Home > Daily Struggles, Naming Experience, Why There Are No Women in Science > Where Am I Supposed To Put This Bloody Thing?

Where Am I Supposed To Put This Bloody Thing?

The other day I wrote, half in jest (but only half), about the threat of women taking over the nation’s technical universities and thus filling up campus wastecans with used menstrual pads and tampons.
This inspired Absinthe to comment:

Your comment about the trash cans hits a nerve with me… don’t even get me started on the issue of female bathrooms in physics departments I have worked/studied at. At UPenn (for instance) for two years I had to hike down three flights of stairs and over to an annex of the physics building to get to a women’s bathroom that had a total of two stalls and was constantly abjectly filthy because it was used so much. Every floor in the main physics building had two washrooms for the men. I guess they were scared that if they changed one of the bathrooms on each floor to a female bathroom it would be encouraging the women too much (plus, as you point out, there is the whole icky issue of being within even 1000 feet of a garbage can that might contain tampons, whether you actually have to look at the garbage can or not).

which led to LJG’s rejoinder:

Asbsinthe, your comment reminds me…. I always found it funny that the engineering building at Pitt had women’s and men’s bathrooms on alternating floors. It was VERY obvious that at one time there were only men’s bathrooms in that building!

Absinthe came back with:

The building that houses the statistics dept at the univeristy I am at now also has men and women’s bathrooms on alternate floors. Yep, it is pretty obvious women were never in that building when it was built in the 1960’s. It makes me wonder where the departmental secretaries at the time (who certainly were women) went to the washroom.

I’m ashamed to admit this never crossed my mind before. Where, indeed, did those women go to answer nature’s call all those years when the buildings had few or no women’s restrooms??? (Read the rest of Absinthe’s comment, too; it’s great.)
When I was at a university that shall remain nameless, the engineering building I was in had “temporarily” converted a men’s restroom to a women’s room. The urinal was still in there and all; they just taped a sheet of notebook paper with the word “Women” written on it over the door. When I and some others inquired as to when the “temporary” conversion was going to be made permanent (the huge engineering building had only one other women’s restroom with only two stalls in it on that floor), we were told the answer was “never”. In fact, the temporary women’s room would soon be reverting to a men’s room. Why? Because, “for the forseeable future”, they did not expect women’s enrollment to significantly increase, so there simply wasn’t any need for another women’s restroom on that floor.
There you have it. Planning for a lack of women built right into the architecture. No “build it and they will come” philosophy there. I tried to point out that it seemed a bit ironic to have a program on campus dedicated to increasing the participation of women in engineering at the same time as the official policy of facilities planning was “no increase in women for the forseeable future” but you will perhaps be unsurprised to learn that I got nowhere with my argument.
All of this is by way of saying that I was inordinately pleased by a recent post over at FemaleCSGradStudent, titled The Neat Thing That Happened While I Was Gone:

The bathroom on the floor in my building on campus has “feminine hygiene” wastebaskets in all the bathroom stalls. Yay!!!! I don’t have to tote a balled-up fist of toilet paper and tampon around the bathroom anymore!

Progress, ladies, progress!

  1. August 11, 2007 at 10:04 am

    I’m in a slightly more women-friendly discipline, but we have no wastebaskets in our stalls, so if you have wrappers or used pads, you have to bring them out and carry them the trash can near the door. It’s very annoying! At least the restroom is on my same floor, though.

  2. Brigit
    August 11, 2007 at 11:16 am

    The building my lab is in (vet school) is fairly recent, so our bathrooms are pretty ok with wastebaskets in the stalls and at least two bathrooms per floor per gender. However in the old vet building they have alternating bathrooms in each floor (although they do have the wastebaskets). In the chemistry building the old part has alternating bathrooms on each floor (but again, well equipped) and the new part has both.
    I also have to admire the staff of the chem building. They collected funds amongst themselves and made an expecting/lactating women area in one of the big bathrooms in the basement. They donated stuff they had and it has a privacy curtain, a comfy chair, a sofa, radio, magazines, soft light lamps. Some late nights I’ve gone for naps in there and it’s pretty comfy 🙂

  3. August 11, 2007 at 11:41 am

    The permanent women’s bathrooms in the Caltech dorms still have urinals. They’ve got pothos (pothosses?) growing in them.

  4. August 11, 2007 at 12:08 pm

    When I was in grad school at Caltech, the bathroom on the first floor had two signs that switched between men/women and occupied/unoccupied. I was never convinced that people switched the signs reliably though. I usually walked upstairs rather than figure out what proper etiquette would be for walking in on a male professor at the urinal.

