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Behind the Stall Door
April 16, 2014 10:08 AM   Subscribe

The Private Lives of Public Bathrooms "The public collides uncomfortably with the private in the bathroom as it does nowhere else, and the unique behaviors we perform stem from a complex psychological stew of shame, self-awareness, design, and gender roles. "
posted by xingcat (108 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Unless it’s some sort of terrible emergency, I don’t use public restrooms at all. Won’t. Can’t. Since forever. Certain things shouldn’t be done in public. One of the first things I checked when I bought my house: did the loo have a fan? Not for the air circulation, but for the white noise. (It did.)
posted by scamper at 10:18 AM on April 16 [2 favorites]


Interesting thought about the woman's room as relief from the male gaze and the men's room as its imposition. Is this related to how (men at least, all I know from personal experience) are not supposed to be naked in a men's locker room?
posted by shothotbot at 10:23 AM on April 16


Terrifying. For men, the required ability to instantly release a horse-like stream of frothing piss over which they have complete control, in any surroundings, may also be linked to the pornalisation of society, since this ability with ejaculate is the conclusion of all porn scenes.

I haven't been able to pee in a trough next to another male since age 8 or so. I used to sit in class with my eyeballs bulging with piss. I blame my father.
posted by colie at 10:24 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]


There was a "Men's Bathroom Simulator" game that went around a few years ago. (This is the closest I could find just now.) You have to choose which urinal/stall to choose in a variety of set ups. Most men immediately agreed on the "right" answer; most women were mystified.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:26 AM on April 16 [7 favorites]


I'd like to thank that article for bringing the specter of a researcher using a periscope to time the length of my peeing to every urinal experience for the rest of my life.
posted by Copronymus at 10:27 AM on April 16 [7 favorites]


The handful of times I've encountered unisex, multi-stall bathrooms I've really enjoyed the experience. I don't know if this is due to the absence of male-competitive anxiety or because I just love anything that makes me feel like I'm in Starship Troopers.
posted by theodolite at 10:28 AM on April 16 [11 favorites]


So bathrooms are, for men, a space where you have to be hyper-aware of the presence of men whilst appearing not to be for fear of drawing sexual violence?

So they're like everywhere else for women?
posted by NoraReed at 10:31 AM on April 16 [87 favorites]


what Nora Reed said. From the article:

The anxiety they reported was centered around “watching”—being watched by other men, or being perceived to be watching other men—and that this watching was linked to the possibility of sexual violence.

So why is it so hard for many men to understand how women feel ALL THE TIME? Surely men know that not all men™ in public bathrooms are out to rape them, yet they feel anxiety anyway.
posted by desjardins at 10:34 AM on April 16 [35 favorites]


Does "sexual violence" here mean rape, or does it mean being beaten up or harassed for not being adequately "manly"?
posted by jrochest at 10:40 AM on April 16 [4 favorites]


I can't believe that anyone would - as the article says - catheterise themselves rather than do it in a plastic bottle?
posted by colie at 10:41 AM on April 16


[re jrochest] Probably the latter. I think most men know intellectually that they're unlikely to be raped in a public bathroom. It's not a prison shower. But there is a feeling that you could be in some way called out or judged or otherwise found to be inadequately masculine while in a vulnerable position.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:42 AM on April 16 [4 favorites]


I feel like in my lifetime there's been an uptick in the number of men willing to talk to me while I'm using the urinal, so I'd be curious to see more recent studies on this. I'm very much in the civil inattention camp, but plenty of people I know seem to want to keep talking.

The weirdest (and worst) bathroom design I've seen from this perspective is a bathroom that had a single room with two toilets facing each other, about close enough for you to set up a table and play chess.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:42 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]


Probably the latter. I think most men know intellectually that they're unlikely to be raped in a public bathroom. It's not a prison shower. But there is a feeling that you could be in some way called out or judged or otherwise found to be inadequately masculine while in a vulnerable position.

Yeah, I would have called it (for me) a fear of judgment or embarrassment, but not violence.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:44 AM on April 16


Just wait till the mass rollout of Google Glass.
posted by sonascope at 10:54 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]


I worked with a woman who insisted she never used the (very clean) company bathroom. We worked 10 hour shifts (plus lunch, plus commuting), so she was going at least 12 hours straight without using the toilet. I respect people's anxieties but I don't understand how that's physically possible if you eat or drink at all during the day.
posted by desjardins at 10:59 AM on April 16


We have a set of two-holers in my building: oddly and unpleasantly personal, particularly if the person in the other one is a figure of authority and I've had a lot of coffee. But (TMI alert) I am so physically constituted that it is either the bathroom or a bucket in the corner of my office, so I choose the bathroom every time, even if I'm staring at the Dean's shoes.
posted by jrochest at 11:05 AM on April 16


Some women's rooms in Japan have the recorded sounds of flushing toilets so noone will gues what you are up to in there. Now portable!
posted by shothotbot at 11:08 AM on April 16


I shall now cause 90% of the men reading this to grimace involuntarily:

Trough Urinals
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 11:13 AM on April 16 [3 favorites]


Trough Urinals

I dont know, reminds me of being at camp. I seem to recall some naked mudslides after too many rainy days in a row, though that may not fly anymore.
posted by shothotbot at 11:17 AM on April 16 [2 favorites]


