A week ago, I was on an airplane flying from Hawaii to California, and at some point over the Pacific Ocean, decided to uncrumple myself from my prison seat and take a stroll to the bathroom. The green “vacant” sign was lit, but I nevertheless tugged at the door slowly, rattling the handle like someone trying to avoid startling a bear. Now would be a great time to announce your presence, I thought, but I guess telekinesis is faulty at 35,000 feet. “Oh!” the woman inside exclaimed, or at least I think that’s what she said—I couldn’t really hear her over the sound of my own alarmed squeak. I snapped the door shut, and my heart rate didn’t return to normal until after I’d clawed my way back to my seat and was assured a Bloody Mary was on its way.
What is the psychological impetus behind failing to lock a door in a public restroom? For the sake of thorough reportage, I timed how long it takes to lock the door to my own bathroom, and the result is something like .000000008 seconds. I tried it again after spinning around five times with my eyes closed (.0006 seconds) and again while trying to hold a hairbrush in one hand and a flat iron in the other (.004 seconds, though I admit I dropped the hairbrush.) It’s so easy. It’s just so easy. Why don’t you lock the door?
Sometimes there are extenuating circumstances, I understand. Maybe you really, really have to go and there’s just no time for that nonsense. Let’s say that accounts for 15 percent of every visit made to a public restroom. How is it, still, that five times out of 10 I open an unlocked door to find someone standing, or god help me, sitting, glaring at me as though I’m the one at fault?
Maybe you’re confronted by one of those overly complicated locks that requires five hands and a rain dance to properly latch. Maybe it’s broken. I for one would not be able to do my business in peace knowing that at any moment I might be interrupted by someone’s abrupt entrance, but the world is evidently not made of carbon copies of me, disappointing though that is. Much as I have always wanted to be the type of person who pisses willy-nilly regardless of who’s around, I’m afraid it’s just not how I’m built. I can’t even pee in the ocean, which is near universally regarded as being nature’s finest and most accommodating toilet.
Maybe you don’t care who sees you peeing, and it is with this group that I take umbrage. Our ability to be courteous is one of the few things that separates us from animals, but moreover, systems are what keep our society from collapsing. I understand you might not care who’s privy to your bathroom routine, just like you might not care that you’re clogging the sidewalk with your double-wide Maclaren or that your very loud cell phone chatter is not appreciated in the morgue. Lots of social mores are bullshit—the vast majority of them, even. But locking the door when you’re using a public restroom? It’s not one of them!
Let’s say you’re in the act of using the bathroom when I open the door. On the whole, women tend to be a little more panicked by this turn of events than men, which also baffles me: If you really cared, you would have simply checked that the door was latched. Like I wanted this to happen. Like this is how I saw my day going, or my life. This leaves me in a surly mood, and also fosters an atmosphere of animosity between us, which is problematic if I’m somewhere specifically seeking to slough off the stress of the day, like a bar. Now it’s awkward. We both know what we know, and the beautiful sanctity of the bar space has been disturbed. Now I have to leave, because you can’t lock the door. I hate you!
Men are rarely alarmed, and for this, I hate them, too. Public urination is a ticketable offense. The philosophical reason for this is presumably because it upends the agreement that everyone has the right to exist equally in public spaces without being made to feel uncomfortable. An unlocked bathroom, then, can be considered a public space until the moment the door is locked. When I walk into a bathroom and a man is peeing, and when he is unfazed by my intrusion, I immediately pivot from feeling like I’ve violated someone’s space, to realizing that they have, in fact, violated mine. The lack of concern by the other party actually heightens the offense I take: I am shouldering the brunt of the stress unfairly. At least part of this is borne from the fact that I am a woman programmed to feel guilt when anyone anywhere on Earth experiences discomfort, and for that I feel more than a little resentment.
By far the most upsetting possibility is this: The door is left open intentionally, the allure of a voyeuristic thrill or hearing a stranger shriek and stot four feet into the air, which will probably only happen if the person opening the door is A) a very skittish deer, B) a very skittish child or C) me. If your delight is of a sexual nature, then you should be charged with a crime because that is what it is.
Lock the door! Lock the door lock the door lock the door. It’s fun! It’s easy! You could have done it thrice in the time it took you to read this sentence! If the door is too complicated, just go in the street. I rode my bike through the park yesterday and saw a woman holding her nearly-grown child folded in half, shooting urine straight into the bike lane, which would have been charming if it’d been a marble fountain and not a 10-year-old. I exchanged a horrified glance with a fellow cyclist and we crossed paths. “LITERALLY?” both our faces screamed.
But at least I didn’t have to go through it alone.
Image via Youtube/Giphy