The gendered nature of public space: this is all shit and I’m pissed.

Public toilets have long been a battle ground of women’s fight for the public sphere: from the fact that back in the 19th century there simply weren’t many public toilets for women, making them dependent on how well they could hold their pee to leave the house, to today’s fight to make sure trans women can safely use the right loo. The very private act of relieving oneself was always very public and very political. Another dimension (no pun intended) is space, and I rarely found a better example of how space is allocated to cis men than today.

I went to a meeting in a public building today, and when it was over I went to the visitor bathroom because I learned that if I don’t go the Autobahn will be closed and I’ll piss myself before I get home. So everybody who drove the same direction should thank me.

The sign at the door said “men, women and disabled”, making me wonder whether disabled people are suddenly no longer men and women, but then I went inside and came upon this:

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Snug, isn’t it? With the bin being so close to the loo and not much space on the other side I had some difficulties to move my butt far enough to the back of the toilet to actually hit the bowl. How this should be managed with a disability is a mystery to me, but if you think “maybe they only had so much space available”, let me tell you, they didn’t. To the right of the toilet is another compartment, about 50% larger than this one, holding two urinals. Hey, at least it had a door so you don’t need to see somebody waving their dick around, I go to Twitter for that kind of thing. Yes, that’s correct: 100% of the facility meet the needs of able bodied cis men, with 60% being reserved exclusively for them, while women, disabled people of all genders and probably most trans men all need to share 40% of the space, which is actually not enough space and which is also available to cis men.

And you want to hear the joke? The public building was a youth office, where the overwhelming majority of visitors is female…


  1. jrkrideau says

    The sign at the door said “men, women and disabled”
    Here in Canada that sign would imply at least one specially equipped large cubicle with a grab-bar and wheelchair access.

    I don’t think we would have a room just for urinals. Different design philosophies. Our problem with gendered washrooms tends to be the male and female washrooms in say a concert venue tend to have the same area and one can put a lot more urinals in the same area with, perhaps, one handcap cubicle in the male washrooms. Utterly stupid design.

    I seldom go to a concert but I understand what is becoming common among the younger crowd is just for the women to invade the male washroom. Still not good but even one or two extra cubicles can help.

  2. Jazzlet says

    Quite apart from the inequitable distribution of urinary opportunities which persists in too many new buildings despite it being a well known problem, public toilet design drives me nuts. As you show here there is so often a huge bin for disposal of sanitary protection when there simply isn’t room for one so you end up desparately trying to go in the toilet while also trying not to touch the bin with your exposed thigh or any of your clothes, and anyway it would be far more hygenic if they had a smaller bin that was emptied more often; furthermore apart from the cubicles being bigger the toilet shouldn’t be centrally placed, it should be offset so there is plenty of room for the bin to one side. Then you get the position of the toilet roll holder which can be so far back you can barely twist far enough round to use it or conversely you realise after you have started that it’s on the door so you can’t reach it without standing up and dripping everywhere. There may be a peg for you to hang your bag and coat on in the loo, but there is rarely anywhere to put them while washing your hands, and in the UK where we often have separate hot and cold taps the hot water will usually be so hot you scald yourself without actually managing to rinse the soap off, though you do manage to do that while holding your scalded hands under the cold tap, except that it will be a water saing tap and you will have to push the knob down half a dozen times to get enough cold water … /not sorry for rantng about this.

  3. voyager says

    What Jazzlet said.
    Plus, a proper handicapped toilet needs a grab bar and a higher seat and there should be room for a walker or wheelchair.

  4. voyager says

    I have used the men’s room more than once. I am of an age now where sometimes these things are necessary.

  5. lumipuna says

    Then you get the position of the toilet roll holder which can be so far back you can barely twist far enough round to use it or conversely you realise after you have started that it’s on the door so you can’t reach it without standing up and dripping everywhere.

    The typical placement seems weirdly low even for someone sitting on the toilet, especially since many toilet paper dispensers are designed to be accessed from the underside. It’s a pain for tall people who only ever wipe while standing up. And certainly, the reach is difficult from sitting position too.

    (Sorry to derail this into male issues. Public toilets are typically minimally sized, which affects large people in a number of ways, but I get that it affects disabled people even more, and probably also people going out with young children. And this is separate from the issue of gendered access.)

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