Carry on at your convenience, gentlemen

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The Independent Online

As a nation, we have become so inured to having our attitudes, character and nasty little neuroses exposed and pilloried by passing experts that to speak up for the British way of doing things has begun to seem rather pointless.

All the same, it was a bit of a shock to hear a spokesman for that scandalously under-publicised organisation the British Toilets Association claiming that, even when engaged in the most trivial and private act, we let ourselves down as a nation. Our toilet culture, as he put it in a radio interview, is not of the best.

There are perhaps some places where it is unwise for a columnist to go - I bow to the BTA's expertise in these matters - but it turns out that our failings in the matter of toilet culture have wider repercussions. One in three public loos has closed down over the past few years.

To reverse the trend, various modern-minded types are campaigning for segregation by sex in this area to be phased out. In offices and restaurants, lovely new "unisex" rest-room palaces are to be introduced, where men and women can mix and chat in a thoroughly evolved and modern way as they relieve themselves.

One can see the logic. Left alone, men are messy and antisocial, spraying about with the promiscuous abandon of a tomcat in springtime. The briefest visit to a Ladies (don't ask; one just has to now and then) reveals a different world, full of perfumed loveliness, where even the basest of human functions is imbued with a gentle, natural dignity. The lavatorial experts want some of that spirit to cross the gender divide.

Sounds sensible enough, doesn't it? No, it does not. On the question of toilet culture, I find that I have regressed into an angry, pre-feminist state. In this area above all, I want division, not unification. The word "unisex" makes me feel queasy. I don't want the secrets of the Ladies to be exposed and I certainly don't want the glorious disgustingness of men to become more obvious than it already is.

If we are all doomed to mingle companionably on this mirrored middle ground, we shall lose one of life's more significant pleasures - the difference between women and men.

To those who believe that this is an exaggerated response, I must point to what is happening in the land of Saabs and civilised values, Sweden. There the very act of male micturation - standing up and splashing in a bullying, triumphalist manner - is deemed socially inappropriate, an insult to the sitting gender. A feminist group at the University of Stockholm is campaigning for the removal of all urinals on campus, on the grounds that only males can use them.

Sitting has become de rigueur among progressive Scandinavian males. "All my friends demand that their husbands or boyfriends sit down," a Swedish woman has been quoted as saying. "My brother, for example, would not dream of standing up. Among the young, leftish intelligentsia, there is also a view that to stand is a nasty, macho gesture."

Can there be anything more pitiful than that? Alone and engaged in the simple, private act, these exhausted, cowed men must bow the knee and sit in order to prove their equality. Perhaps, when Gents and Ladies have been merged, "No Standing" signs will be on the walls. Representatives from the British Toilets Association will patrol the cubicles to ensure that no nasty, macho gestures are being enacted.

That is where the unisex loo is leading us. One moment it's a minor vogue among architects and BTA activists; the next, our very sense of self and dignity is under attack.

The British male must not go the way of the Swede. He should face up to the accursed disciples of unisex and tell them: "This far and no further."

It is time to stand up and be counted.