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'Potty parity' aims to remedy long lines

More states and cities are passing laws requiring higher ratios of women's to men's toilets in new construction projects.

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The battleground for women's rights is expanding from the boardroom to the bathroom, and a serious legislative initiative nicknamed "potty parity" is giving new meaning to the term "separate but equal."

The new push, which is quietly making its way into construction standards around the world, says restrooms should provide two to three times as many "outlets" for women as for men. In that sense, "potty parity" bills offer women more than parity: It may finally trim the long lines for women's rooms at theaters, stadiums, and highway rest stops.

"It's a good thing," says Kari Roberts of Reading, Mass., a shopper at the Prudential Center Mall in Boston. She says the wait time for restrooms "needs to be the same" for both men and women.

"There's always this conversation, this conspiracy" among women waiting in line for the bathroom, she says. "Women are always asking: 'Is there anyone in the men's room? Can we go in there and take it over?'"

When it came to restrooms, architects (and lawyers) used to think in terms of square footage rather than number of outlets - or physiology. But studies show that because women have different needs, on average they spend twice as much time in the bathroom as men, causing longer lines.

In her 1988 graduate thesis, Sandra Rawls of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute timed how long it took hundreds of men and women to answer nature's call. Her observations of the time disparity between the sexes explains the long lines for women.

While Ms. Roberts is not a lawyer, the question of bathroom equality is a legal no-brainer to her. Sure, it may seem fair to give men and women equal-size bathrooms, but the result will always be longer lines for women - especially when you factor in stockings, small children, and feminine health issues.

Perhaps surprisingly, the voice behind many recent legal initiatives on this issue in the United States is decidedly masculine. John Banzhaf, a law professor at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and the self-anointed "father of potty parity," estimates that about a dozen states and local jurisdictions across the country have passed laws requiring higher ratios of women's to men's toilets in new construction projects. During the previous month, legislatures in such far-flung locales as Hong Kong and Singapore have also signed on to versions of potty parity.

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