The ups and downs of bathroom etiquette

womens toilet, courtesy of gromgull on flickr

During a slow day at the office recently, i found myself discussing bathroom habits with “Digrr,” the unabashed young lady at the adjacent desk. The topic was launched when she came out of our unisex bathroom, put her hands on her hips, looked me in the eye, and said, “I almost fell in the toilet, you know.”

The j’accuse in Digrr’s voice would be instantly recognizable, i daresay, by every man in Western civilization. Certainly i got the drift: I’d left the toilet seat up.

Instantly i made the appropriate apologies, swearing that i would never let such a heinous, unforgivable thing happen again, that “seat down” would henceforth be the mantra of my sorry life. And that, apart from some feminine muttering about male insensitivity, is usually that.

This time, however — it being a slow day and all — things went further. impulsively, i confessed something i’d never told anybody before: That it wasn’t until the age of about 35 that i realized what the big deal was about “leaving the seat down.”

In my masculine ignorance, you see, i’d always assumed it was strictly an aesthetic issue: that woman hates the sight of an open toilet in the way she hates the sight of last week’s socks and underwear piled in the corner of the bedroom. The seat-down imperative, i assumed, was a simple extension of that other bathroom issue that cleaves every mixed-sex household, wherein woman must have bathrooms cleaned much more often than man does.

In retrospect, it’s amazing i took so long to realize that the seat-down issue was really about falling ass-first into the water. i should have made this connection from an early age, for i have a vivid early memory of a girl cousin taking the plunge because someone had left the seat up. But  perhaps i’d been too young to grasp the full social significance of what i’d seen.

As Digger and i broached this underexplored topic, it became clear that the problem, like so many, had its roots firmly in language. It’s a grave source of confusion that household toilets have two seats: the ring you sit on in operation, and the solid plate that you sit on when, for example, you’re clipping your toenails.

Both in their own way are seats, but to the literal masculine mind (to mine, at least), the seat had always been the latter — the solid part most resembling the seat of a chair.

Digrr thought i was being obtuse, so it was the work of a few minutes to do an Internet search for the proper terminology. Lo, i’d been wrong all along. In official plumbing parlance the solid lid is called the “cover” and the ring is called the “seat” — a simple piece of information that might have eased my formative years considerably.

In the interests of harmony between the sexes, i decided to do further research. That evening, at a party, i asked a group of friends what they thought of the matter. The women were quiet and bemused, but the men piped right up. One, an American, exclaimed indignantly that such a question would never come up in the States. The rest of the gents claimed they’d always understood the true nature of the seat-down imperative, though one did confess to not cluing in until his twenties.

So it seemed i was a sad case of stunted development. Stung, i sought self-justification. The salient difference between the sexes is that men use toilets both sitting and standing. From the age of two or three, then, a male learns to walk into the bathroom, adjust the seat according to his needs, and proceed with the business at hand. By the time we hit six the process is so ingrained it’s reflexive, and seat position is never an issue.

Now consider the woman: unless i’m woefully uninformed on this matter too, every time she uses the toilet she sits. Thus from age two the natural process for females is to enter the bathroom and sit — no instinctive seat adjustment required as part of the routine. Womankind has no use for a seat that flips up. in a world without men, there would be no flip-up seat; it would be an integral part of the toilet base.

But it isn’t a world without men. Moreover, it purports to be a world in which women and men are equal. So if man is obliged to adjust, i figured, perhaps woman should also bear some responsibility for the state of the seat.

Next day i explained my theory to Digrr, but she had no interest in a debate. “Look,” she snapped, fixing me with a gimlet eye, “just leave it down.”

Alright, already. Clearly this is a cross we men must bear alone, and that seems to be that.

# # #

by greg blanchette, 2004

banner photo adapted 2013 from gromgull (on flickr)
under a CreativeCommons Attribution license

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7 thoughts on “The ups and downs of bathroom etiquette”

    1. that’s what i was going to say. why not sit down, take a minute or two to reflect on life and then leave…with the seat down and no argument.

  1. OK Greg so what happens when a man experiences one of those times when he just needs to take a seat and then doesn’t bother taking adequate visual assesment of the situation before turning around, or maybe is just a little sleepy…and…some MAN has been there first and left the seat up?!? c’mon. have none of you boys EVER fallen in? i want some guy to come clean and confess that he has been a victim of such crime. Or Is it a conspiracy of silence? Are you all just protecting each other? Come out of the shadows, male victims of toilet trauma. I know you are out there.

  2. I think I did it to myself. Apparently I wasn’t paying attention. I didn’t hit water but ‘man’ was that porcelain cold! I never made the mistake again!

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