Unisex toilets in schools should be avoided at all costs

As Esther Rantzen pointed out when criticising the proposals, teenagers are often extremely self-conscious over the changes their bodies are going through

Share

The Victorian era is often derided for its sexual prudery and a repressive attitude towards women, but one of the many marvellous things the Victorians gave us was the public toilet. Following proposals this week to introduce unisex toilets in some secondary schools, I have to conclude that the Victorians had toilet etiquette absolutely right. I am all for equality and respect between the sexes, but when it comes to spending a penny or two, please let’s keep things separate.

There appears to be a move towards having shared loos in some higher educational institutions too, notably at Sussex University in Brighton. Their Student Union claimed the gender neutral toilets would benefit their transgender students, many of whom experience abuse when they attempt to use the toilets of the sex they identify with if they are “non-passing” in appearance. I have no problem with a gender neutral toilet in an adult institution as long as they exist alongside the traditional ladies and gents rooms, so that we all have a choice. In schools, however, I think they could be a recipe for disaster – a teenage pregnancy here, a sexual assault there, lots of discomfort and embarrassment for both sexes, a urine-soaked mess of raging hormones, sexual bullying and teenage tears. I do not know which bright sparks are responsible for dreaming up these policies, although I cannot help but imagine they must have gone to single sex schools. They certainly can’t have gone to mine.

Whilst the potential pitfalls are glaringly obvious, the arguments in favour of the unisex loos are thinner on the ground. When a Stockport school introduced gender-blind loos back in 2000 (alongside its traditional segregated ones) the head teacher explained the intention was to eliminate bullying and vandalism and said he thought the single sex toilets were a more intimidating environment for some pupils. Perhaps he thought the girls were a “civilising” influence on the boys’ bathroom behaviour, although we know it is not just boys who vandalise and bully.

Some might believe that males and females will be less inclined to view each other as a separate, mysterious species if we all share facilities. Shared toilets are relatively commonplace in other European countries, but I’m all in favour of maintaining a bit of British mystery when it comes to the loo. I’m sure I would have been very unhappy at having to share toilets with the boys when I was at school. On the rare (aka – drunken) occasion when I have accidentally invaded the gents room on a night out, I have beat a very hasty retreat, sobered up by the pungent stench of Eau Dear I Missed.  I’m not claiming that little girls and grown women all smell of sugar and spice and all things nice, but female toilets are generally much cleaner and more pleasant to use than the men’s rooms.

I do not think that men are from Mars, but I do know they pee differently from women, and that some of them appear to have difficulty with their aim. I’m sure it’s a lot harder than it looks. It’s probably best we don’t get started on the Battle of the Toilet Seat, which has even resulted in death (in an episode of “South Park”, when Clyde’s mother is killed because her son failed to put the seat down – and she forgot to look).

Whilst death by toilet seat is unlikely to ensue because of mixed lavs, sexual bullying is a real problem in schools. The toilet could become a very intimidating pace for both male and female pupils. As Esther Rantzen pointed out when criticising the proposals, children in secondary schools are often extremely self-conscious over the changes their bodies are going through. Puberty is a difficult thing to deal with, and menstruating girls in particular need their privacy. I don’t believe that all the lads would welcome the shared space either, as teenage boys have their own insecurities. Imagine a lone, shy boy entering the toilet while a gaggle of teenage mean girls cruelly mock him. Lots of women and girls use the loos to do their make-up, and what girl wants an audience of queuing boys as she applies a bit of “Hide the Blemish” to her spots? If unisex toilets do become commonplace in schools, we can only hope the cubicle walls will go all the way up to the ceiling, or the temptation for the Peeping Toms may prove too great (“We were only having a laugh, Sir”). In the very worst case scenario, mixed toilets could provide a cover for sexual abuse of the most vulnerable pupils.  

As adults, we forget how cruel some kids can be, and how much damage they can inflict on the self-esteem of more sensitive children. I have nieces aged twelve and fourteen, and neither were keen on the idea of shared toilets, although the older one told me, “I might like it if my boyfriend went to the same school as me.” Enough said.

Would kids move their “canoodling” from behind the bike sheds to the toilet cubicles? Hopefully not in droves, but a few might see it as an opportunity for a fumble, simply for the lack of having anywhere else to go. The proposed toilets probably wouldn’t lead to a massive increase in the teenage pregnancy rate or the sexual assault count in schools, but even one or two such incidents would ruin lives and cause outrage amongst parents. Why subject the kids to some “lav rat” social experiment? The cynic in me believes it may be all about saving money in the long run, because if unisex toilets become the social norm, this would reduce cleaning, supervision and maintenance costs. I prefer not to use unisex toilets, so I don’t see why teenagers should have to. I am very much in favour of equal opportunities, shared toys, books and experiences. We don’t need a world where everything is powder pink or boyish blue, but the workplace and the playground are fraught with sexual politics and tensions already. Why bring it into the loo?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Commercial Litigation NQ+

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE NQ to MID LEVEL - An e...

MANCHESTER - SENIOR COMMERCIAL LITIGATION -

Highly Attractive Pakage: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - A highly attractive oppor...

Senior Marketing Manager - Central London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (Campaigns, Offlin...

Head of Marketing - Acquisition & Direct Reponse Marketing

£90000 - £135000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing (B2C, Acquisition...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Norovirus the food poisoning bug that causes violent stomach flu  

A flu pandemic could decide next year’s election

Matthew Norman
J. Jayalalithaa gestures to her party supporters while standing on the balcony of her residence in Chennai. Former film star Jayalalithaa Jayaram is one of India's most colourful and controversial politicians  

The jailing of former film star Jayalalithaa Jayaram is a drama even Bollywood couldn’t produce

Andrew Buncombe
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?