Skip to content

Low-privacy bathrooms: Let’s get rid of them

Here in North Carolina, home of the infamous “bathroom law,” civilized people are fighting back against the medieval minds of the Republican Party. Many businesses — especially those that cater to liberals — are rethinking and changing how they manage and label their public restrooms so that no one is conflicted about which restroom to use.

For example, the Whole Foods in Winston-Salem has relabeled its two public restrooms. They’re now both unisex restrooms instead of one for men and one for women. Some businesses are experimenting with making a political statement on their restroom signs.

Public bathrooms have a long history, as the essay I’ve linked to here shows. I’m hoping that the fuss that right-wing fearmongers have made about bathrooms will lead to a great step forward in the evolution of public restrooms.

A few years ago, on business trips to Denmark, I noticed a fantastic new trend. I saw this trend not only in airports in Denmark and the Netherlands, but also in hotels and newly built corporate headquarters for Danish companies. The new public restrooms are simply a row of single private restrooms, unisex, each with a toilet and a sink. Now that’s civilized.

The Danes are some of the friendliest and most convivial people you’ll ever meet. But clearly the Danes don’t see public restrooms as places for exercising their conviviality. Privacy is more appropriate there. Personally I have always hated big public restrooms with rows of toilets, rows of urinals, and rows of sinks. Such places treat human beings like cattle. In junior high school, they were a haven for bullies and a place of terror for kids who weren’t cut out to be cattle. May our medieval bathrooms — and the lords of cattle that legislate “safety” in them — go the way of Rome and never come back.

A row of private unisex restrooms in Denmark. Let’s hope this is our future.


  1. Dan wrote:

    Just to hypothesize philosophically about this —

    One goes into most businesses and there are usually only two restrooms, one designated for men, the other for women. Why is that? Historically, psychologically, social norms, etc. Where does that come from? I don’t think the origin of dividing restrooms between men and women comes from a fear of transgender people, sexual deviance, or political discrimination. I think it’s just general social norms and perhaps politeness catering more to women than men. Dividing restrooms based on race is a totally different issue than dividing between men and women that went along with dividing seating in restaurants, schools, and public transportation. It literally involved legislation to create equality in a general sense in society. They couldn’t even vote in areas of the South at the time.

    Personally, I’ve never encountered a woman or a person identifying as a man but with female forms in the men’s restroom, and I wouldn’t know or even pay that much attention if I thought I did. If I did, I wouldn’t be worried about them harming me in some way but I would be worried that I entered the wrong room or caused them to be alarmed by my presence. Maybe other men would commit to a violent crime and go to prison over that. However, as a father of a daughter, if I were to take her in public without her mother and given that she’s three and potty-training, I’m stuck with bringing her in the men’s room with me if there isn’t a family restroom. I find that to be more troubling for her mental and physical well-being more than mine or another man’s or even a person who identifies as transgender. That’s likely a more common scenario than providing more options for fully functional and biologically competent adults who, unless they’re experiencing an onset of diarrhea, are capable of holding it until they’re home. I hate to think that my mother, wife, or daughter could be forced to share a restroom with a potentially dangerous man simply for the emotional sanctity of a small but vocal population of adults more concerned with attributing biological modalities as civil rights to be exercised in public restrooms, which a majority of thoughtful liberals do not find a suitable issue up for public debate.

    I like the idea of multiple private-use bathrooms. I’ve always hated public restrooms and never choose an open urinal or trough if I could grab a stall. I wonder where those restrooms in Denmark are. A business, airport, government building?

    Thursday, March 16, 2017 at 10:06 am | Permalink
  2. daltoni wrote:

    Hi Dan… The photo is a stock photo that I bought from a Danish photo service to use with this post. But I got the photo because the bathrooms are identical to what I saw in Aarhus. The building was new — around 2006 — and it was the corporate headquarters building of CCI International. That Danish company makes a very fine publishing system for newspapers, which we installed at the San Francisco Chronicle (and which the New York Times also uses — CCI’s business was flourishing for a while). I also saw similar bathrooms at the newly built airport in Jutland. It’s possible that there is a new code for Danish bathrooms, since all the new bathrooms I saw were a very standard design. I occasionally have readers from Denmark, and I have regular readers in Norway, so maybe someone from that part of the world will see this and can tell us more.

    Thursday, March 16, 2017 at 10:32 am | Permalink

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *