Thursday, January 7, 2010

The subject is women's urinals

ALBERT EINSTEN and Simone de Beauvoir were among those quoted in a treatise on women’s urinals delivered at the British Toilet Association by one Mr. Orde Levinson. I found the piece in the Internet while trying to learn something about women’s urinals. Despite the piece’s seriousness, it could make you laugh if you use your imagination.
It begins with a quote from Einstein: “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” And from the irrepressible Beauvoir: “If women start acting like people, they will be accused of acting like men.”
After putting up those hot pink enclosures for men’s urinals on Metro Manila’s sidewalks, the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) is planning to have women’s urinals as well. The brainchild of former MMDA chair Bayani Fernando (now vice presidential candidate) the men’s urinals which have been around for a couple of years were the object of jokes and speculations when they were being planned.

Will they last? Will they be vandalized? Who will maintain them? Will they be a source of pollution? Why hot pink? And so forth and so on. New MMDA chair Oscar Inocentes will turn all that pink into green. What shade of green is anybody’s guess. Teal, lime, Nile, apple, fluorescent?)

The men’s urinals were supposed to be the answer to men’s urgent need to pee and prevent them from doing their thing on posts, walls, trees, bushes, sides of vehicles, garbage piles, etc. But despite these urinals, posted signs (“bawal omehi dito, by order”, “ Aso lang ang umiihi sa pader” ) and even a TV ad, I still see many Filipino men defiling the environment with their liquid.

Drivers usually go to gas stations to relieve themselves and to park their vehicles. I think the men’s urinals are used mainly by male pedestrians, sidewalk vendors and walkabouts. Some issues have been raised against these structures—the foul odor, the possible pollution of the ground water, the problem with drainage, etc.

And now, women’s urinals? The source of the news stories about them have been coming from men in charge of running Metro Manila. They sound like they are heaven’s gift to the women of this metropolis. Not that I’m against these structures. The question is: have they asked the women? What shape or form will these women’s urinals have? Have they considered the female anatomy and underwear?

One blogger writes of her experience in the US: “Lately I’ve been running into urinals in women’s restrooms. I have tried using them (while wearing) pants and skirts, but the only way I can figure they would work is if the woman were naked or not wearing any underwear. Who invented the infernal contraptions, how are they intended to work, and why are they cropping up more and more?”

Women’s urinals, by the way, are not like your regular flush toilet at home. Here was someone’s answer which explains why women’s urinals are that way: “They were introduced into (the US) from Europe in the early 30s (along with the bidet…), and were intended as a convenience for women who did not want their delicate flesh coming into contact with yukky public toilet seats. They came in both floor- and wall-mounted models, the latter looking very much like their male counterparts.”

The writer goes on to describe the women’s urinal as something with a protruding narrow bowl that the user, while facing the wall, was expected to straddle (like straddling a horse) having first lowered her panties and raised her skirt, whereupon the woman could then do her thing. Can you picture that?

“One problem,” the blogger writes, “may have been that women’s underwear manufacturers never managed to come up with an equivalent to the male underpant which is laden with useful apertures that facilitate the use of urinals.”

That kind of women’s urinal, as described, should be a thing of the past because most women now wear pants like the men but have a different anatomical plumbing. But in Levison’s treatise, “The Female Urinal: Facts and Fables”, he argues that women can do it standing: “That a woman can urinate standing is clear and the more I investigate this, the more women indicate and prove that it is possible and not that it cannot be done. The conclusion once again points to the need to dispel cultural prejudice and create practical suggestions for women: to offer them the ability to learn a natural and environmentally sound technique…The most significant one for overall improvement and the most for reaching one being the installation of standolets, otherwise known as the places where women can urinate standing. History has always favored development, especially in issues of social justice, hygiene, comfort and common sense.”

Are you not laughing yet? The only women I have seen urinating while standing were old rural women in patadyong and who wore no underwear.

I remember a rugged bus trip to the Cordillera hinterlands many years ago. A friend and I were fussing about where to relieve ourselves. An English-speaking Cordillera woman was so solicitous and every time the bus stopped, she would ask us in a loud voice for everyone to hear, “Do you want to urinate?” and tell us where to go. No euphemisms. In some stops we headed for the bushes. I wished I were wearing a skirt.

Squat type, straddle type or wall-mounted (for women who can do it standing) women’s urinals? How private will these public women’s urinals be? I remember photos of women’s bottoms shot with hidden cameras in mall restrooms and circulated in the net. Where will they be placed? Will they hang signs like, “Bawal mamboso?” Will there be tabo and tissue?

Ask the women.

May 2010 be full of laughter for you!