This reminds of a restroom "art installation" in the NYTimes recently in which the author makes a point of mentioning the lack of privacy because there are no stalls between the urinals. Except that many (most?) public bathrooms don't have partitions between urinals, and high-volume bathrooms in places like a sports stadium might have a single shared trough. I know my office bathroom doesn't have partitions between urinals and it's never seemed unusual.
posted by stopgap at 11:18 AM on April 16


I dont know, reminds me of being at camp. I seem to recall some naked mudslides after too many rainy days in a row, though that may not fly anymore.

pick a reason to flag: WAT
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 11:19 AM on April 16 [3 favorites]


my office bathroom doesn't have partitions between urinals

Mine does, but the people that work with me are so filthy that the paint has corroded off and the partitions are rusting right at groin-height. Yeah.
posted by backseatpilot at 11:20 AM on April 16


desjardins: " We worked 10 hour shifts (plus lunch, plus commuting), so she was going at least 12 hours straight without using the toilet. I respect people's anxieties but I don't understand how that's physically possible if you eat or drink at all during the day."

I worked at a very outdoorsy daycamp for children and the only option for using the bathroom involved a half-mile trek to the bathroom building, which featured child-sized toilets (so your knees were up around your ears when you went to pee!) and the toilets were composting toilets being used by 1200 kids and that entire building reeeeeeeeeeeeked by 10 a.m. (Also children were constantly running around the building, shrieking, talking to each other, and banging into stall doors, it made concentrating on peeing VERY DIFFICULT.)

I have like the world's tiniest bladder, but after a week I decided it was better to hold it and suffer than use those bathrooms; after two weeks I mostly stopped having to pee during the day. Some of it is that I was working outdoors and sweating copiously, but I drank a lot of water during the day. I just got accustomed to it.

I think it's not healthy if you do it for a long time; I think I've read that long-haul truckers get a lot of bladder infections from not stopping to pee often enough?

What do surgeons do during very long surgeries? Do they wear astronaut diapers? It's only just now occurred to me to wonder about this.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:22 AM on April 16 [2 favorites]


> So bathrooms are, for men, a space where you have to be hyper-aware of the presence of men whilst appearing not to be for fear of drawing sexual violence?

> So they're like everywhere else for women?


First, it's not sexual violence, it's just plain violent violence — which is probably easier to recover from, though still not much fun.

Second, it sounds like you are saying that for women the common coping strategy is some sort of self-erasure, like projecting a sense of "I'm not engaging, I'm not here for you to interact with". For men that doesn't work, and in fact can draw attention and aggression, kind of like when they tell you to walk, not run, away from a wild predator. Just like the running triggers them to chase you, timidity can trigger aggression.

The common male coping strategy is to make it clear that you are aware of the others, but that you don't consider it worth while to engage with them. It's helpful to think of taking up a certain amount of physical/psychological space, to make you seem bigger and more threatening. This gives other men the chance to come to their own decisions to not mess with you and not feel like cowards for doing so.

(I'm pretty sure your comment was kidding on the square, but it seemed like a good opportunity to explore the differences between men's and women's experiences. Also, I'm not contesting whether one experience is harder or easier than the other, I'm just explaining the one I went through.)
posted by benito.strauss at 11:24 AM on April 16 [12 favorites]


Astronauts
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:24 AM on April 16


I guess I have a weak GI system or low standards, because I have been in some naaaaaasty bathrooms (I'm looking at you, Sturgis motorcycle rally!) and still did what I had to do. If other people are weirded out by normal noises and smells, then they're the ones who shouldn't be in a public restroom.
posted by desjardins at 11:30 AM on April 16 [3 favorites]


I always use the stall even when I have to pee, and it stems from a fear of using urinals I developed after being bullied (and I guess probably sexually harassed?) about my penis size in sixth grade while peeing at a urinal. Funny how those things stick with you after all these years :P
posted by gucci mane at 11:32 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]


my office bathroom doesn't have partitions between urinals

Mine does, but the people that work with me are so filthy that the paint has corroded off and the partitions are rusting right at groin-height. Yeah.


That's got nothing to do with your coworkers' filthiness. That's what the partitions are for. They're splash guards. They need to be cleaned and replaced every now and then, and if that's not being done, somebody's not doing their job.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:38 AM on April 16


At my old office, the only fully functional (read: able to handle "number two") toilet was in a restroom in the boss' office. Nobody wanted to go in there while the boss was present, so I always had to do this ridiculous ritual where I circled around the doorway to discreetly see if the light was on, then rush in and hope I got done before he came back. I was happy in a way no human should have to be when we finally moved to a new building.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 11:40 AM on April 16 [3 favorites]


"In a study published in the British Journal of Criminology in 2012, Moore [found that women were] more relaxed and social overall, chatting with strangers in line, watching doors for each other, sharing makeup."
Of course women are chatting more in line. They're chatting about having to stand in line at the toilet, when the men walk right in.

And why would this study be published in the British Journal of Criminology? I hope because it's criminal how few stalls there are for women in British theaters, but I doubt it.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 11:48 AM on April 16 [5 favorites]


Trough Urinals

Are very efficient and perfectly fine because they are usually in places where your beer to urine ratio is rapidly screaming one to one.
posted by The Whelk at 11:56 AM on April 16 [3 favorites]


They need to be cleaned and replaced every now and then

They can't even keep the toilet paper stocked regularly, I'm sure the dividers haven't been touched since the building open.

