Archaeology and the Female Perspective: Bathroom Habits

I would rather pee in the bush than in a public restroom. Anyone who’s been in a truly *public* restroom knows why.

After talking candidly with a former colleague, I now go au naturale when in the forest. In other words, I drip dry, just like the guys and the deer. Sound gross? Not so much after I’d seen one too many common pit-stops and the multitude of white tissue paper dotting the forest floor.

I also prefer to come back to a cozy hotel room at night, with a private bathroom, so that I may take my time taking care of other business, hot bath included. Running around in the bush all day, I tend to get dehydrated. It takes a bit of patience at the end of the day to ensure the back of my end is in order. This was thrown out of balance when I was in Serbia and had my first experience with ‘squat’ facilities. The ‘facilities’ were a shed with a hole in the floor. IOstia-Toilets wasn’t used to having my mind play mediator between my thighs and my bowels. Needless to say, I was frequently constipated on that trip.  And I didn’t have access to a hot bath either as bathing consisted of returning to said shed with a bucket of water. Geez, even the Romans had decent facilities, for Pete’s sake!

Bathroom habits can say much about a person. Me, I’m a 21st century, 1st world archaeologist. However, some people aren’t. Some people are still getting use to indoor plumbing even if they live in the developed world. As much as we would rather not know these things about the people we work with, you can’t ignore this in archaeology. In fieldwork, you not only have to take into consideration that a crew will need sanitation facilities, you will likely get know how your crew will or will not use those facilities.

For instance…..

public-restroomsIn my current office environment, there are 50+ women sharing a three-stall bathroom. (There’s gotta be regulations on this, right??) It didn’t take long to note distinctive personalities even without knowing who was in the stall. Needless to say, it was disconcerting to one day find urine on a toilet seat. How does urine appear on the toilet in a women’s washroom?

My archaeology brain began to dig:

1) a man used it

2) a woman didn’t sit

The urine appeared too regularly for me to include a man walking into the women’s washroom without being noticed. While I haven’t noted any cross-dressers, transexuals, or other transgenders in my working environment, I figured that if the man was going to dress as a woman, he was going to act like one too. He would sit.

So much for #1.

Why wouldn’t a woman sit to pee? My brain gnawed at this one for a while. I had flashbacks to Serbia. I’d heard stories of Western-type toilets being installed in places were the squatting kind was the norm. Nobody knew what to do with them and consequently people used all available space around, behind, and in front, but not the toilet itself. Pretty gross and missed the point of sanitation (no pun intended).

I took this thought a little further — fear of the unknown, or rather, fear of what we think we know. I’d grown up dMotel Room Toileturing the AIDS scare in the 1980s. I remember our teachers and parents advising us to put toilet paper on the seats before we sat down because the seat might have been a medium of transmission. While we now know this to be incorrect, the toilet seat has maintained a bad rap. As it is located in very close proximity to where we dispose of our body’s toxins, it would make sense that the toilet seat would likewise be host to all sorts of nasties. Not so. Any biology student who’s done cultures from everyday items (like these students) will tell you that the door to the bathroom has more germs on it than the toilet seat. Indeed, your phone or keyboard has more than the toilet seat.

I decided to not only test my theory, but take a stab at the possible root of the issue. I printed a copy of the Clorox study which cited much the same as above and posted inside the bathroom stalls. I highlighted the sentences stating that toilet seats were tested and were found to have less bacteria than a phone or keyboard.

The result?  The urine on the toilet seats disappeared! But only for a while. It reappears once in a while. This still baffles me. Maybe we’re dealing with someone with a bladder issue. Regardless, whatever happened to “if you make a mess, you clean it up”?

Got any ideas? Let me know!

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