I personally wouldn’t mind having all unisex bathrooms. :)

  9. BetaCandy says:

    Also, plumbing is very expensive to build, and unisex plumbing could really cut that expense down. Many small buildings (like restaurants) could make do with just one of the two restrooms they would normally build. Big projects like stadiums and concert halls – often at least partially funded by local tax dollars – might see really significant savings.

    I’ve seen powder rooms in a lot of department stores in the US.

  10. tekanji says:

    Beste said:

    I would support unisex bathrooms as long they have urinals in them..

    Keeping the urinals would definitely be a good idea. In my mind I imagine them being off to one side of the stalls with a divider blocking the urinals from casual onlookers.

    Some Guy said:

    The social attitude might be eliminated if women could feel free to say stuff like “Excuse me, I gotta take a crap/sh*t/dump, I’ll be back in 10 minutes” or stuff like that. Or maybe not, I don’t know. What would you think?

    Well, I’m the type of person who has to purposefully remember to not say that kind of thing in polite company, so I’m not the best person to ask about that social convention.

    Personally, I think unisex bathrooms would probably do a lot to ease that kind of pressure, but if not there’s always the option of what Japan does in a lot of its washrooms: add a machine that emits the sound of running water in order to mask the sound of urinating and/or defecation. Some of them also apparently also release air freshener to mask the smell.

  11. sara no h. says:

    The social attitude might be eliminated if women could feel free to say stuff like “Excuse me, I gotta take a crap/sh*t/dump, I’ll be back in 10 minutes” or stuff like that. Or maybe not, I don’t know. What would you think?

    Of course, it’d help too if we didn’t get stupid relationship advice “experts” suggesting that sharing time in the bathroom (of the “I know you’re showering but I need to take a shit, I’m coming in” variety) erodes eroticism and sexuality because, you know, there are some things couples just shouldn’t share, and how will a man ever be able to think of his wife/girlfriend the same way if he has to smell her shit? (I can’t find the article, it was probably on Yahoo though.)

    Also, I am one of those people who will get constipated because I can’t take a crap if there are other people in the house, let alone within hearing or smelling range, and if I absolutely have to I go around checking to ensure that no one will need the bathroom for a good half hour. (We only have one bathroom. I think it should be illegal to build single-restroom places but that’s just me.)

    Back onto the topic of unisex bathrooms and not my plumbing problems — I’m wholly in favour of them, for all of the reasons you’ve mentioned, and no, I don’t think liability is some kind of excuse. You’re just as vulnerable in segregated restrooms and nobody’s sued for being harassed in one of those yet, have they?

    The only argument I can see, so far, is maintaining the difference in line length because damn it is nice to be able to just sneak into the guys’ room when the women’s line is too friggin’ long.

  12. Anny says:

    My college converted a lot of bathrooms to “gender neutral” a couple of years ago, and I think it’s been a positive change. Another added perk- by making some of the bathrooms in the dorms gender neutral, they reduced the need for people to walk to the other end of the hallway or to another floor to find an appropriately gendered bathroom.

    Also, Steve makes a good point!

  13. sreya says:

    I think unisex bathrooms would become a meca for pedophiles, flashers and under the stall door peepers.
    It’s a horrible idea.

  14. Katherine says:

    Not enough love for the family friendly argument. My parents used to share the responsibility of showering my sister and I after we went swimming, and my dad would usually overhear several comments that it was wrong for him to have one of us in the shower with him. The changing rooms at the public pool were unisex, with women’s toilets and showers at one end and men’s at the other. More family safe areas! If it’s not wrong to have preschool boys in the women’s changing room, it’s not wrong to have preschool girls in the men’s changing room!

  15. Fernando says:

    Public Toilets are social equalizers. They erase distinctions between the genders. Men and women are stripped of their differences. So that social class, wealth, race, age, culture, nationality, and even religion, are set aside. Two men at the urinal are equal inside a Public Toilet. Two feet under a stall have the same hierarchy. Both produce farts and both stink. It doesn’t matter if a guy pooping in a stall is a blue collar worker and the guy shitting next to him is a Harvard alumnus. Both have an urgent need to shit and both are men. I assume a similar story should unfold in the ladies room.

    Society has accepted Public Toilets as places where differences are set aside and equality is the norm. But a major difference still exists. That between men and women. Public Toilets have failed to erase this difference. It is acceptable for a Wall Street broker to take a leak next to a construction worker, or a politician taking a dump next to a cop at an airport restroom. However, it would be unthinkable to take a dump in a restaurant while your date applies makeup, or worse still to take a leak while she takes a dump.

