is it okay: for women to use the men’s bathroom?
It’s 1am, the music’s loud, the place is full, and so is your bladder. You can see the line from here and the bathroom door wedged open by a girl who’s staring balefully at the wall. Behind her, two friends shriek loudly whilst sneaking sideways glances at the same guy across the room. You can only just see through the door, where there are three cubicles, all of which remain stubbornly occupied. You’re going to have to navigate stockings, buttons and the possibility of no toilet paper. A solitary man leaves the bathroom next door and heads for the bar. There is no line. Meanwhile, the girl four spaces ahead is wearing a jumpsuit. That’s going to take a while. Things are reaching a critical point. Decision time.
Is it ok to duck into the men’s bathroom? No, except in the following three scenarios:
- Pure, unadulterated desperation with no viable alternative, as a result of the fact that you will 100% pee everywhere if you don’t go right now.
- The men’s bathroom is made up of a single toilet, identical to the women’s (which is out of order) except for the fact that the figure on the door is wearing pants not a dress.
- The toilet is empty, and likely to remain so.
Outside of these three situations, the male bathroom should remain a no-go zone. There are the obvious reasons like ‘what if the situation were reversed’ and ‘oh no, my eyes’, but really it comes down to the fact that male and female communal bathroom experiences are two different worlds which under no circumstances should ever collide.
When women go to the bathroom, it is rarely a solitary experience. If you’re not with a friend, you’re in a line. Forever. It is pretty much a given that you will be there for a while, so small talk happens, garish paint gets commented on, and sometimes a salvation handful of toilet paper gets handed under the stall. Time is spent in front of the mirror, gossip is exchanged and the hand dryer is likely to be pressed twice. It’s not always the same. Some friends I will talk to from within the cubicles, some will remain in stony silence, water running, only to join up again at the mirror with a smile, and we will both pretend that they didn’t just relieve themselves of bodily waste. There is an unspoken agreement to wait for each other, and a tacit contract made to never acknowledge the fact that you are there in fact to pee and/or poop.
I always assumed that the male toilet experience was a sped up version of this, though maybe a bit more solitary and with less time in front of the mirror. Apparently not. Following a surprisingly long conversation with some male friends, it turns out that in fact the male bathroom is a cold, emotionally sterile place where all relationship ties are severed. The only sound that can be heard is urine hitting porcelain or metal, and the only acknowledgement of previous acquaintance is a curt nod, before all attention is returned to the task at hand.
Men apparently set themselves a “toilet goal”. This can range from floating the urinal cake either up or downstream (‘upstream is much harder’), to wet the ‘entire side of the urinal, which can be up to a metre and a half wide’, or simply to clean up. If I walk into a toilet and found that someone hasn’t abided to the “if it’s brown, flush it down” rule, I immediately leave, lest the woman inevitably waiting for the stall thinks it was me and lets her judging eyes bore straight into my soul. Apparently this will go down a whole different way in the mysterious male toilet. ‘I think, eh, something to aim at.’
Male bathroom etiquette also includes not standing next to someone at the urinal if it can be avoided, not speaking at all, and avoiding going in pairs or groups. They also rarely have to wait, with it being such a rare occurrence that if it does happen, it makes them feel awkward.
It’s an alien world, and I don’t really think that it is OK for a woman to enter into it if the situation is not dire. Any time I try and picture this happening, the image that comes into my head is of a blue room filled with men standing at urinals, one space apart, silent with concentration. The door opens, along with a flood of sound. ‘Hey’, says the female intruder, ‘the women’s is really busy. I hope you don’t mind’. There is no response, and she heads into the single cubicle. Another man enters the room, and not wanting to stand between two friends/acquaintances/strangers (it’s all the same in the men’s bathroom), heads to the cubicle. It’s occupied. He has to…wait? Before long, everyone is wandering around lost and confused, thinking they’re hearing voices as the men’s bathroom is supposed to be a zone of silence.
So, if you’re thinking of going to the men’s bathroom, don’t. And, if you really have to, be silent, be quick, and ignore the goal orientated behaviour – lest you cause a catastropee.
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