Two weeks ago I catalogued the virtues of unisex toilets. I championed unisex public toilets on the basis they a) are transgender friendly, b) are parent friendly, c) are women friendly, d) already work well and e) are straightforward to comprehend.
But, as identified in reader comments, my arguments failed to address certain other concerns. Accordingly, please allow me to examine this matter further.
"Yuck, imagine the state of the toilets. Men peeing on the seat and on the floor ... Gross," wrote one (presumably female) commenter. Following my 2012 piece about unisex toilets, readers could not agree whether men or women were the cleanest users of conveniences.
Men's toilets "stink to high heaven," said one. "Having cleaned toilets as a student, I can say with authority that there is no difference between males and females when it comes to hygiene practices," said another. According to one reader, the women's could be "just as disgusting" as the men's. There are "not enough antiseptic wet wipes in the whole world to make this work for me," said someone else.
Harsh words. Let's hope that unisex toilets might encourage all parties to up their game in this regard. Maybe in merging the genders, both men and women will be inclined to be more fastidious in their toileting habits. That would be nice.
Here's me thinking that unisex toilets are safer because no longer will some mothers (or fathers) be inspired to send vulnerable young boys (or girls) alone into the men's (or women's) toilets. But then there are other people who claim unisex toilets will attract rapists, paedophiles, perverts and predators.
I've always thought that public toilets were potential hunting grounds for deviants. That's why I routinely accompanied my daughter to the toilet when she was little. Then, once she was about nine or ten, the rule was (if she was with friends) that two of them must go together. The point was to never allow a child to be alone in such a situation. That would be my approach to any public toilet regardless of whether they're unisex or segregated.
But, if anything, unisex toilets would have to be a little safer than segregated ones simply because they will be busier. For example, the men's at Newmarket's 277 shopping centre is a virtual ghost-town during business hours. (I know this. I visited once. There were tumbleweeds.) Unisex toilets, on the other hand, would be buzzing hubs populated by all sorts of people - and therefore surely far less likely to attract undesirables.
There are some people who thought that, by advocating unisex toilets, I was suggesting that urinals should be present in the communal area. In response to that assumption I have just one word: No. Make that three words: No. No. No!
To clarify, I think the communal foyer area leading into these unisex toilet rooms should contain just hand basins, dryers and mirrors - and maybe a nice potted palm or two. Urinals would kind of ruin the ambiance.
I confess I conveniently overlooked the urinal when reconfiguring the world's toilets. This was remiss of me. Men love urinals. They are efficient and, I suspect, they offer some sort of manly bonding experience that I really do not want to contemplate too profoundly. So, maybe (to ensure men don't start eying up those potted palms at busy times), a utilitarian row of urinals should be incorporated somewhere (preferably far far away from the main toilet block).
4. Special sensitivities
I gained the sense from some of the comments that there's a reticence from certain men to share such spaces with women. I genuinely feel that a lot of that sentiment has its origins in such ostensibly benevolent concepts as chivalry and a desire to give women privacy to go about their womanly business. (A less charitable interpretation would be to wonder if the men's room is one of the last places where men have the freedom to campaign for greater pay gaps, plot to keep women off boards and commission glass ceilings.)
It's not just old-school men who might feel uncomfortable with the idea of unisex toilets. Old-school women may share similar sentiments. Unisex toilets may also pose difficulties to people on the grounds of their culture or religious beliefs. On that basis, when there is a bank of, say, ten individual toilet rooms opening off a communal area, it could be a good idea to designate one for women and another one (maybe at the opposite end) for men. That way, the toilets are eighty per cent unisex yet still cater for those with particular sensitivities.