Most of the times we go to the bathroom it's not in our own home. Work lavs, restaurant restrooms, pub bogs, tiny train toilets and portable plastic portaloos at festivals. All great for a quick wee. Anything more complex, not so much.
With this in mind I would like to discuss all the ways that public toilets are not designed for the significant portions of our lives where we are BLEEDING FROM OUR VAGINAS!!!
Here are three examples that underline the challenges of periods in public:
So, firstly, where are the toilets when you need them?
Picture it: I've got that ominous oozing feeling that needs urgent investigation in order to save my pants. Or I've suddenly realised it's been eight hours since I last changed my tampon and T.S.S. warnings are flashing through my brain. But, if I can find a suitable moment to slip out of my meeting or away from my desk with my full handbag in tow, I still need to get to the toilet. Maybe it's some distance away, perhaps on another floor. And on getting there, there’s the queue for the ladies' that always seems to form completely out of proportion to any queue for the men’s. Actually, I recently saw this piece on BBC that confirmed this phenomenon. Toilets are designed without an understanding of what women use the toilet for. So it is not in my head, far too many buildings really are built without women’s needs in mind.
Secondly, why are toilet cubicles such hard work?
Eventually, I'm successfully situated in a toilet cubicle and start to plan the process of exchanging one bloodied piece of cotton for another. I start by looking for somewhere to put my bag, ideally off the floor but lo, the peg (if there is one) is often on the back of the door a good two to three feet from my current seat. By the time I've dropped my knickers and gotten comfortable I then have to do an awkward thighs together waddle to hang my bag and get my products out.
Next, I'm looking for a sanitary bin, because I am responsible adult who does not flush my tampons. If I'm lucky and there is one in every cubicle (as opposed to the one-in-every-three model I've noted in many public lavs) I'm then crossing my fingers that it's been emptied recently enough to avoid the delight of stuffing other ladies' pads and tampons further down in order to fit in my own contribution.
And finally, having navigated all of these things, I obviously need to wash my hands, which may have gotten a little bloodied in the process. But oh wait, the tap is on the other side of the locked door - cue opening a door with the back of my hand and hoping no-one else is out there (although see earlier point about queues for ladies’ loos).
And thirdly, what if I needed to rinse out a menstrual cup?
I'm not a menstrual cup user but BGP babes have been helping me to recognise that these revolutionary period devices bring even more public toilet problems, as they need emptying and rinsing. One of my friends mentioned she routinely looks for the disabled toilet when out in public in order to have the right facilities. In the aim to move forward with periods we've ended up with them being treated like a disability. Not to mention that for every babe using the disabled loo there's the risk that those who have no other option but to use the disabled loos are not able to access them.
This post is more of a rant than anything, and I know it comes from my cis-gendered and lucky-not-to-be-experiencing-period-poverty perspective. So really, what can we do about it? I don’t have all the answers, but as is a common theme here at BGP, we need to be talking about periods more. The people making decisions about public design need to be thinking about the needs of those of us with periods and if it doesn’t naturally occur to them, we will gladly help!