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The quest to bring urinal culture to women

Ladies, have you ever wanted to have a face-to-face conversation with your bathroom mate?

You may not realize it, but many designers are on a quest to create a women’s urinal. After all, how can the sexes be truly equal when men can pee quickly while standing at a urinal, while women have to go through the slower and less convenient process of using a toilet?

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[Photo: Olivia Rohde/courtesy ALGI Studio]

Since the 1990s, a number of designers have sought to help women go to the bathroom standing up. Some are little devices that look like funnels (with terrible names like Whiz Freedom and Pee Pocket), which have primarily been used by hikers and backpackers to pee more easily outdoors. In the mid-90s, a Malaysian company called GBH created a beautiful female urinal concept for public bathrooms, separated by privacy partitions, but it never took off. In 2011, Co.Design covered the launch of a urinal called Pollee, that is long and thin, allowing women to straddle it or semi-squat. It even comes in different configurations depending on how much privacy women prefer.

The architect Gina Périer recently debuted the latest of these devices: a new female urinal called LaPee.

[Image: courtesy ALGI Studio]

Périer’s portable urinal system is specifically designed for women to squat and pee at outdoor music festivals. From the top, it looks a little like a boat propeller enclosing three little circles. It has no doors—much like a man’s urinal—but it is specifically designed for the way a woman uses the bathroom. The walls are designed to cover a woman’s lower half when she squats (whereas if a man used it to to pee while standing up, he would be exposed). LaPee is designed to meet industrial standards for cleaning, so it can be treated exactly the same way as men’s portable urinal systems—making it easy for rental companies to incorporate it into their planning. And in case it wasn’t clear that LaPee is for women, it’s pink.

Beyond efficiency, Périer offers another argument to add in favor of letting women pee standing up: they can make communal urinating a social affair! After all, men have the ability to have entire conversations while they are standing in front of urinals. Why shouldn’t women be able to look each other in the eye while relieving their bladders? “It has room for 3 women,” Périer told a blog called Girls Are Awesome. “They can communicate without breaking intimacy.”

[Photo: Olivia Rohde/courtesy ALGI Studio]

How many of us really want to have conversations while peeing? I asked a few men about whether they enjoy having conversations at the urinal, and they all said no. Sure, they have all done it at some point or other, but it is not a life experience they particularly cherish. Then again, perhaps we’re missing out on something because of our cultural mores when it comes to bathroom habits. Children, for instance, are not inherently shy about talking while using the toilet. In fact, some of them kind of enjoy it. At my daughter’s preschool, all the 2- and 3-year-olds are being potty trained. In the bathroom, there are three tiny, toddler-size toilets, which the children use three at a time. The teachers at her school tell me that going to the bathroom is a fun, social experience. The kids sit on the toilets, tell each other stories and jokes, then wash their hands and go out into the day.

Maybe, when given the option, we might rediscover the joy of having a chat while taking a pee. But given that designers have been trying for so long to get the female urinal concept to take off, it remains to be seen whether women will take to open-air peeing any time soon.

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About the author

Elizabeth Segran, Ph.D., is a staff writer at Fast Company. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts

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