Oilers’ elimination of women’s toilets is a symptom of a broader problem | Sport

To pee or not to pee?

It’s a question we ask ourselves at concerts, sporting events and other times we don’t want to miss a minute of the action. And when women decide we can’t hold it any longer, we often have to wait longer than men in those daunting arena lines.

Female sports fans were in an uproar after the Edmonton Oilers converted two women’s restrooms into men’s bathrooms during the Stanley Cup playoffs. Female fans were upset that they weren’t informed of the decision ahead of time, and some said the wait time was up to half an hour.

“When you purchase a ticket, you should expect to get access to a bathroom,” Kathryn Anthony, a professor and author of books such as Defined by Design that discuss gender bias in architecture, said of the wait times. “It’s just unfair, and it makes women feel unwelcome.”

The team said that a survey showed playoff attendance skewed male – a tough thing to prove when you account for re-selling tickets and who ticket holders bring as guests. Representatives for the Oilers did not respond to a request for the survey results or information about ticket holders.

“You’ll never make everyone happy,” Oilers general manager Susan Darrington told Global News about the change, adding: “The men are getting through faster, the women are seeing a little more of a delay.”

There are biological reasons why women’s bathrooms lines are typically longer: we need to sit; we menstruate; we pee more often than men, especially when we’re pregnant. Then there are societal reasons: we’re more likely to have children with us; we need to take off more clothing than men, which is often tighter and takes more time.

“People make jokes that we’re vain,” said Soraya Chemaly, an activist whose work focuses on the role of gender. “But we’re not standing in line for mirrors. We just need to use the bathroom.”

Women’s bathroom lines are so infamous that we’ve created funnels such as SheWees and LadyPs that let women pee standing up (presumably for outside use, but desperate times call for desperate measures).

Robert Brubaker of the American Restroom Association said that most states in the US require new venues to have three women’s toilets for every man’s toilet. Older sports stadiums, which are grandfathered in and don’t have to comply with new building codes, typically have an equal number of toilets for women and men.

“They literally did this thinking they were helping women, but they found that 1:1 wasn’t enough,” Robert Brubaker said.

That’s because even when there are an equal number of bathrooms, there is still a disparity. As the New York Times pointed out when renovations brought relief for some female baseball fans, “potty parity” isn’t measured by having the same number of toilets – it’s measured by wait times. Equal speed of access is the key, Anthony argues.



Hockey fans queue for the bathroom during a game between the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils. Photograph: Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images

If the problem is so bad, why haven’t we done anything about it? Partly it’s because we are conditioned to think this is normal.

“Women are constantly standing in line, sometimes 60 people deep, and they do it quietly while men breeze through, and you have to ask how it’s possible that we’re still at this stage,” Chemaly said.

When men have to wait in longer lines and they make enough noise about it, the rules change. We’re seeing it now with the Oilers, and we saw it when male Chicago Bears fans were upset about new equal bathroom rules and complained until five women’s rooms were converted to men’s at Soldier Field.

“When the situation is improving for men but women have to wait longer, that’s a clear and obvious gender bias,” Anthony said.

But the issue is so much bigger than bathrooms: it’s indicative of the kind of hostile response that women often face in the sports world – that our needs don’t matter as much a man’s, and that we should just stay quiet and be thankful that we’re even allowed to participate.

Women – whether they are fans, reporters (like myself) or team employees – have to deal with sexual harassment from fans, players and staff. Female journalists are subject to verbal and online abuse at an alarming scale. And when teams do try to include us, we get mansplainy events like Baseball 101 – complete with complimentary beauty treatments! – or Hockey and Heels featuring a soap opera star.

Women on the Seattle city council were told to “rot in hell” and “go back to the kitchen” when they rejected a land-use deal that would have allowed the creation of a pro-basketball stadium, the New York Times reported. (Seattle doesn’t even have a basketball team and there are no promises they’ll get one anytime soon, which was their main argument for shooting it down.)

So, how can we make these spaces more welcoming for women?

These spaces will become more accommodating for women when building codes and legislation improve, but groups are still pushing to improve the facilities at existing arenas. The American Restroom Association has worked to create more family restrooms in public spaces such as arenas, which can be used when children or people with disabilities need assistance. They have also been used as gender-neutral bathrooms.

Many argue that a gender-neutral bathroom system could alleviate unequal wait times. In such a system, “the next available toilet would go to the next available person,” Brubaker said. “It wouldn’t matter what their gender is.”

And that’s what we should strive for: to have equal and shorter wait times for all. Because we all have to use the bathroom, but nobody wants to miss a goal.

https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/may/11/edmonton-oilers-womens-bathrooms-female

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