A First-World Problem

Dear Reader,

After we’ve established that the car, although giving an illusion to the contrary, is not a place of seclusion at all, let us consider another eligible candidate on whose premises one can reportedly enjoy a moment of complete privacy.

(…Unless one has children, who insist on settling random urgent matters exactly during these sweet moments of communion with self and nature.)

I am referring to the toilet, of course.

Guess what this upholstered piece of furniture in the right corner is. Source: Click here.

Pedestrian or even inappropriate a subject as it may appear, the toilet is actually a key element of the civilising process, and also a metaphorical canvass illustrating dismal truths and society trends of the times. 

While some governments across the globe have placed the provision of toilets for all high on their social policy agenda, the Bulgarian reality, at least until about a decade ago but to an extent even today, has been considerably grimmer. It has somehow expected of individuals to leave their excretory systems at home and not require the use of a toilet while imposing on the time of sullen employees at, say, state/municipal institutions or outpatient healthcare centres.

Enjoying the full range of bodily functions was on the other hand part of the job description of employees at those institutions catering to the public weal, as they happily went around with keys to closely guarded Staff Only toilets, which they sneaked into under the eyes of the visiting commoners. Thus, access to a toilet, alongside wearing a stone face as already discussed, was, and perhaps still is, synonymous to access to power. 

Now there is light at the end of the tunnel and toilets accessible to the public are becoming more mainstream.

More recently, the position of the office toilet has also become less indisputable than one would normally imagine, as I was very much amused to learn on Friday over my lunch from this very informative FT podcast.

Now it may appear strange to you that I listened to loo talk over food, but I have never been particularly squeamish and, in addition, I have raised two kids, which has helped eradicate what little squeamishness I may have originally had. I do listen to much of the more serious podcast stuff too, but Lucy, with her no-nonsense attitude to whatever she chooses to disapprove of in her talks, is the most refreshing option of all.

Sic transit gloria mundi… Cashmere is an example of a fashion that’s made its way from the elite to the masses. Unlike jeans, for example, which originated among workers before reaching the elite. Either way, when a fashion achieves total penetration, it is usually tweaked or abandoned, so as to provide new means for group identification. Source: Click here.

So the gender-divided office toilet, in some of the WEIRD-est parts of the world (meaning of acronym explained here), has lately come under barrage of criticism for retrogressively upholding traditional gender divisions, thereby inconveniencing persons with gender identification issues, by making them wonder which one to use.

…Now I don’t think I am low on empathy in general, but I totally fail to understand and share the feelings of those offended by the gender-divided toilet. Haven’t they got any more pressing problems to address? If not, I envy them, I really do.  

I thought that choosing which toilet to use was determined by one’s primary gender characteristics and had nothing to do with psychology. Silly me.

Also, I sympathise with the manufacturers of a certain type of sanitary plumbing fixtures typically used by individuals identifying themselves as men, demand for which would hit rock bottom with the increased adoption of the gender-neutral toilet. My heart also goes to the manufacturers of toilet logos, whose product diversity and potential for creative design would be seriously hampered too. But most importantly, I feel for those who have had the opportunity in their office life to enjoy the perks of the gender-neutral toilet and have come to learn first-hand that it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be.

A great suggestion for a gender-neutral toilet from favourite children’s book Emil in Loenneberga. It comes from Sweden, which for many is a recommendation in its own right. In addition, it would encourage office bonding and team spirit, while promoting equality across genders and office hierarchy. How come somebody hasn’t thought of this before, I wonder. Source: Click here.

At a previous location of my office, there was a gender-neutral toilet once, propitiously located within earshot of the kitchen, and after months of seething tension, office population perceiving themselves as female, put a label “Women Only” on one of the doors. This resulted in something like 70% cleaner premises on the very next day. Longer waits for this oasis of seclusion were among the side effects, necessitating reluctant use of the unlabelled, and thus gender-neutral, cabin. 

At my office’s current location, we have gender-divided toilets for male and female homo sapiens, as well as a third, undesignated cabin, which we use as a gender-neutral variant. The trend of differing level of cleanliness between the ladies’ room and the free-for-all room persists.

Eau de Toilet. Way too simple to be worn on self, but great as a room or a wardrobe scent.

Still, I may sell my soul to the Devil and become more responsive to the charms of gender-neutral toilets, if architects and interior designers, funded by fraternal organisations plotting to debase the world, start designing them sufficiently large for users to perform forward lunges inside, while furnishing them with wide shelves or study hooks for accommodating a handbag, in addition to fitting in a sink and a mirror too.  

If no such cunning plans for combating resistance are envisaged, I’ll keep refusing to acknowledge actual necessity and society’s best interest behind the drive for introducing gender-neutral toilets. I just have more important stuff to think about.

Your musical greeting now. A song I should have included in the fine grammar exemplars.

And if you’re looking for a shoulder to cry on,
don’t turn your head my way,

PS. A suggestion for a great use of the home toilet: back in the day, a colleague of my Dad, who is a pharmaceutical chemistry scholar and a fellow at the Sofia Medical University, had written his dissertation in his home toilet, because that was the place he could achieve maximum seclusion in. Impressive. My toilet is also home to selected printed material, but it is more the likes of the most recent IKEA catalogue. Just see where dedication, as the song says, can take you.