Kathryn Anthony, University of Illinois – Potty Parity

One way to see gender discrimination in action is to look at the lines in public restrooms.

Kathryn Anthony, professor in the school of architecture at the University of Illinois, explores what can be done about it.

Professor Anthony teaches, conducts research, and writes about how spaces and places affect people. Her expertise focuses on such topics as social and behavioral factors in design, gender and race in contemporary architecture, and entrepreneurship in design. She has also developed a new seminar on architecture, cinema, environment, and behavior.

Her research has spawned award-winning books, Design Juries on Trial: The Renaissance of the Design Studio and Designing for Diversity: Gender, Race, and Ethnicity in the Architectural Profession.

Professor Anthony’s latest book is Defined by Design: The Surprising Power of Hidden Gender, Age, and Body Bias in Everyday Products and Places. It demonstrates how design shapes our lives in ways most of us would never imagine–affecting our comfort, our self-image, and even our health.

Another recent book, Shedding New Light on Art Museum Additions: Front Stage and Back Stage Experiences, co-authored with Altaf Engineer was also published in 2017.

Potty Parity


Have you ever had to wait in line to use a public restroom? What’s the longest line you ever waited in? Where was it? Who was with you? And how long was the wait? Chances are if you’re a female, it’s happened to you a lot. Less so if you’re a male. Especially at stadiums, theaters, concert halls, and airports, anywhere crowds gather, men zip in and out in a flash, while women are forced to wait in line.

Why? Most public restrooms have fewer fixtures for women. This discrepancy is a subtle but powerful form of gender discrimination. Due to our physiological differences, females take longer than males. Women need to disrobe, store a purse, sit down, use toilet paper, and then put our clothes back on. Women who are menstruating, pregnant or carrying babies or toddlers take even longer. Males have it much easier!

Holding it in can lead to urinary tract infections and other health problems.  In many of our nation’s schools, and in parts of the world where restrooms are in deplorable condition or missing altogether, millions of women and girls are in danger. Until relatively recently, most architects, contractors, engineers, building-code officials and clients were not concerned about this issue. The movement to remedy this situation is known as “potty parity”.

The goal is equal speed of access, usually more toilets for women. We’ve seen progress with updated building codes and potty parity laws requiring improved fixture ratios. Even better, unisex restrooms eliminate the gender discrepancy altogether. Yet these changes only affect new and newly remodeled buildings. Most of our existing building stock remains untouched. So we’ve still got a long ways to go. Think about it the next time you’re stuck waiting in line at the restroom–or waiting for the women in your life.

  2. John Banzhaf (@ProfBanzhaf)