In this delightfully tongue-in-cheek volume, Lezlie Lowe gives us a deep look into human history from an unexpected angle: the elimination of waste. She covers just about every aspect of public toilets you can think of, centered around access – who gets to use them, and who doesn’t.
Access is especially bad for women, Lowe points out, because the overwhelmingly male designers do not take women’s biology into account. Just one of the frustrating facts Lowe delves into is the fact that biologically, women take longer to urinate and need to urinate more frequently on average than men; yet public toilets often have twice as much accommodation for men as for women.
Throughout the book, Lowe covers every population that public toilets fail – people with disabilities, inflammatory bowel disease, the LGBT community, people of color, and the homeless. The lowdown: public toilets fail us because they are mostly designed by young, straight, white, abled men.
There are even careers where bathroom access is an issue. She notes that some female truck drivers inject themselves with hormones to stop their periods because during their long shifts on the road, there’s nowhere to pull over to change tampons or pads. There are many more stories like that in this book, of people forced to rearrange their lives around lack of public toilets, a concept referred to as a “bathroom leash.” The idea is that we may not be willing to travel unless we know we’re within, say, 30 minutes of a bathroom. Your bathroom leash can hinder your freedom of movement. It may be longer or shorter depending on your sex, disability status, and other types of privilege.
I’ll admit: when I saw this book’s cover, I thought, this looks like it could either be really interesting, or kind of stupid. I expected a somewhat gimmicky, shock-value read. The book surprised me with how revelatory it felt. Part of the reason is that bathrooms are so private, so overlooked, and yet such an integral part of daily life. Lowe explains the reason behind the placement (and disuse) of public toilets in major cities – including one at Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn that I’ve walked by several times without even really knowing what it was.
This book may be of special interest to you if you’ve ever been caught out in public without a place to go, or restricted your trips outside because you feared lack of access. This slim book makes for an interesting, and often infuriating, read. Lowe’s indefatigable journalism takes this book to unexpected corners, and answers questions I’ve never thought of asking, like how did Victorian women use public toilets? Lowe’s “potty” humor and forthright manner are winners. This is the feminist toilet manifesto you didn’t know you needed to read.
The Furious Gazelle received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.