  5. August 11, 2007 at 12:51 pm

    I’m kind of surprised – you have separate bathrooms for men and women? Why? I mean, a stall is a stall. In places with high turnover, like pubs, you may have a separate urinoar to lessen the overall waiting time, but that doesn’t really apply to offices and labs. Actual toilets are about as unisex as they come already.

  6. EMM
    August 11, 2007 at 5:13 pm

    My company, Honeywell, in our Phoenix locations, actually provides free tampons and pads. In many locations, these are even right in the stalls (I assume they instruct the janitorial staff to refresh the supply.) Alas I am now 50 and only sporadically menstruating, but it’s greeat not to have to bring my purse or briefcase into the bathroom.
    Of course, we do have a lot of women in our engineering dept and our director is a woman, but it doesn’t go much higher than that, alas.

  7. August 12, 2007 at 2:15 pm

    There is another solution to this dearth of women’s rooms with trash cans — try out the Keeper or the Diva Cup. It took me a while to get used to it, but now I can’t imagine menstruating without my Diva Cup. It’s cheaper, more comfy, and has been approved for use by the FDA since the 1930’s (well, the earlier foam rubber cup, at least).

  8. iltc
    August 12, 2007 at 4:55 pm

    I worked for years in a 7 floor building that had bathrooms on two levels: first floor (for female students that would soon be failed out of first year chem) and fourth floor (for the two female librarians). And there you have it. Stairs on a full bladder, ladies?
    As for the sanitary product question, it was quite easy. I used only tampons and flushed them, which I consider more sanitary anyways and less prone to ‘discovery’. And if it clogged up their old mysogynist pipes, well, bonus.

  9. iltc
    August 12, 2007 at 5:02 pm

    Oh, and department secretaries (first floor) and professor’s wives went in the first floor ladies’ bathroom, which was clearly for outsiders and secretaries and students and other unimportant women anyways.

  10. mitgrad
    August 13, 2007 at 8:55 am

    At MIT, the alliance of sororities (Panhel) led a crusade for more women’s bathrooms, Saferide (a shuttle that transports students from all over Boston), female faculty, and more. National sororities have the added support of very insistent women from all over the country, a great pool of freedom fighters if campus is low on women. If you want to see the administration provide for women, push for sororities for the undergrads.

  11. womannorth
    August 13, 2007 at 11:04 am

    The women’s bathroom on my floor had been labelled “Kitchen Staff” for eons until just recently when it was finally updated with a small female symbol.
    No change inside though: It’s still a place to store the department’s floor buffing machine, an old set of lockers, miscellaneous storage carts and even a bucket of sand (!).
    No garbage tins in the stalls either.

  12. August 13, 2007 at 3:31 pm

    Folks, don’t miss Heffalump’s comment above; it got hung up in moderation for a day.

  13. absinthe
    August 15, 2007 at 10:22 pm

    I suddenly had a revelation…wouldn’t it be interesting to do a study of the top 50 physics, chemistry, engineering, etc departments across the country and count the number of male and female bathrooms available in each department (and also calculate the ratio of male to female faculty, and male to female students at the same time)?
    Such a study might sound silly, but is it really? I mean, nothing (and I mean nothing) gives the message better that “you don’t belong here in this building” than not giving you a place to relieve your bodily needs; a place that is as conveniently situated as those supplied to your male peers. It is kind of like going back to the pre-1960’s in the deep south where they had “colored-only” washrooms (and you can bet there were almost certainly fewer of them, and put in less convenient places than the “whites-only” washrooms).
    Damn…I wish I had thought of the idea of this study when this post was still fresh (in theory, the study could be done just by asking women from various departments across the country to simply count the number of male and female bathrooms in their building (and whether or not they are on the same floor)). The other data can be gleaned from the NSF. Damn my sluggish mind.

  14. absinthe
    August 15, 2007 at 10:22 pm

    I suddenly had a revelation…wouldn’t it be interesting to do a study of the top 50 physics, chemistry, engineering, etc departments across the country and count the number of male and female bathrooms available in each department (and also calculate the ratio of male to female faculty, and male to female students at the same time)?
    Such a study might sound silly, but is it really? I mean, nothing (and I mean nothing) gives the message better that “you don’t belong here in this building” than not giving you a place to relieve your bodily needs; a place that is as conveniently situated as those supplied to your male peers. It is kind of like going back to the pre-1960’s in the deep south where they had “colored-only” washrooms (and you can bet there were almost certainly fewer of them, and put in less convenient places than the “whites-only” washrooms).
    Damn…I wish I had thought of the idea of this study when this post was still fresh (in theory, the study could be done just by asking women from various departments across the country to simply count the number of male and female bathrooms in their building (and whether or not they are on the same floor)). The other data can be gleaned from the NSF. Damn my sluggish mind.

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