I have many office bathroom stories.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:02 PM on April 16


Well, granted it was the 1980s, but I'd rank school restrooms at #3 on the list of scary places, after gym locker rooms and schoolbuses where bullying was a certainty rather than russian roulette. As one of my therapists would say, my current level of bathroom anxiety is a behavior I learned in a deeply fucked up situation where it made perfect sense. I'm neurotic enough that I'll wash my hands and walk right out if I'm having a bad day and don't like the look of whoever else is in there.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:03 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]


Trough urinals are bad enough, but I swear I have a childhood memory of going to the bathroom at a baseball game or similar event and being confronted with urinals that were sort of free-standing basins, right out in the middle of the room, so that everyone had to stand around them in circles peeing inward, basically making eye contact the whole time.

Is this a false memory implanted by aliens, or do other guys remember this?
posted by Atom Eyes at 12:04 PM on April 16 [5 favorites]


When men and women are exclusively in the company of their own sex, for women it's often liberating; for men it's often anxiety-inducing.
I have to say, even as someone who is often 'bathroom checked' -- as a flat-chested woman with very short hair, I'm not-infrequently assumed to be a man -- and someone who would much prefer it if all the restrooms in the whole world were converted to single-stall, the sanctity of the ladies' room is indeed stupendously liberating.

I can't even count the number of times I've experienced an impromptu manifestation of sisterhood when there's a bunch of us in there: Consoling or celebrating with one or more people I have never even seen before, offering/receiving a tampon or pad to/from a kindly stranger, being asked to briefly weigh in on an ongoing conversation in order to provide suitably distanced but woman-friendly advice, cheerfully gossipping about the annoying PUA dude who followed one of us to the bathroom and is still probably skulking around just outside the door while we're all washing our hands, leaving the bathroom together in a closely-knit pack in order to divert his attention.

When and where it arises, ladies' room camaraderie is one of my favorite parts about being a woman. And no matter what, I feel safer and more relaxed the moment the door shuts behind me. So I've kind of always viewed sex-segregated public restrooms as a place of inherent solace and solidarity, a place where I can duck in and hide out in the exclusive company of My People regardless of what kind of venue we're in. We can walk into the bathroom as strangers, do our business, start kvetching about being harassed at the club, and eventually walk out with linked arms and immediately start buying each other drinks.

Maybe I'm a complete weirdo, but spontaneous restroom introductions have historically been a pretty damn reliable way for me to make a new single-serving friend or two whenever I'm visiting a city I've never been to before. I'm bummed on behalf of the many (most? all?) dudes who don't have that avenue of possible acquaintance available to them.
posted by divined by radio at 12:05 PM on April 16 [30 favorites]


here's where I get to explain how terrible the mens room is on my floor!

there are three stalls, two toilets and a urinal.

The backs of the stalls are recessed - the urinal has no door and is about 2 feet deep. The middle stall has a door and is about 6 feed deep. The final stall (wheelchair accessible) has a door and is maybe 10 feet deep.

The stall walls are made in the traditional fashion: a sheet of laminated metal that is suspended about an inch away from the tile bathroom wall.

This inch, this god damned bloody inch, is precisely wide enough so that when you are at the urinal, you can see the lap of the person in the middle stall reflected on the tile. When you are in the wheelchair accessible stall, you can see the back of the person in the middle stall. when you're in the middle stall you can't see much of anything, but the water in that toilet is too high so your balls dip into it.

I have spent far too much time waiting for the other person to leave so I could finish my business.
posted by rebent at 12:07 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]


Boy, I tell you what. I always dreaded cleaning the women's bathroom when I worked at the drug store. I wore three pairs of gloves and had a stick.

Also, I don't use public bathrooms unless I absolutely have to and know nobody else will be coming in. I used to swig Kaopectate in hopes that it would prevent me from having to go to the bathroom at work, but then my doctor said I had a high amount of calcium in my blood or something, so I stopped. I don't think there's enough Xanax in the world to quell my public bathroom anxiety.

I never knew of this female public bathroom solidarity.
posted by Redfield at 12:15 PM on April 16


There's also a certain degree of homophobic crazy-making behind masculine bathroom anxiety. Guys who don't read as straight are more likely to be threatened and are blamed for sexually threatening straight men.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:20 PM on April 16


This seems relevant: Artist Monica Bonvicini's public bathroom made of one-way mirrors.

As a young person I avoided public restrooms, but eventually they became my preferred stop when they were known to be clean and have industrial strength fixtures.
posted by jjwiseman at 12:21 PM on April 16


I was concerned that the Suburban Station men's room in Philly had become a bizarre hangout place for local teens of both sexes, but now I realize they were just researchers. Because peeing with 15yo girls 10 feet behind me would just be weird, right?
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 12:23 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]


I have a childhood memory of going to the bathroom at a baseball game or similar event and being confronted with urinals that were sort of free-standing basins, right out in the middle of the room, so that everyone had to stand around them in circles peeing inward, basically making eye contact the whole time.

The men's room downstairs at the Roseland in NYC had rows of urinals facing each other with a low wall between. You could absolutely look right into the other gent's eyes while you went, although you couldn't see his tackle.
posted by uncleozzy at 12:26 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]


Interesting thought about the woman's room as relief from the male gaze and the men's room as its imposition.

Allow me a slight tangent here, but as a male-bodied person with a pair of eyes, the term "male gaze" drives me crazy. I don't have a "male gaze," I have organs on my face that collect light.

You know the stereotypical thing where people feel awkward about what to do with their hands, in some social situations? Replace hands with eyes. I don't want to seem aggressive or creepy, but I also feel like I have to look at a person who's talking at least once in a while to signal that I am actually paying attention. When I walk, if there's not something extraordinary to look at, I usually wind up looking down at my feet -- in fact sometimes I actually have to remind myself I am tall by looking forward.

