Mark Sherman: Why isn’t this a major feminist issue?

Mark-Sherman SQUAREI have often wondered why feminism, which has dealt with so many important issues, seems to have largely ignored one — at least to my knowledge — that is perhaps the biggest.

Ladies’ rooms.

A woman could write about this much better than I could (and as a man, I know I’m entering dangerous ground when I even mention the word “feminism,” and even more dangerous ground if I enter a ladies’ room), but I have a wife I love very much, and every time we go to an airport or to the theater, for example, she suffers in a way that I rarely do. She knows that if nature calls, she will have to go to the end of what can be a very long line of human beings all of whom are physically not very comfortable.

We have joked about this a lot (actually, one of the things that has kept us happily together for more than 46 years is that we joke about everything, including climate change and the planet’s likely plunge into economic collapse). But this only hides what is a genuine problem and one that I, for the life of me, don’t understand hasn’t risen to the top of female concerns — at least in the mass media.

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I’m sure there has been all kinds of research on this issue, but having retired from academia more than 20 years ago, I’m not going there. All I know is what I see. When I have to go, I just breeze in to the men’s room, whereas women have to wait on line.

It’s not that women haven’t been outspoken about other problems they have faced. For example, who doesn’t know that for every dollar a man earns, a woman earns only 79 cents (though that is up from the 59 cents I recall it was back in the ’70s, and at this rate, in another 15 years or so women will be earning more than men)? And anyone who spends even an hour on the Internet will know that many women complain about being treated as sex objects.

But my guess is that when you’re on line waiting to get into the bathroom, issues of earnings and guys looking at you as you walk down the street are the last things on your mind. Let’s face it: Relieving yourself can become an urgent priority that trumps (if you’ll pardon the expression) everything else.

For example, I remember my wife’s cousin telling us the guilt he still felt years later because he wasn’t right in the room when his mother died.

“She was in the hospital dying, and I was in her room with other family members,” he said. “And it was getting close. But I HAD to go to the bathroom, I mean I HAD to go. So I did. And when I came back, she had just died.”

I said the most comforting words I could think of. “No need to punish yourself,” I said. “All this shows is that in two very different situations, when you got to go, you got to go.” (I am happy to report that he laughed a lot when I said this.)

After my wife returned from the ladies’ room the most recent time we were at the airport — and come on guys, don’t you eventually get worried when your loved one says she’s going to the bathroom, and 20 minutes later, she’s not back? — and we very soon afterward boarded our plane, the pilot announced that there would be a slight delay because his co-pilot had just arrived on another plane.

“She has to do some paperwork,” he said. “So it shouldn’t be more than 10 or 15 minutes.”

I turned to my wife. “Paperwork?” I said. “I’ll bet she’s just waiting on line to get into the ladies’ room.”

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