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:
- (Concerning men’s bathrooms) Raising the standard of cleanliness.
- (Concerning men’s bathrooms) Access to a “powder room”.
- (Concerning women’s bathrooms) More available stalls.
- Increased safety.
- Make it easier on families.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?