Public restrooms multiply this ocular neurosis tenfold, mostly when I think somebody else in there is watching everyone suspiciously to make sure they're not watching them, etc.

Overall, I'm disappointed that the cyberpunk future where everyone has mirrorshade implants didn't happen.
posted by Foosnark at 12:26 PM on April 16 [4 favorites]


(And yeah... MetaFilter: replace hands with eyes)
posted by Foosnark at 12:26 PM on April 16


Is this a false memory implanted by aliens, or do other guys remember this?

I recall something similar -- it was a trough-style urinal built around a circular column.
posted by chimaera at 12:34 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]


Trough urinals are bad enough, but I swear I have a childhood memory of going to the bathroom at a baseball game or similar event and being confronted with urinals that were sort of free-standing basins, right out in the middle of the room, so that everyone had to stand around them in circles peeing inward, basically making eye contact the whole time.

Is this a false memory implanted by aliens, or do other guys remember this?

Perhaps a false memory implanted by mefites.
posted by rlk at 12:34 PM on April 16


I remember seeing something like that once, when I was just a young child.
posted by rebent at 12:36 PM on April 16


I dunno, as a person who pees a lot and has gastro-intestinal issues every so often, I can pretty much use any toilet, anywhere, as long as there's paper.

When my sister and I were little, we stopped at a gas station somewhere outside of Quartzite in the Sonoran desert. We walk in to a cement room, with a commode, a sink and approximately 600,000 cockroaches.

My Dad was FURIOUS with us that we refused to pee in there. A few decades later, when we saw a clip of Joe's Apartment, I pointed it out and said, "there were more bugs in that gas station in Quartzite." And my Dad said, "Oh. You were right then."

Seriously though, the room moved with bugs.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:58 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]


Foosnark: that is not at all what male gaze means.
posted by desjardins at 1:07 PM on April 16 [25 favorites]


I remember circular SINKS that everyone stood around and washed their hands, complete with a footpump to get the water going. Could that be the mystery false memory?
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 1:16 PM on April 16


I haven't been able to pee in a trough next to another male since age 8 or so.

I had this problem for years, until I read Nicholson Baker's The Mezzanine, in which the main character proposes a solution that works: in that moment, imagine pissing all over the face of the person next to you -- or anyone else you'd like to piss on, for that matter (I usually choose a particularly execrable colleague). The moment that image enters my head, there is flow.
posted by /\/\/\/ at 1:22 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]


That's fascinating, divined by radio. I don't think I've ever felt that camaraderie in a women's room before. I wouldn't say I get bathroom-checked: I'm short and large-chested enough that I'm always read as female. But I also always get read as masculine or gay or liminally-gendered in such a way that I often feel like I'm either being judged or like I'm implicitly threatening. I always feel I'm crashing a party.

I definitely always use the (one) single-occupancy bathroom at my job, and hold it when I can if I'm out elsewhere. Not pee-shy, just deeply socially awkward, I guess.
posted by libraritarian at 1:26 PM on April 16 [2 favorites]


"a solution that works: in that moment, imagine pissing all over the face of the person next to you"

On the occasion I feel stuck I find that doing math in my head - typically counting up the infinite series whose terms are the successive powers of two (1, 2, 4, 8, 16, ...) - short-circuits whatever part of the brain was occupied with thinking about other humans in the area.
posted by komara at 1:28 PM on April 16


I too have a sort of mental program for when I get stuck, a, er, happy place, for lack of a better word, I go to in order to take my mind of the dudes next to me and be able to pee.

Problem is, now when I think of that and I'm not peeing I get the urge to pee. It will happen to you komara! One day you will be multiplying by 2 and you'll pee your pants.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:35 PM on April 16 [3 favorites]


that is not at all what male gaze means.

I'm aware of what it's supposed to mean. This is my reaction to the specific words. It strikes me as a term that is too easily read as blaming individual men for where their eyes go, just as "privilege" has a particular meaning but is too easily read -- and sometimes used -- as blaming individuals for being born white/male/straight/sighted/etc.

With or without the term, I would still be neurotic about where to point my eyes around other people for fear of being read wrong. Encountering the term simply reminds me of it and gives me a splash of irrational, misplaced guilt and defensiveness.
posted by Foosnark at 1:36 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]


Back in the 90s, I went to the Empty Bottle in Chicago to see Rocket From The Crypt with my then girlfriend and her roommate. It just so happened that REM was playing an arena show the same night, but we couldn't get tickets. We were bummed out.

So between the opening band and RFTC, I went to the bathroom. It was crowded, I picked the only available urinal, and proceeded to get to peeing. Then I noticed who was standing next to me.

It was Peter Buck, REM's guitarist and a personal hero of mine.

What to do? I knew this would be probably the only chance in my entire life I'd get to speak to Peter Buck, but I would be violating the Don't Talk To Other Guys While They're Peeing rule. After a moment, I decided I had to go for it. I looked at him. Then I realized I didn't know what to say.

"Oh my god," I said. "You're Peter Buck!"

A weary look came over his face.

"Yeah," he said, peeing.

"I...uh...You...uh..." I was losing momentum. "You're really cool!" I finally blurted out.

Buck looked me in the eyes, and zipped up his pants. "Yeahm," he said. And walked off.

When I return to my date and her roomie, I tell them, "OMG, I just peed next to Peter Buck!"

