In the US, Occupy Wall Street led many other protests all opposed to the perceived evils of income inequality. Now Occupy protests have come to China. The subject of the protesters’ ire, however, is a more basic form of inequality: The disparity in waiting times for men’s and women’s public toilets. That right, it’s time for Occupy Men’s Room (Occupy Men’s Room: College girls in China fight for gender equality for loo, Feb 24).
It was reported that earlier this week, a group of college girls in Guangzhou protested in front of a men’s room at Yuexiu Park to call for equal loo rights. They held up signs that read “More ‘convenience’ for woman. More gender equality.” Their agenda? To pass law that enforces at least a 1:2 toilet ratio for men and women.
The Occupy Men’s Room campaign was initiated by a college student from Beijing called Li Maizi. Her reason to start the campaign was simple: “As a girl, who haven’t dreamed about using the men’s room while standing in long lines waiting to “do our business.’” She spent a week preparing for the protest and recruiting volunteers. …
During the protest, men were still allowed to use the facility, but many appeared to be very embarrassed walking in and out through blocks of young girls. When the queue started to grow over the lady’s room, however, volunteers would stop men who were heading to the toilet and ask them to wait and let the ladies use it first. Interestingly, when stopped, all men expressed understanding and sympathy for women’s conditions and problems.
The Wall Street Journal reports that potty parity laws are not unknown in Asia (Men’s Bathroom ‘Occupied’ in Protest Over China Toilet Inequity, Feb 21).
In an argument that later circulated on popular Twitter-like microblogging site Sina Weibo, a sympathetic student from the Guangdong University of Foreign Studies told the state-run Guangzhou Daily newspaper (in Chinese) that mainland China should learn from Hong Kong and Taiwan — both of which have passed so-called “potty parity” laws, mandating that greater areas be designated for female toilets.
In Hong Kong, the ratio of male to female public toilet space currently stands at 1:1.5 (in Chinese) . Likewise since 1987, at least 21 states and municipalities in the U.S. have passed similar laws. “[While waiting for the women’s bathroom], typically there’s no line outside the men’s restroom,” Li was quoted as saying by local media (in Chinese). “Sometimes I’ve thought, is it OK for women to just ‘occupy’ them briefly?”
On average, men take 30 seconds to use the bathroom, according to a Time magazine report about potty parity. Women take 90 seconds.
I love potty parity stories. Indeed, one of the earliest posts on this blog dealt with this topic as it applies to US sports stadiums. This is fundamentally a queuing problem. If one class of customers requires more processing time, then they will experience a longer wait if the same amount of capacity is made available. That is the logic behind potty parity legislation.
However, such laws don’t always work. The problem is an implicit assumption lurking in the preceding paragraph. Customers with longer processing times will have longer waits given equal capacity assuming that the classes have the same arrival rate. If a particular location has more female visitors, they will still have longer waits even if the loo ratio is two to one in favor of women. Alternatively, if men greatly outnumber women, lines for the men’s room can balloon potty parity. (For example, the Bears once asked to exempt Soldier Field from Chicago’s potty parity ordinance.) Stated another way, building codes are a rather crude way to manage queues.