My company works all over Australia, providing advanced driver training courses to teenagers, mostly for school groups of Year 11 and 12 students. This involves travelling to work with these young drivers, so a lot of my working life is spent in small country towns. These drivers are even more at-risk than those in metropolitan areas, and their parents and teachers understand this and want them better-trained.
Sometimes the courses are held in secondary schools, but if they don’t have a safe outside area to complete driving activities, we’ll locate a local sports ground, animal sale-yard, a motorsport or go-kart or horse/greyhound racing venue, a community building, or a rural show-ground instead. Anywhere where we’ve got a reasonable classroom combined with suitable roadways. Sometimes we even use an RSL club, or council building.
These venues usually work well although, obviously, there are occasional issues with cleanliness, double-bookings, excessive noise or other minor annoyances. Like yesterday, when a mix-up led to us waiting outside a football clubroom for an hour before somebody could locate a set of missing keys and open up. All par for the course, pun intended. We’re required to be flexible, good-humoured and ingenious in coping with foibles and setbacks and usually, we are.
However, in using dozens of such buildings each year there’s one thing I’ve found to be almost universal. And that’s where the toilets are located. In nearly every single building that’s not a school (and often even in those), male toilets tend to be well located, while the women’s bathrooms are down a dark corridor, off in a dark corner, and/or are generally smaller, and harder to find.
Quite often the ladies’ room can’t be found at all without extensive searching, or by finding a local to ask. Meanwhile my male colleagues (I’m the only woman on our training team) virtually never face such difficulties as their ablutions are clearly visible and effortlessly accessible (for ambulant people, anyway: I’m horrified by how many are completely off-limits for disabled visitors).
Am I exaggerating about this difference in how men and woman are catered for in the commode department? I don’t think so: I’ve been doing this work for 28 years and it’s generally the same story. And I can’t think of a good reason why this should be so.
I mean, I can see there are “reasons”. The most obvious one is that the sporting venues we use generally have more male than female clients, so perhaps it’s fair enough that their loos are better located. And at sale-yards and motorsport venues and racing tracks, too, a male clientele would predominate.
Yet most sports clubs are also for women. They generally host a range of sport for all genders and are often actually titled “Football and Netball Club” or similar. Plus, women volunteers literally run these facilities, even though boys and men tend to get the greatest benefits. Women run kitchens and canteens on match days and clean and socialise and – god forbid – even love watching sport. Women ferry their kids to matches and training and hang around to cheer. And while I understand some activities and professions are traditionally male and the thinking on these issues was different decades ago, I see this dunny discrimination in new buildings, too, where such old-school thinking shouldn’t prevail.
In any case, some buildings we use (like council buildings or community centres) have no valid reason why men’s facilities should be better located. Yet they almost always are.
My own opinion is that because most architects and builders and planners are men, they put men’s conveniences in the most convenient locations. And because most of those on the committees that help experts design these buildings are men, they also want the gents in the prime position. Harsh? Hmmm … well, what other reason would there be? Especially as – without getting too graphic here – women take longer to complete a quick loo stop because they’ve more clothing to adjust and are always required to enter a stall rather than just zip in and unzip, so in theory deserve the location that’s quickest to locate and use.
Am I over-reacting about the sexism I feel is involved here: first world problem and all that? Possibly, although it does get annoying when there’s no obvious reason why men’s bathrooms should so often be the better located. Maybe it’s only me who notices and cares about what is, IMO, just another sexist micro-aggression. Yet on top of all the other ways women’s lives tend to take more time and effort (such as just getting dressed and out the door each day), I feel it’s vastly unfair.
Plus, I don’t buy the argument that architects might be doing this to give women extra privacy: on the contrary, it seems to me that putting women’s facilities in the farthest, darkest corners of a building technically places them at an even higher risk of assault or harassment. For this reason alone, women’s toilets should be closer to where more people are, not further removed.
If I’m completely mistaken here, I’ll get off my high horse. But I’ve been working in hundreds of different community facilities for decades now, and it seems pretty clear to me.
So if we ever we needed another reason (newsflash: we don’t) to get more women into traditionally male fields of architecture, building, council planning and related careers, this is at. If we ever needed another reason (we don’t) to get more women onto the committees that design and run our community and publicly-used venues, this is it. Because women want more say in where our loos are located, and we want this subtle sexism to stop.
What do women want? Privy Parity.
When do we want it? NOW.