"How big was dick?" my girlfriend asked.

"I don't know! I didn't look!"

"Why not? You were standing right next to a rock star with his dick in his hand, and you didn't look to see how big it was?"

"No! Of course not! You don't look at dicks in the men's room!"

They were incredulous. They thought that dick sizing was all that happened in men's room. I explained to them about the social norms in effect, but they were having none of it. Anatomical examination of celebrities in bathrooms was a must in their eyes.

So the moral of this story is....actually, there is no moral to this story. Just don't look at celebrity's dicks in the men's room, no matter what your girlfriend says.
posted by vibrotronica at 1:40 PM on April 16 [11 favorites]


"Why not? You were standing right next to a rock star with his dick in his hand, and you didn't look to see how big it was?"

Seriously, where did this trope get started? This is like always happening in movies, but I've never been in a situation peeing next to a dude where we were looking at each other's penises. I think the male bathroom anxiety/aggression weirdness is more like they could look at your dick if they wanted to. Like they just might take a glance and see just how inadequate you are. #growerproblems
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:44 PM on April 16 [3 favorites]


I selected my gym based on the fact that it was the only one around with an actually private place to change and shower and whatnot. And it wasn't because I was afraid of being assaulted, sexually or otherwise, it's because I do not like being naked, even a little, around total strangers. Even when I work out, it's sweatpants and oversize shirts. If we could have single person bathrooms, I would be completely for it. Where do I sign up?
posted by adipocere at 1:48 PM on April 16


I remember circular SINKS that everyone stood around and washed their hands, complete with a footpump to get the water going.

Yes, they're sinks. We have one in my 1930s office building -- but because so many men couldn't figure it out, the foot-activator was removed and a regular faucet installed, which replaced the fountain that sprayed out a dome of thin streams (so multiple pairs of hands could be washed simultaneously). Now, the water from the faucet splashes wrong, so we all leave with drops of water on the upper half of our trousers.


had this problem for years, until I read Nicholson Baker's The Mezzanine, in which the main character proposes a solution that works

Actually he proposed imagining his boss' face down there. Glad it works for him.


I never knew of this female public bathroom solidarity

I first heard of it in Isaac Asimov's The Caves Of Steel where, in his future, subterranean city, the protagonist instructs his off-world robotic sidekick (who looks human) that male Earthlings never talk in the mens room. Then a female character enlightens them of the very different environment over in the ladies.


Great post -- it's been too long since we've had a good bathroom discussion here.
posted by Rash at 1:51 PM on April 16


Metafilter: pissing all over the face of the person next to you.
posted by oceanjesse at 1:57 PM on April 16 [2 favorites]


I remember circular SINKS that everyone stood around and washed their hands

They have these in the magnificent and glorious rest stops of Iowa.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:57 PM on April 16


I remember circular SINKS that everyone stood around and washed their hands, complete with a footpump to get the water going. Could that be the mystery false memory?

These are totally still around! I mostly see them in older buildings, and in industrial operations like food preparation or medical devices where it's important to not have to touch a faucet to turn the water off.
posted by pie ninja at 1:58 PM on April 16


how (men at least, all I know from personal experience) are not supposed to be naked in a men's locker room

The cultural and demographic difference I've observed over many decades in various public locker rooms is, ex-military and -fraternity guys there seem compelled to form their towel into a skirt to cover their shameful nakedness -- but nobody else gives a shit.
posted by Rash at 2:05 PM on April 16


Actually he proposed imagining his boss' face down there. Glad it works for him.

No, he doesn't. I provide the quote not so much to prove the point, but because having looked it up, I find it's really worth sharing:
When someone takes his position next to you, and you hear his nose breathing and you sense his proven ability to urinate time after time in public, and at the same time you feel your own muscles closing on themselves as hermit crabs pull into their shells, imagine yourself turning and dispassionately urinating onto the side of his head. Imagine your voluminous stream making fleeting parts in his hair, like the parts that appear in the grass of a lawn when you try to water it with a too-pressurized nozzle-setting. Imagine drawing an X over his face; watch him fending the spray off with his arm, puffing and spluttering to keep it from getting in his mouth; and his protestations: "Excuse me? What are you doing? Hey! Pff, pff, pff." It always worked.
posted by /\/\/\/ at 2:06 PM on April 16 [5 favorites]


They thought that dick sizing was all that happened in men's room.

I have no anxiety about using urinals or troughs; I use them frequently. I go to hockey games and bars. I have never even caught a shadow or a blurred glimpse of somebody else's dick.

Somebody may have looked at me at some point. But I assume that if they do, that's their weird thing, and they're looking at everybody else too, bigger and smaller. But they wouldn't be obvious about it so I may never know for sure.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 2:06 PM on April 16


I try to only use a public stall if no one else is using one of the other stalls. It amazes me that some men sometimes just walk right in to the stall next to me and get to it, especially when there are empty stalls further away. No, I don't want to hear you shit and wipe, thanks.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 2:39 PM on April 16


I love my job, for many reasons, but one of the highlights is the fact that the bathroom is a large, single-person space. There's a window. An exhaust fan. Ample air-freshener, soft toilet paper (the real kind, not the single-ply tissue paper kind), and there's almost never anyone around that part of the office. Luxury. Pure luxury.

