THE BLOG

A Shortage of Ladies Loos Harms the Feminist Cause As Well As Our Bladders

10/06/2014 15:15 BST | Updated 10/08/2014 10:59 BST

To the usher at the Playhouse Theatre who shouted "use your brains" at the ladies queuing for the loo last Thursday. You know who you are and so, incidentally, do I. I made a note of your name badge with a view to writing a letter of complaint - then thought better of it. You were probably having a bad day, or a headache, or under pressure from higher powers. Besides, it wasn't so much you as the problem you represented that made me see red.

There were not enough ladies loos. There never are enough ladies loos, yet in this case it was particularly problematic. In this production of 1984, there would be no admission after the curtain rose. Once it started, Big Brother himself would have struggled to gain entrance - a fair approach, given the play's emotional intensity, yet at 101 minutes with no interval or readmission, one liable to cause problems should a member of the audience happen to need the loo.

Hence the queue. Young, old, pregnant and pubescent alike were among the 10 or so ladies in waiting that night, subject to this young man's abuses. I mention the variety because it is, I'm afraid, crucial to the issue of bladder control. Not everyone is a camel. Those who have made room for a new human being to grow and be forced out of them have usually suffered the consequences downstairs; the elderly, too, tend to struggle. These truths are self-evident, yet the assumption that queues for public toilets are somehow our own self-inflicted problem remains.

Never mind the need for the cubicle; the cumbersome clothes; the necessary absence of zip-and-go urinals. Never mind the chronic shortage of ladies loos given the amount of extra time these obstacles incrementally add on (about twice as much, apparently). Mention the ladies queues to most gents, and they'll blame, first the mirror, then our gossiping: "Why do girls always go to the loo in groups, then?" they'll ask, convinced their theory's watertight. Because, my friend, if you're standing in line for twenty minutes crossing your legs in a public loo, it's just better to have someone to wait with.

Besides, if the worse comes to the worse, you can share a cubicle - a not uncommon experience on London's bar scene. You haven't lived 'til you've navigated the logistics of two people, two bags, and one tiny toilet with a friend. There's always the men's toilets, of course; a strange, unpalatable but sometimes necessary back up plan, should you be under pressure - yet on this occasion even this was debarred from us. 'NOT in the men's, ladies!" the usher wailed, as one emboldened (and bursting) lady attempted to barge her way in there. "Well, what on earth do you expect us to do?" she replied.

What indeed. Conscious though I am that as predicaments go, being in a queue in a West End theatre is cushy one, there is something bigger behind the scenes of this particular row. As the usher bellowed "use your brains ladies," the hastag #everydaysexism sprang to mind. Old, Grade II listed theatres pose problems when it comes to redesign, sure - yet even the supply of ladies loos in newer theatres is trickling. Who designs and builds buildings with three bars, yet one toilet for every 27 women? Not someone who has had to sit through 101 minutes with their legs crossed. Not the man who, approaching the gent's the other week, remarked to my mum - "Oh blimey - a queue!"

The numbers agree. Research has shown women make up less than 10 per cent of construction, architecture and engineering workforces. Meanwhile, the current British building regulations loo ration continues a piddling 1:1. Hard to claim the two are not linked; nor that queues for the ladies and the archaic yet entrenched perception of women as fussy, vain, gossips with inferior bodies don't go hand in hand. Let's address this bias against our bladders, ladies - it may be low level, but it is by tackling these pervasive issues that we can undermine the far more serious prejudice against our brains.