Annemarie is the magazines editor and regular columnist for the Bay of Plenty Times.

Annemarie Quill: Separate toilets loo-dicrous

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Artist Kereama Taepa and Redwoods Visitor Centre manager Julianne Wilkinson at the toilets in the Redwood Forest in Rotorua. Photo/Ben Fraser
Artist Kereama Taepa and Redwoods Visitor Centre manager Julianne Wilkinson at the toilets in the Redwood Forest in Rotorua. Photo/Ben Fraser

Standing up to pee is a talent most women master.

Not as a pro-feminist gesture to be like a man, but merely a useful skill for hygiene purposes when you use a public toilet.

Coupled with pushing the door open with your elbow, using a paper towel as a 'glove' to bolt and flush, standing up means you don't have to have skin contact.

Some public toilets in New Zealand are tourist attractions. Eight New Zealand public toilets have been listed in a new Lonely Planet Travel Guide to the world's most interesting lavatories - Toilets: A Spotters Guide.

These included $400,000 architecturally designed ship-shaped toilets in Matakana, Rotorua's Redwood toilets, and loos in Wellington designed to look like lobsters.

The guide's authors state that public toilets can "transcend their primary function of being a convenience to become a work of art in their own right, or to make a cultural statement about the priorities, traditions and values of the venues, locations and communities they serve."

All good. But what happens when some in the communities they 'serve', leave these works of art in an undesirable state?

However much you dress up a public toilet as art, and despite efforts of hard-working cleaners, some people leave a mess in public toilets.

Read more: Man sets up camp in city park

Over the years the Bay of Plenty Times has sent reporters on to the streets to survey the state of Bay toilets. One reporter remembers it as one of her worst jobs, with some toilets "disgusting". Another found faeces and urine on the floor.

That was years ago, and admittedly could have been a one off. But let's face it, we have all had our experiences of opening the door of a public toilet and shutting it again in haste, preferring to wet our pants rather than willingly lock ourselves in a stinking cesspit - even if it does come with an automatic flush and piped Billy Joel.

You wouldn't want to be dancing in the dark in those sorts of toilets.

Bruce Springsteen won't be Dancing in the Dark in any toilets in Greensboro, North Carolina. This month he cancelled his concert in protest at North Carolina's recently passed 'bathroom' law.

Nothing to do with the cleanliness or otherwise of toilets, this law, - the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act - dictates which bathrooms people are permitted to use, which Springsteen notes is discriminatory to some such as transgender people.

The debate on how toilets should be labelled extends to New Zealand.

Earlier this year in Rotorua, a petition was started by members of Waiariki's LGBTQ and the local Young Labour group to get a block of unisex toilets and labels on disabled toilets on campus, to make clear they are "all gender" friendly. The move was prompted by an incident where a transgender student complained of being harassed in a toilet and told they shouldn't be there.


This led me to think that symbols of stick men and skirts do not have a place in an inclusive society. Gender neutral toilets do in fact make sense. They not only make a safer environment for all people, but also are a mark of more acceptance and tolerance.
Annemarie Quill

Last month two New Zealand schools were praised for their message of inclusion after installing gender-neutral bathrooms for students.

Wellington High School and Onslow College were offering the new bathrooms to help students who do not feel comfortable using bathrooms labelled "male" and "female".

At first the thought of all toilets being made gender neutral made me think that public toilets could get even messier if, as a woman, I had to use a toilet a man had used. This is based on the assumption that men are messier in toilets than women, in matters such as missing the bowl for instance.

A colleague pointed out that this was a sexist premise - that men were not necessarily any messier than women.

In any case, my fear is somewhat trivial when one considers that all people have the right to feel safe using public toilets anywhere - whether in workplaces, schools, campuses or on the street.

This led me to think that symbols of stick men and skirts do not have a place in an inclusive society. Gender neutral toilets do in fact make sense. They not only make a safer environment for all people, but also are a mark of more acceptance and tolerance.

By logical extension, is it also time to examine some other enforced gender divisions?

In a non-uniformed workplace, where workers can wear their own choice of clothing, it would be unthinkable for an employer to insist that a female worker wear a skirt or a dress. Even when it comes to uniformed workers, there are often pants as option for women as well as skirts.

But in schools, many school uniforms still insist female students wear a skirt. You can argue on the one hand it is the uniform and therefore you must comply, but one could also question if schools do need to introduce more gender neutral uniforms.

Such uniforms would make all students comfortable whatever gender they identify with.

Like gender neutral toilets, a gender neutral uniform is more inclusive. This would also make it easier for girls in schools to move more freely and be warmer in winter if they have the option of wearing pants. Girls wouldn't have to show their legs if they didn't want to. If girls did want to wear skirts, that could still be an option.

As it is we had a ludicrous situation at Henderson High School where above-the-knee skirts were deemed a "distraction" to male students and teachers. A group of Year 11 students at Henderson High School were called into a meeting after a uniform check at a school assembly this month and told their skirts would need to be lowered to the knees to "stop boys from getting ideas", NZME reported.

There do have to be school rules on dress codes. Nominating a skirt length is appropriate so that girls do not roll their skirts up to their knickers, which is my memory of school uniform. But as one girl at the college pointed out, it is not the rules that are the problem, but it is when rules target girls specifically. In this case rules convey to girls that the onus is on them to not be sexually distracting. Instead of teaching boys that ogling a girl's legs is not the done thing, girls are told to hide their knees.

It would be easier if girls were allowed to wear pants if they want to.

To some, gender neutral toilets and gender neutral uniforms might seem unimportant. Others may claim it is "PC gone mad". Whatever your view, surely no one wants any child to feel isolated or marginalised.

While the North Carolina bathroom law is claimed as a backward move by Springsteen, in West Hollywood a law has been introduced that toilets must not be limited by signage, design or toilet fixtures to be used by people of a specific sex or gender. The rule does not only benefit those whose gender identity falls outside of male or female, but it also helps people with children of a different gender. A man out with a young daughter say, who needs to use a public toilet.

It could also benefit women who are used to standing in a long line to use a 'ladies' public toilet while the male toilets lay empty.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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