And y'know, I'm not pee shy, and I do try to avoid pooping at work, but it is SO lovely to have the room all to myself whenever I need to do whatever it is that I need to do in there. Sometimes it feels like as much a perk as the 4 weeks of vacation.
posted by VioletU at 2:52 PM on April 16 [2 favorites]


From the point of view of a non penis owner, I don't see how it's possible to view how long or short a person's penis is if it's surrounded partially by clothing & partially by a hand doing the aiming.

I can NOT poop in a communal ladies room. Ever.
posted by yoga at 3:07 PM on April 16


"So why is it so hard for many men to understand how women feel ALL THE TIME? Surely men know that not all men™ in public bathrooms are out to rape them, yet they feel anxiety anyway."

Yeah, this thread, the FPP and the comments, they're kinda giving in to the fallacy of misleading vividness. People who are way uncomfortable, often because something wildly fucked up happened to them in a bathroom, are more likely to comment than people for whom taking a piss is pretty much shruggo. It can be creepy or weird, but when it is, it tends to be more like when I feel creeped out or weird in the subway.

And from going to the Y for a while, there are plenty of dudes of all ages who are happy to just let it hang. My girlfriend's dad has a penchant for wanting to get into long discussions about, like, the weather and shit, just standing there, hanging.
posted by klangklangston at 3:29 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]


Ulcerative colitis means not being able to have unbreachable standards when it comes to bathrooms. As an intensely private person (in some regards), this disease has forced me to do things I would never have considered in the past.

I remember overhearing two otherwise very nice secretaries giggling about hearing someone pass gas in the bathroom stall and this was before I had UC, but I did wonder where they would have *preferred* the woman to do so.

We do have bodies, after all. And not all of us have the luxury of choosing the time and place that our bodies act up.
posted by janey47 at 3:30 PM on April 16 [9 favorites]


A long article about social norms and protection of privacy and the common phenomenon of not wanting other people to hear what you're doing in a public restroom and there's not a single mention of people talking on their cell phones while they're in there??

Our restroom at work is a two-staller. I was in there one day and both were full, and in one of them one of my coworkers was on really mundane phone call with her husband. Both stall occupants flushed and came out to wash their hands and I started giving the phone-talker a good-natured -- but totally serious -- hard time. She laughed and waved it off and said, "Oh, it was just my husband!"

I said -- and I say this to all of you here, so that you may go out and spread forth the gospel -- I said, "Cindy, it's not about being considerate of the person on the other end of the phone, it's about being considerate of the person in the other stall."

I got to witness the moment when it dawned on her. She has since thanked me and has promised that she doesn't do that anymore.
posted by mudpuppie at 3:51 PM on April 16 [8 favorites]


I miss the days of working for public utilities and old ass giant local companies, because the bathrooms were palatial.

Think a line of twenty stalls, lined with marble, brass handles, toilets that would flush a ten year old, really Penn Station old school toilets. Screw pissing next to another guy, I didn't have to piss withing five clean stall-y urinals from the guy, The level of eye contact was zero let alone talking. If you heard a newspaper page turn you knew it was one of the bigshots. They were so clean, so clean.

Sorry about my OCD.
posted by Sphinx at 4:11 PM on April 16 [7 favorites]


Trough urinals are bad enough, but I swear I have a childhood memory of going to the bathroom at a baseball game or similar event and being confronted with urinals that were sort of free-standing basins, right out in the middle of the room, so that everyone had to stand around them in circles peeing inward, basically making eye contact the whole time.

Is this a false memory implanted by aliens, or do other guys remember this?


Nope. You're right. I've seen...by which I mean peed in...these before.

This is a surprisingly good article, despite the bullshit about worries about sexual violence in men's bathrooms... I don't feel any such thing....

I just don't like to pee or poop around other people... I mean...I'll do it when the occasion arises...but I'd rather not...
posted by Fists O'Fury at 4:12 PM on April 16


Is this a false memory implanted by aliens, or do other guys remember this?

Just about every old school baseball stadium has a variation of these.

Of course, you can't do a good old-fashioned trough slide in the circular ones...
posted by madajb at 4:46 PM on April 16


I'm very much in the civil inattention camp, but plenty of people I know seem to want to keep talking.

The only acceptable conversation in a mens restroom is a comment on the coldness of the water and, from the other party, a remark on its depth.
posted by madajb at 5:23 PM on April 16 [2 favorites]


I'm bummed on behalf of the many (most? all?) dudes who don't have that avenue of possible acquaintance available to them.

I'd just settle for men's restrooms being clean places to do business. As it is, not only do I not make friends when I skip to the loo, instead I start to work up a good deal of specifically-focused misanthropy.

The day I realized even an access-by-key-only restroom on the fourth floor in a professional office building might semi-regularly have toilet seats covered in piss was a day of great despair for me.
posted by weston at 6:19 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]


Unless it’s some sort of terrible emergency, I don’t use public restrooms at all. Won’t. Can’t. Since forever. Certain things shouldn’t be done in public. One of the first things I checked when I bought my house: did the loo have a fan? Not for the air circulation, but for the white noise. (It did.)

