New York Women In Line to Get Restroom Relief

By Michelle Garcia
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 27, 2005

NEW YORK, May 26 -- To the women of New York City, who like many of their sex in so many places have suffered long lines to answer nature's call, relief is on the way. To the women who have ducked into the men's restroom to avoid embarrassment, the City Council has heard your woes and acted.

The council this week unanimously passed legislation -- dubbed Potty Parity by New York's ever-vivid tabloids -- that establishes a 2-to-1 ratio for women's restrooms in new public venues including, bars, restaurants and concert halls.

"Almost every woman can recall waiting in a long line to use the bathroom, while there was no comparable line for a neighboring men's bathroom," read the opening lines to the bill titled the Women's Restroom Equity Bill. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (R), clearly aware of his female constituency in an election year, is expected to sign the legislation into law.

"It's a women's rights accomplishment," said council member Yvette D. Clarke (D), the bill's chief sponsor. "It goes to the quality of life that we are able to enjoy in the city."

This being New York, some women were less than impressed. "It's ridiculous they had to pass a law," said Veronica Castro, a regular club-goer who works in the financial industry in Midtown. "It's something they [venue owners] should have done out of consideration for the customer."

The legislation, which initially inspired jokes and giggles, also drew critics who labeled Clarke a "feminazi." "They thought it was taking women's rights just too far," said Clarke, who defended the bill, noting that women are conditioned to expect restroom lines, something she calls "degrading."

The "bathroom equality" bill brings New York City in step with Virginia, Texas, Pennsylvania and California, which have adopted similar laws over the years.

Once in effect, the law will impose the 2-to-1 ratio on new sites and on existing venues when they undertake major renovations. Venue owners can circumvent the rule by making all their restrooms unisex.

Robert Bookman, a lobbyist for the New York Nightlife Association, which represents bars and clubs, said the legislation targeted too many locations. "No one has reported to us any complaints, from bars or even clubs," he said.

But many women said they frequently have long waits and devise impromptu strategies to hurry things along.

"I just know it takes longer for us because we have to stoop," said Melissa Williams, during a lunch break from a Midtown dental office.

Emily Vaello, a co-worker added that biology did not prevent her from once sneaking into a park to relieve herself. "And I pushed them [her pants] up so fast when a big fat rat ran by," said Vaello, bursting into laughter.

A failproof method to cutting into a line: "You have to say, 'I'm pregnant,' " said Lulit Maregn, a 31-year-old student, while grabbing her belly to demonstrate.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company