    Unisex Toilets would erase the difference in gender and in consequence would be people equalizers. They would demystify the Victorian taboo of shame between men and women when going to the bathroom. Urinating and defecating are physiological functions, just like breathing, sleeping, and eating. There’s nothing wrong with them. Poop is natural and there’s nothing disgusting with it if handled properly. It is society which has attached to it the taboo of uncleanliness, guilt, and shame. This can be partly understood because in the 19Th century, sewage systems were not always existent and the toilet as we know it today was not yet perfected. There were many outbreaks of cholera and other diseases. So poop was considered extremely dangerous, and it was understandable that people had an aversion to it. On the other hand, Victorian morale made it fashionable to pretend you didn’t poop. The higher you were in the social scale, the less “earthly” you were. So for the higher classes, it was essential to pretend they didn’t poop and thus, hide all the aspects related to pooping. That’s how the water closet (W.C.) became invented. And that’s how privacy became the norm. If pooping was considered taboo for society as a whole, for women it was unthinkable. Girls don’t poop and the only thing emanating from a women’s body should be the scent of roses. That was the prevailing ideology and that’s the primary reason why men and women are segregated when going to the bathroom. At least in Western society.

    Opponents of Unisex Toilets might argue that they’re not soundproof. True, but what’s wrong with hearing farts, plops, or crackling sounds after all. They’re not worse than hearing someone blowing their nose. Or sneezing, or coughing. They may argue that they’re not smell proof. True, you can smell someone’s gas but what else would you expect in a public restroom. And would you really care if the poop smell comes from a man or a woman. Poop always stinks. They may argue they’re not visual proof. So, what’s the big deal with seeing someone’s shoes, or high heels under a stall. You’re not seeing nudity or anything else you wouldn’t see outside the restroom. Finally, the test of fire. Women might get offended by seeing a man’s penis. Regarding this delicate issue. There’s no reason why a woman should see a penis inside a Unisex Toilet more than a man seeing a vagina. However, since men in a hurry sometimes unzip before getting to the urinal accidentally, my solution would be placing the urinals in a separate area were women would be visually protected. That way, this issue would be solved once and for all.

    Furthermore, since most people (men and women) entering a Public Toilet go for a # 1, pooping issues would be minimized. Most women would use the stalls to pee, and if they pooped, it would not be such an issue for them since they always use stalls. On the other hand, most men would use the urinals, and given their location it would not pose any problem. If a man do needed to pass a b.m., he would use a stall, and this would not pose any problems for him. It has always been more acceptable for a man to show his human side than for a woman. And he would be surrounded mostly by women using the stalls who would not care. Women only care about piss in the seat and this would not be the case.

    A Unisex Toilet does bring some changes. Women can no longer go to the bathroom without the presence of men, and thus, cannot discuss women only issues but would be compensated by shorter queues. And if space affords it, a separate women’s lounge with a few women only stalls could be considered (if the restroom is large enough of course). Regarding the main stalls, they should all be labeled for men and women and most if not all, should have tampon dispensers for women. The few without them should have a men sign on them although women could use them as well. Changes for men would be minimal, since men don’t go in groups to the bathroom and don’t linger in it like women. Men would tend to wash their hands since it would be embarrassing not doing so in front of women. The biggest issue for a guy would be realizing that a girl poops and this is something which could be very weird for us. However, a Unisex Toilet would prepare people to accept the fact that everyone poops, and it’s no big deal, just as gender specific bathrooms do between the genders.

    However Unisex Toilets can work better in some places than others. They can be more easily accepted in places were chances of meeting someone you know are very small, places with very open minded people, places were everyone is just too drunk to care, or simply places were people are desperate to go or no other option is available. When you gotta go you gotta go. From the builder’s perspective, the main reasons to install a Unisex Toilet are space at a premium, better utilization and less queues, which lead to efficiency and better allocated resources, and economies of scale. Some place may even install Unisex Toilets deliberately, since it may be fashionable, like some trendy bars and restaurants. Others may install them to generate a certain dynamic between people, like some companies (Ally Mc’Beal series). Once a coworker has heard you poop, the relation goes to a deeper level (nothing sexual involved). There should be at least one of these elements involved so that the probability of success is reasonable particularly the ones involving the users.

    In conclusion, Unisex Toilets can be installed in most places where at least one reason exists to justify them. Men and women can get used to them and accept them without major problems. Pooping is natural and the taboo around it is largely unfounded and obsolete. In the 21st century we should get rid of Victorian ideas of denying bodily functions. Men and women are equally capable, and can be civilized enough to share a common restroom. This doesn’t mean the end of the magic between the genders. On the contrary, it celebrates our differences and highlights the fact that we are all humans and humanity should be united.

  16. Mircea says:

    I went tot this event. It was a thing on solar energy and natural living so pretty hippy right. People had booths and stuff but there were permanent buildings and the restrooms were now womens and unisex. If you were a guy in need of no 2 you could just forget it. Also I remember feeling uncomfortable using the urinal if someone female I knew walked in at the same time. I remember once a crowd of like three women. Probably in their late twenties or early thirties but looked older probably from too much partying. They were just standing between the sinks and the urinals sipping beer out of plastic cups and laughing and being obnoxious. I felt uncomfortable, my big head, but my little head. I mean if he’s gonna be measured hes gonna stand up straight. That made it more awkward. And they could tell there wasen’t a stream cuz they were peeking and plus I was the only guy at the urinal at the time and there wasn’t a liquid splashing against porcelin sound. It was awkward

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