In celebration of IWD, I wanted to share one of my favourite things about being a woman. To tell you about my favourite place to hang out with my fellow women, to expose the secrets of one of the greatest cults to exist on Earth, and to answer the question on everyone’s lips:
What really happens in the women’s toilets?
It’s Friday. You’re out somewhere trendy, probably in Peckham or Hackney, at an event too cool to be listed on Resident Advisor. Over 1.4K people had clicked “interested” on the Facebook event, and at least 10 % of these are now packing into the main room, grinding their sweaty bodies against each other in time to some fairly repetitive beats mixed pretty atrociously by a uni student who reckons he can get a spot at Boomtown if he plays this noise in front of his mate’s dogs aunt’s brother. Thankfully, the headline DJ is just about to take over. As your mates begin to push further into the swarm of swaying limbs, you realise you’ve fucked it. A bottle of wine, two gins and a Jager bomb down: your bladder needs emptying. You consider whether you can hold it for the next two hours, but then you remember you already used the loos twice in Spoons, and the choice is no longer yours. The set is starting, but the seal is broken, and the night is doomed.
Reluctantly, you pass your drink to someone with a stronger bladder and wade back through the crowd toward the toilets. The queue is almost comically long and several women toward the front are doing the infamous I-need-to-piss-and-I-need-to-piss-soon jig. A cubicle opens up and the entire queue silently agrees that one particularly desperate looking girl should be allowed to skip ahead; within seconds, an audible sigh of relief can be heard above the roaring waterfall of her urine gushing into the toilet bowl. The other women take this as a symbol of her gratitude. You see, one of the many issues surrounding gendered toilets – and forgive me if this sounds petty – is the imbalance in queues experienced by men vs women. Often the line for the ladies’ will be at least double that as for the men’s, which means we waste twice as much time in the bogs and not the boogie. Urinals seem to be a much quicker deed, and male friends often complain about having to wait around for ages after they’ve pissed. I suppose that’s just a small price to pay in return for God’s gift of a small external hosepipe that allows you to relieve yourself whenever you need.
The queue moves at a painstaking pace that makes you question if you’ll catch any of the one name you recognised on the lineup. Eventually, just as you think you might give up and do your business in the sink, you make it into one of the toilets – posse in tow. Despite being roughly the size of a sardine can, I should clarify that there is a special feature of women’s toilet cubicles unique to the nighttime; most women will stick to solo excretion activities during working hours. But past 8 pm, each cubicle becomes a tardis. Whilst there is no logic behind cramming into one toilet and taking it in turns to watch each other piss, it is clear sacrilege to abandon your comrades at this stage and up to 5 women can often be caught squeezing in and edging the door shut. Here, inside the safety of the sardine can, there is no room for shyness and pants are dropped without hesitation. You apologise to your friend as you realise that this is more than just a wee but she laughs it off; she’s already changing her tampon, acts that effectuate friendships like nothing else. The trickiest manoeuvres are accomplished by those wearing bodysuits and playsuits – removing such garments when there isn’t even room to scratch your own nose is no mean feat – and yet, here in the magical wonderland of the ladies loos, there is no ridicule for having to strip completely naked in order to wee. If anything, it is welcomed.
On the back of the doors are etchings of a decade or so of “[I n s e r t n a m e ] woz ‘ere 2009”, tags and secret messages. I’ve seen everything on the back of toilet doors – from phone numbers, to self-portraits, to full blown poems. An extended reddit forum endorses veganism, with replies reminding toilet users to love themselves as well as the animals. Laura’s declaration of love for her “bffl” Sophie is partially eclipsed by a sticker promoting a stick-and-poke tattoo start-up. You could sit in there all day reading the eloquent elegies of our ancestors, all determined to be remembered for their visit to this confined space.
Not wanting to delay the women still queuing any longer, you leave the cubicle and head to the sinks. Hands are washed quickly (the twice over rendition of Happy Birthday is more of a speedcore remix), maximising mirror time. It is here that the real magic happens. Over sinks, outfits are complimented by complete strangers, makeup is borrowed, occasionally tears are shed. Over sinks, friendships are formed. Perhaps a strange confidence overcomes the female population as they look at each other in the mirror rather than face to face, but I have had more conversations with strangers in the women’s toilets than anywhere else. It is here that you are asked if you are ok, reminded that you are beautiful, added on Facebook, told to have a good night. The kindness experience experienced over sinks in women’s toilets is incomparable, a marker of the compassion that crosses social constructs.
And just as your ego has inflated enough to make your return to the dancefloor, you spot her in the corner. Quiet and smiling, headphones in, minding her own business, she never skips a night out – the most loyal of all the women there tonight. In every toilet, in every club, at every event in every city across the country (or at least London), there is always a lady selling lollipops, deodorant, and individual squirts of your favourite perfume. She sits, often in silence, handing out hand towels and whatever else you may need. I wonder how much money she makes a night, I hope she know we appreciate her presence.
On this day, created to celebrate the social, economical, cultural and political endeavours of women across the globe, it is important to acknowledge all women. Not just the role models and the women who change the world, but anyone who identifies as a woman deserves recognition on this day. From mums, to daughters, to wives and sisters, especially women still struggling to obtain basic rights. I hope that all women know that they are loved and appreciated. I saw recently that during a women’s football match, one of the players was wearing a hijab. As it slipped off and she knelt to fix it, a small group of her opponents huddled around, protecting her from view. This is what IWD is about – celebrating sisterhood, and the acts of respect and kindness that transcend race, religion or social class. Looking out for, and appreciating each other as women and as people.
But what I really want to celebrate this International Women’s day are the women’s toilets. Though I hope that more establishments will move toward a more inclusive non-gendered approach in the future, for now I want to appraise the safe space that has been created. I want to make sure every woman, every human, knows that they are welcome in this safe space, that however they identify, there is always a sisterhood waiting for them. As someone who has never struggled with gender identity, I apologise to those who do not categorise themselves within the binary and may feel excluded by the gendered toilets that I have described above, but I hope that they feel welcome in whichever bathrooms they feel most comfortable in. So happy 8th March – and a warm welcome to our bathroom-bound community.