And here I thought I would never have an occasion to direct the blue's attention to erstwhile Toronto Telegram columnist and certified loon McKenzie Porter:
The most depressing spectacle a man may see on entering a public washroom to urinate is that of the feet of another man who is seated behind the half-door of a water closet in the act of defecation. There is something wrong with a man who defecates in some washroom outside his home. He is either ill, ignorant or unclean.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:51 PM on April 16


When I have to go, I have to go. To that end, I always carry a package of baby wipes in my purse. They are especially helpful when traveling, ensuring an at least nominally clean place to pee. If I worried that other people could hear, I'd be in trouble.
posted by MissySedai at 9:26 PM on April 16


Sometimes when I attempt to pee standing next to a man all that comes out of my bell-end is a scream and a puff of smoke.
posted by colie at 6:01 AM on April 17


Gay bars with vintage trough urinals wide enough for six.
posted by Nelson at 6:20 AM on April 17


I'm a little surprised there's only one paragraph or so in the article discussing the anxieties of trans people using public restrooms. "Bathroom policing" is an omnipresent stress factor that trans people live with, and it's also a subject that anti-trans cis people are obsessed with. In any news article discussing young trans children in school--especially young trans girls--there's always a quote or comment expressing fear that other little girls will have to pee with a "boy." In so many stories about trans people being attacked or killed, the violence started in or after using a public restroom. It's to the point that there were/are websites with crowdsourced info on public gender-neutral bathrooms that are safe. Imagine being in a strange city, or driving a long distance, and not knowing for certain where or when you could attend to bodily functions without being harassed. It's enough to make anyone pee-shy.
posted by nicebookrack at 6:55 AM on April 17 [6 favorites]


how often do guys actually get propositioned in bathrooms?
posted by desjardins at 7:20 AM on April 17


It's only ever happened to me once, out of the blue, in a washroom I later found out was still notorious for that kinda thing.
posted by The Whelk at 7:28 AM on April 17


Huh, really, and you're gay. I expected it to be more common.
posted by desjardins at 7:30 AM on April 17


Talking to older people and from reading about it I get the impression it's ( for whatever reasons) way way down as a Thing and mostly seen as where unattractive married straight men go to have furtive sex with other.
posted by The Whelk at 7:33 AM on April 17 [3 favorites]


I find it interesting to observe the bathroom habits of my coworkers in our (5-stall, fairly typical) office bathroom. It seems like anytime someone is shitting, they immediately hold it in and go silent if someone else comes in the bathroom. It never occurred to me that this could be an automatic physical response. I used to do it, but it was a completely conscious effort. Lately I've been telling myself that this is what bathrooms are for and trying not to be so shy about it because it's better for my digestive health not to hold it in. Sorry ladies, I'm not going to give myself constipation just to not offend you with bathroom noises and smells.

However, a couple weeks ago I was out of town for work; my company was hosting a professional conference for about 600 people. I've been with this company for almost a decade now and in addition to the usual staffing duties at a conference, I have given several presentations about social media and technology. So I'm pretty well-recognized among the regular attendees.

After one of the general sessions ended, a large group of women headed to the bathrooms, myself included. I walked in and an attendee said hi and we exchanged pleasantries. I go into one of the stalls and close the door. And she proceeds to apologize, acknowledging that I'm "busy" but then say "while I've got you here, can you help me with a technology question?" She then launches into a question about her iPad. I was polite and tried my best to answer while I was peeing. I washed my hands before she handed her iPad over to me because it's my job to be nice to these people, but I could not believe the gall of it. Staff are working 14+ hour days at these conferences with barely a moment to ourselves or when we don't have to be "on" and now apparently can't even get a moment's respite while we're taking a piss!
posted by misskaz at 7:43 AM on April 17 [1 favorite]


I shall now cause 90% of the men reading this to grimace involuntarily:

Trough Urinals


Man, if you think those are bad, the men's bathroom at the LA County Fairgrounds used to have a pee wall in the grandstands, which was kind of the same thing, minus the trough. But the last time I was there, they had put in regular urinals instead.

It was just so free form and liberating...I kinda miss that pee wall.
posted by malocchio at 9:25 AM on April 17


how often do guys actually get propositioned in bathrooms?

As a 20-22 year old frequenting gay bars in New York, kind of a lot actually. But it was definitely a sort of bar-specific thing, like The Whelk said. It was almost always in places that had that sort of culture. I think it's never happened to me outside of semi-seedy gay bars.

Now, working the overnight shift at a 24 hour coffee shop in NYC? So much bathroom sex. Coke and sex I am sure were more common in the bathroom than peeing.
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:59 AM on April 17 [1 favorite]


Trough Urinals

The last trough urinal in Portland, Oregon was at Sassy's. It was replaced a couple years ago. RIP.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:00 AM on April 17 [1 favorite]


ITT: Many dudes with a really fraught view of public restrooms.

I've never felt unsafe or otherwise uncomfortable in a public men's room because of other people. Sometimes they're filthy, and make me feel skeevy for that reason -- and I'm certainly very choosy about where I poop -- but entering a restroom to pee isn't something I worry about at any level.

In re: the circular urinals, yep, seen those, but not for a while. I'm thinking they're more common in big sports venues where wall space (ie, for urinals) is at a premium. They seem pretty rare.

It's also been a while since I've seen a trough.
posted by uberchet at 10:07 AM on April 17


pee wall

The train station in Prague had one of these when I visited (2000 I think). There was a sloped floor and some drains along a wall, and you could just stand there and go.

There were also curtains to one side with showers. Yes, the showers shared the same floor and wall as the pee wall.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 10:08 AM on April 17


Re: sport stadiums.

Many years ago, I went with my then-boyfriend to a basketball game. After he emerged from the men's room at the stadium, he told me that, at the round trough in the middle of the bathroom, a man was standing with his son (and a horde of other men). The son was young enough that he had to aim upwards to make it into the trough, and he was crying, obviously traumatized by the experience as a whole.

