Standing in line outside the restroom in Central Park, together with dozen other women, a young girl came running to the front of the line and asked to go first. She was in tears and was obviously distressed. But she still had to wait a couple of minutes until the first woman came out of the stall.
It was painful to watch that girl’s plight and as I stood there, I realized that this long line of women waiting patiently, outside, in the freezing weather, while next door men went in and out of their restroom with no wait, was a sad allegory of the condition of women in the 21st century. We all know that there is a problem and still nothing is done to fix it.
We see women standing in lines at restrooms everywhere: in the movie theaters, sport events, concert halls, and museums. Yesterday in New York City I stood in 5 different lines.
Many small establishments changed their restrooms to unisex and it is a big help. It means that if the restroom could adversely affect business, steps are taken to remedy the problem. But places like Central Park and Macy’s are perhaps too confident, or too arrogant, so they keep on mistreating their women customers, just because they can.
In recognizing the restroom situation as an allegory, I refer, for example, to the difficulties only women face when they decide to have a family. Every woman knows that she would most likely not be hired if she is interviewed for a job when pregnant. Moreover, if she is lucky enough and already has a job her short maternity leave is almost always frowned upon. If she chooses to stay home a while longer, she seriously risks her advancement and could even lose her job. Once she is back at work, refusing to work overtime usually means that her career is basically over.
This is a heavy price and the women are the ones who pay it. All the while, just like in the restroom, men are hardly affected by this problem and pay no price for fatherhood. Quite the contrary, studies show that fatherhood promotes men’s social and financial standing.
As an explanation to the restroom problem, some argue that since most men use only the urinals, it is an inherent problem and nothing could be done. I disagree, I suggest that every public place will have one separate restroom for urinals, one large unisex restroom and a smaller separate restroom for women who are uncomfortable to share a restroom with men. I believe that if men start waiting in line a better solution would be find in no time.
And who is better equipped to find that solution than women architects?
In recent years many more women have entered the field of architecture. Actually in Israeli universities there are more women than men. Prestigious contests to design women-friendly restrooms would do wonders to improve both the restroom problem and the position of women at least in one important field: it is a good start.