Restrooms have been at the center of too many contentious debates this year, but President Barack Obama just signed a bathroom law that I bet we can all get behind. This one will result in all bathrooms - men’s as well as women’s - being outfitted with changing stations.
Anyone who has ever had a child in tow outside the comforts of home knows that even under the best conditions, changing a diaper in a public place is a potentially germy misadventure. Access to a changing table, especially one that you can disinfect in some way, can make a big difference.
Back when my then-husband and I were out and about with our young sons, oases with clean and private “family bathrooms,” were few and far between. More often than not, changing tables weren’t an option anywhere. Usually the solution was a mad dash to the car; we both changed a lot of diapers in the minivan’s luggage area.
(I’m told there are parents who can pull off a one-handed change, but that seems a risky proposition for anyone but the most dexterous.)
Not long after our children were out of diapers, along came the nifty invention of the wall-pocket changing tables in public bathrooms. In women’s facilities, that is.
And according to my young mother friends, the situation hasn’t changed much from that “women only” orientation. So the scene goes like this: The willing-to-share-the-load guy gathers up baby, changing bag and other paraphernalia, schleps off to the bathroom - only to return with a still-dirty-diapered little one and a chagrined look on his face.
Once again, the bathroom - whether the family is visiting a grocery store, a restaurant, a library or a filling station - has no accommodation for changing babies in the men’s room. So everything lands back in the mom’s lap.
It’s no wonder that, most often, the couple simply defaults to making diapers solely the woman’s job outside the home. And that becomes just another of the little cues that remind us that gender equality is still more aspiration than reality.
The BABIES (or Bathrooms Accessible in Every Situation) Act, signed Friday, is just a start in changing that. It affects only those buildings owned or financed by the federal government.
And to those who will holler that this law - which I hope will spur similar state legislation - is just the latest Washington foray into the nanny state, I’d say this:
When it comes to dirty diapers, we’re all nannies. So let’s support an effort to provide the cleanest, safest possible environment in which to do this work.
Sharon Grigsby is a columnist for the Dallas Morning News.