Life

This Is the Correct Way to Divide Public Bathrooms

Goodbye men’s rooms and women’s rooms. It’s time for pee rooms and poop rooms.

Photo illustration: Male and Female bathroom logos crossed out and replaced with new hypothetical "No. 1" and "No. 2" logos
Photo illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker. Photo by Photitos2016/Getty Images.

Many have asked me: Dan, if you were named editor in chief of Slate, what would you change about the workplace?

My platform is simple. American workers and voters have argued too long about bathrooms, and what gender is allowed to use which toilet. From state legislatures to high schools to progressive companies, the question of who should get to use which bathroom has become fraught. Slate has already made wonderful steps by noting, in signage, that employees are free to use the restroom in which they are most comfortable.

But we are focusing on the wrong issue! The key determinant in what bathroom you use ought not to be your gender, whether you are a trans or cis person, or any other personal trait. The only thing that should dictate your choice of bathroom is simple: Are you peeing or pooping?

That’s right. Bathrooms should be separated not into men’s and ladies’ rooms, but into peeing rooms and pooping rooms.

So many problems would disappear were companies to replace the little male and female pictographs with a 1 and a 2.  The frustration you feel when a shy urinator camps out in a stall even as you shift in discomfort outside? Gone. Gone too would be the horrible situation that, I’m reliably told, plays out in the women’s room in Slate’s Brooklyn, New York, office, and certainly other bathrooms across the country: The tacit understanding that if you must poop, you should try to wait until the bathroom is vacated if you can. What a waste of work time!

Furthermore, this would remedy the sexist imbalance innate to gendered restrooms, replacing the long lines at intermission with a smoothly running system based solely on actual biology. And the disgustingness of an overtaxed toilet, unprepared to handle the tough jobs, clogged and reeking? A dedicated poop room could take care of that by requiring the installation of high-quality, high-capacity toilets—using money saved by the purchase of low-flow johns in the other restroom.

Frankly, though, you should support my platform on the sole basis of not having to smell everyone else’s farts when you just need a quick wee.

How would it work? Let’s say your company has men’s and women’s rooms, one with two stalls and three urinals and one with three stalls. The men’s room becomes Bathroom 1, the pee room, with five smaller stalls featuring compact water-efficient toilets. Everyone gets privacy, the company saves money on water (and plumbing bills), and the environment wins, too.

Meanwhile, the women’s room becomes Bathroom 2—Poop Central—with the three stalls left as is. The toilets can stay the same, or maybe your company, realizing the power of a non-constipated workforce, installs a squatty potty or those fancy Japanese wonder toilets. Also required are some major-league air fresheners or a commitment to keeping a candle burning at all times, and voila—pooping at work is now a pleasure.

(Update, January 17: I have been informed by 1,000,000 people on Twitter that this idea previously appeared on the television show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Also, in real life, this is apparently how they divided the bathrooms at Gawker headquarters. Excellent case studies!!)

I know that for some people, the very idea is mortifying. Not just that other people will know when they are shitting; that other people will know they ever shit. But this is nonsense! Pooping is the great equalizer, an icky task that no amount of money or power can magic away. The pope poops. Nicole Kidman poops. Our new millennial congresspeople poop. The only person on Earth who does not poop is Jeff Bezos: His waste, far too valuable to flush, is removed from his body by nanobots and composted to grow the cardboard trees upon which Amazon’s business model depends.

I’d argue that to recognize our shared corporeality in the workplace is not embarrassing but freeing. I still remember realizing, my first week at Slate, that I was pooping in the stall right next to my boss. At first I was embarrassed to recognize the cool sneakers of the guy who’d hired me underneath the wall of the stall, knowing that he surely recognized my slightly cooler sneakers. But then I realized that at that moment, as we both did our body’s dirty business, he and I were, quite literally, at the same level. Sitting just feet away from my boss, I saw him not as a gruff and powerful magazine editor but as a fellow human working with me toward a common goal. (Crapping, at that moment, but more broadly putting out a magazine.)

When my male magazine editor was replaced by a woman, I was denied by foolish gender norms the chance to poop in the stall next to her. What a missed opportunity!

Anyways, the most important improvement dedicated poop rooms would bring is in de-stigmatizing defecation. I think that’s for the good. Pooping is really stigmatized! Even the Slate writer who came up with this genius idea—a wonderful, opinionated writer who in classic Slate style has attached her name to some truly asinine notions—was unwilling to write this piece. “You can have it!” she said of her incredible innovation. So I took it. That is why I, and not she, will be the next editor in chief of Slate. Anyone want a job as deputy editor? I’ll need a No. 2.