Book 8 of 52: No Place to Go: How Public Toilets Fail Our Private Needs by Lezlie Lowe

Last January, I visited Dry Tortugas National Park, an island 70 miles off of Key West. It was glorious — and warm and salty. Before the ferry took us back to the Keys, I stopped to use a changing room. The women’s had a line. The men’s was empty. So I did what I usually do in such situations: stepped into the men’s.

While my bathing suit top was stuck over my head, a man wanted to use the room, and he was angry he had to wait an extra 20 seconds while I finished up. “Women get everything!” he said.

I stepped out of the room, looked him in the eyes, and said “like what?”

“You can use the men’s room but I can’t use the women’s,” he said.

“Women’s always has a line. What else?”

“Uh, ladies night,” he replied.

“Okay so we sometimes, maybe get discounts on drinks. What else? Tell me what other advantages women get over men.”

He stared at me, then put on a fake smile and said, “okay I’m guess you’re right” and walked away, though he didn’t sound convinced in what he said. Just embarrassed I called him out.

I thought about this as I read No Place to Go: How Public Toilets Fail Our Private Needs by Lezlie Lowe, a packed, 200-page read about a host of problems when it comes to providing public restrooms, especially for the unhoused. She writes a lot about gender inequity too (and while this specifically wasn’t a restroom on Dry Tourtugas — we all used the bathroom on the ferry, and they have vault toilets for campers — it felt like the same thing, since the situation was the same line for women/none for men). Women pee more frequently, require more steps to get ready to use the bathroom, and are often caregivers who also help someone else use the toilet. We also may be menstruating or pregnant, which requires different bathroom needs. And yet, women are blamed for taking too long, men often have more options (when you consider they typically have urinals AND stalls), and facilities are often designed by men without really thinking of what we really want or need. I wish I’d known all this in my show down with that dodo.

Lowe also has a chapter about bathrooms access for transgender and non-binary people. It’s well done (I’d have stopped reading if it wasn’t).

I can’t say much more about this book, because I read it for a work project, and I don’t want to step on the toes of that assignment. But my reaction to reading No Place to Go was both anger and resignation. If a guy can think that women have an advantage because we can sometimes use a men’s bathroom when it’s empty, completely skipping over that we usually deal with a line in the first place, how much is really going to change when it comes to bathroom parity?

Nail polish: Viva Antigua! by Essie.

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Jen Miller

Jen Miller

Jen A. Miller is a an author and freelance writer. Her memoir, Running a Love Story, was a Philadelphia Inquirer best book of the year. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, SELF, Buzzfeed and the Guardian, among others.

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