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Emma Barnett just sparked a very important debate about toilets

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Hollie Richardson
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Emma Barnett

Ever get annoyed with the sanitary bins that are squeezed into toilet cubicles? Emma Barnett feels your frustration.

When Caroline Criado Perez published her fantastic book, Invisible Women, back in 2019, one of the most surprising talking points in it was an examination of toilets. 

Criado Perez reported that men’s and women’s public toilets have traditionally been designed using the same amounts of space. However – thanks to factors such as periods, having to use a toilet instead of a urinal, pregnancy and being accompanied by children – women typically take up to 2.3 times as long as men to use the toilet. No wonder 59% of women say they regularly have to stand in line for the loo, compared with 11% of men. 

It’s proof that we still very much live in a world designed for men – women’s needs and the space needed continue to be ignored in the design of public toilets. And radio host Emma Barnett just illustrated this perfectly…

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Barnett shared a photo of the toilet she uses at work on her Instagram feed, writing: “Hello. This is a toilet I use most days. It is a relatively new loo. So far so normal. But look a little closer. Every time most women sit on it, the sanitary towel bin will brush up against their thigh. Unpleasant and unnecessary right? And yet this is a pretty newly designed loo cubicle.”

She continued: “If you retro fit us into design we notice. Or rather, we should and it shouldn’t still be happening. There is no need for a period bin to graze my thigh in any loo. Or be so badly designed it doesn’t open properly. If there even is one at all in the cubicle. (I also make these comments with the proviso that we are very lucky to have sanitation and such provision at all). And definitely see @ccriadoperez ‘s amazing book Invisible Women for more incredible examples.”

Referring to her new book, Period, and explaining the wider picture of the situation, Barnett added: “When researching how periods have been overlooked or censored for my book, it was eye-opening to learn how some of the most modern companies, such as Apple and Fitbit, simply forgot about them.”

People have responded to the photo by sharing their frustrations, including one person who asserted: “This is also a problem for accessible toilets. If there happens to be an adequately universal accessible cubicle available, many still have bins with a pedal (not an option for all) as well as other considerations such as too high coat/bag hooks etc. This is not something that affects me directly but as the parent of a child who’s a wheelchair user this is something I’ve become aware of by disability campaigners on social media.”

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Another said: “Not only will it brush up against your thigh but they are consistently left overflowing. Disgusting on many levels. I do late shifts at work and they are always overflowing, it’s a novelty to have it empty.”

While a third person raised a relatable point: “What about the sanitary bins that automatically open via a motion sensor activated from when you sit down on the loo?!”

And a designer shared: “This is just pathetic (the bin placement, not your post which is fab). Note additionally the ‘pedal’ that allows us to open the flap and deposit our towels etc. after we’ve finished on the loo and are stood up again – would be so much better if flap could be opened whilst we are sat down. Another design fail (and I’m a designer, sigh).”

Although it’s infuriating to talk about, it’s a discussion that needs to continue so that spaces start to be properly designed for everybody.

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Hollie Richardson

Hollie is a digital writer at Stylist.co.uk, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…