My boyfriend told me that the man said to his son, "Do you see anyone else in here crying?" (Of course all the rest of the people in the bathroom were adult men). We used it as a marker for non-sequitors for the rest of our relationship and I still say it to myself from time to time.
posted by janey47 at 10:21 AM on April 17 [2 favorites]


Wait I've never been propositioned in a seddy bar context, just like in a straight up highway rest stop.

Was I an unattractive 22-year old or something?
posted by The Whelk at 10:30 AM on April 17


As far as work-bathroom culture goes, I find it very awkward and uncomfortable when confronted with the sounds and smells of somebody's fecal elimination habits, particularly when it is someone I know only in a formal, professional sense (a close friend - we can joke about it, a stranger - I don't care because I'll never see him again). Even acknowledging that it is a totally normal, natural part of human existence, it still feels like a boundary crossing to me, not unlike having caught them jerking off or having sex.

(Reading this article was a reminder that I am very fortunate to primarily be home office based in my current position).
posted by The Gooch at 10:33 AM on April 17


I'm sure you were beautiful, The Whelk. I think it wasn't that I was attractive so much as I just seemed really vulnerable, confused and drunk.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:35 AM on April 17


The Gooch, as someone with ulcerative colitis, let me assure you that no matter how uncomfortable you are when confronted with someone else's sounds or smells, they are MUCH more uncomfortable. At least take some consolation in that.
posted by janey47 at 10:37 AM on April 17 [1 favorite]


(I always forget to check my linebacker shoulder privilege)
posted by The Whelk at 10:40 AM on April 17


"Wait I've never been propositioned in a seddy bar context, just like in a straight up highway rest stop. "

Weird, really? I've been propositioned, and I'm not even gay. Of course, our current work bathroom does have "Tap foot and show hand for bj" written in marker at the bottom.

(But I've also been propositioned outside of bars, like walking past the Eagle with my girlfriend, where a guy yelled at me to let him buy me a shot so he could suck the whiskey out of my dick, which is one of the more macho come-ons I've heard. I don't think of it as a particularly bathroom thing, though I'm sure if I went into the Eagle, I could get sucked off in the bathroom.)
posted by klangklangston at 11:01 AM on April 17


I guess once I was offered drugs by a guy in a library bathroom if I let him watch me pee.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:30 AM on April 17 [1 favorite]


I declined. Weren't the right drugs.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:30 AM on April 17 [3 favorites]


Circular troughs are definitely still around in some college football stadiums on the east coast. Other awkward bathroom configurations seem to congregate in airports. The facing-your-partner urinals are awkward, as are the starting-slightly-below-the-chest mirror configurations where you can totally glance slightly sideways and maintain eye contact with your neighbor.

The WORST WORST WORST bathroom I've ever been in was in State College, PA. It's in what I understand is an old-standby on College Ave, one of the nicer places to eat in the college area. There were 6 or 7 urinals next to each other, with no dividers, and which required your to literally touch shoulders with the person next to you while you urinated. My plan was to wait it out until there was space but men kept ponying up at the open spaces so I had to face it and pee. Shoulder to shoulder. With another man peeing. Well, two other men peeing. Weirdest thing ever.
posted by This Guy at 12:21 PM on April 17


Let's not use the Eagle as a standard for bathroom behavior, shall we?
posted by This Guy at 12:26 PM on April 17 [4 favorites]


It's criminal how few stalls there are for women in British theaters

True, but theatres have the same problem as sports stadiums: for twenty three hours and forty minutes of the day having more than one or two stalls is a total waste of space, then during that other twenty minutes literally a thousand people are all trying to pee at once.

My theatre more than doubled the number of women's stalls in our most recent refurb. We still got complaints that there weren't enough stalls, but we also started getting complaints from the cleaning staff because doing regular toilet checks was taking forever. (We had to compromise by locking most of the unnecessary stalls during the day.)
posted by the latin mouse at 1:07 PM on April 17


A friend of mine likes to stand next to other people at urinals, grab the divider in between and ask, "Don't you just hate these things?"
posted by uncleozzy at 1:08 PM on April 17 [3 favorites]


Forget the bathroom, how about outdoor urinals? These I've seen mostly in the Netherlands, but I think they're all over Europe. Each corner has a urinal, so four guys can use it at once. When it's time to replace it, a truck with a crane comes by and picks it up by the ring.

I can't find a photo of the more permanently installed ones that I've seen, but they look like bus shelters. Walk in, pee against the wall, walk out. I guess they're supposed to prevent people from peeing against the buildings.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:46 AM on April 18


I knew a guy who claimed to have used a urinal next to one being used by George Takei. As I recall, he froze up for a second, then he started to laugh, and then Takei laughed too and all was right with the world.
posted by homunculus at 12:04 AM on April 19


The one and only time I had dinner at Spago I peed at a urinal next to Larry King. I was actually following proper urinal etiquette, staring straight ahead. and would have had no idea if someone else in the restroom hadn't shouted out, "LARRY! I'm a huge fan!" at which point the voice (in response) gave it away. Kind of funny having Larry King wait behind you while you finish using the paper towel dispenser.
posted by The Gooch at 11:12 AM on April 19


Let's not use the Eagle as a standard for bathroom behavior, shall we?

You know who else used the eagle as a standard?
posted by Sys Rq at 8:15 AM on April 20 [1 favorite]


Did you actually pee on camera?

With 500 extras and 200 crewmembers around, you have to have so much control of your bladder to pee in the moment…so I’ll leave that up to the audience’s imagination.
posted by homunculus at 6:27 PM on April 26


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