Queues at Women’s Toilets are Dumb
Queuing to pee is for cis women as inescapable as taxes and death. It is something we are just used to, somewhere in our life we just accepted it. The queues are a sacred place to check our phones, chat with our friends, or even connect with strangers over the pain and discomfort we feel, somewhere around our abdomen or between our legs. If someone takes too much time, if the restrooms are just filthy, or if someone has a lovely dress to compliment, there is the possibility to talk just to forget this basic, natural, awkward urge for a few seconds. Then the sweet release comes.
A couple of weeks ago I went to the Bastille Opera in Paris, to see Don Giovanni. This opera is not the longest, I mean compared to Wagner’s, only 1 hour 30 for the first act, then a 30-minute intermission, then another 1 hour 20. I immediately left my seat for the intermission, but there was already a queue at the women’s bathrooms, disappointing me and another woman next to me. Her husband decided to make a sneering comment and left for the empty men’s bathroom: “Haha good luck with your queue!” I decided to wait for the queue to dwindle, but 30 minutes later, there were as many women waiting as before. I had to watch the second act with the discomfort of a full bladder.
I assume I got infuriated for two reasons. Listening to the Commandatore telling Don Giovanni to repent gave me extra rage. Pentiti, Opéra Bastille, scellerato! The second is, very obviously, the price of our ticket. I’m OK with queuing in cheap bars and pubs, or in airports: you queue for everything there, from security lines to sandwiches, so, why not for the bathrooms? But the opera house is an elitist institution. If it can spend a ton of money on fake trees and on costumes that’ll make Don Giovanni look like a homeless addict, why can’t I piss in peace? And if such an institution is not able to take care of such a subject, what does it mean for the rest of the world?
There’s also a third reason: the French-German public service channel, Arte, recently released Pause Pipi, literally “pee break”, a documentary podcast by Julie Auzou. I urge you to listen to it if you speak French. This podcast had a striking effect on me: I can’t see toilets and queues and not see the injustice in them.
I guess some people assume cis women take more time in the bathrooms because they… take their time. They sit down on the Opera’s toilet and their mind just wanders off to reflect on the weird choice of staging Donna Anna’s rape by Don Giovanni as actually perfectly consensual. Yes, I didn’t really like the opera’s staging choices, as well as their management of basic hygiene for female visitors. Women will take time to powder their noses or whatever they do in the secrecy of their gendered restrooms. I mean, look at them chatting in the queue, of course, they must just idly sit there! Do some men really believe they are just more effective? When it’s just not true: it is not a question of effectiveness, but of mere biology and anatomy. I need to quote Invisible Women, Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez here:
On the face of it, it may seem fair and equitable to accord male and female public toilets the same amount of floor space — and historically, this is the way it has been done. 50/50 division of floor space has been formalized in plumbing codes. However, if a male toilet has both cubicles and urinals, the number of people who can relieve themselves at once is far higher per square foot of floor space in the male bathroom than in the female bathroom. Suddenly equal floor isn’t so equal.
But even if male and female toilets had an equal number of stalls, the issue wouldn’t be resolved, because women take up to 2.3 times as long as men to use the toilet. Women make up the majority of the elderly and disabled, two groups that will tend to need more time in the toilet. Women are also more likely to be accompanied by children, as well as disabled and older people. Then there’s the 20–25% of women of childbearing age who may be on their period at any one time, and therefore needing to change a tampon or a sanitary pad.
There are solutions, many of them actually, discussed by architects and designers. But the problem was caused by the idea of giving exactly the same space to men and women. Women take twice as much time as men, why should women have the same amount of space as men in the opera house? But are performance halls’ managements willing to give more space to women?
Sometimes I’m afraid some men don’t want to see this situation change because it might mean they will have to queue… like a woman. The woman’s husband from the opera, for example, was more comfortable sneering at the whole situation. But then again, we are just so used to it.
If opera tunes are not your thing, let’s talk about more modern music. Patti Smith, in 1976, wrote Pissing in a River, a beautiful song with very cryptic lyrics. How I interpret its title is how pissing in a river gives you the illusion of having an impact, when you actually don’t. In the beginning, she sings “pissing in a river, watching it rise”, which doesn’t make sense really, you can’t make a river rise by urinating in it. But then you listen to the rest of the song, when she makes a plea to a lover, asking him to not leave her. Pleading a lover who is leaving you feels like pissing in a river: useless but relieving, and distasteful too, as if you are doing in nature, outside, something that should be confined between four walls.
Pause pipi by Julie Auzou, Invisible Women, this article that will be read by one thousand readers if I’m lucky… This all feels like we are pissing in rivers. Pleading for a safe and hygienic place to pee, without queues. It feels relieving yes, kind of awkward really, and somewhat impactless. The chance of the Bastille Opera’s management reading this article and changing the organization of their plumbing system is very unlikely. In the meantime, I will just take the matter into my own hands. Recently, after watching Barbie at the movie theater, I decided to go to the men’s bathrooms: unsurprisingly I was alone there, no Ken in this Mojo Dojo Casa House.