While the president has called diaper-changing “women’s work,” some 90 percent of fathers with children under 5 will change the diaper on that child every day or several times a week, according to a recent study. Yet it’s anyone’s guess where they’re doing it, since so many men’s restrooms still don’t have diaper-changing stations. A federal law called the BABIES Act — Bathrooms Available in Every Situation — passed last year has gotten the ball rolling, but men are still heading off to the bathroom with a screaming child in a shit-filled diaper and finding there’s nowhere to go but down to the ground.
In June, for instance, Oregon dad of three Clint Edwards wrote on Facebook that after realizing there was no changing table in the bathroom at his church, he made a complaint. “As a father with a young child I really hate when I can’t change my kid,” he lamented. “This isn’t to say that I enjoy changing a squirmy poopy toddler. I don’t. No one does. But I dislike placing the full burden of changing every single diaper on my wife even more. This whole parenting gig is a partnership.”
He was thrilled when he showed up the following Sunday to find one installed, making the point that it’s still just “one men’s room out of a million,” but that as “an active father with a desire to care for my child, it was a serious victory.”
He’s one of a number of increasingly more involved, hands-on fathers who’ve actively campaigned to bring awareness to the issue. Ashton Kutcher has publicly drawn attention to the lack of changing tables in men’s rooms, even petitioning Costco and Target to add them. (For its part, Target already had them for the last 25 years).
After Kutcher’s post went viral, stay-at-home dad Scotty Schrier wrote about the issue at The Guardian, explaining that his efforts to give his wife a break from diaper duty were quickly thwarted when he couldn’t change his kid in the bathroom while out at a restaurant for dinner. He hit the same problem again and again—at the aquarium, at the outdoor water play area and at myriad other public places.
This is another instance, like taking paternity leave, where a spate of forces that are cultural, legal and logistical prevent men who want to actually do their part from doing so. Men who want to change their kid’s diaper find that this is a frustrating operation and end up handing the kid back to mom (if there even is a mom), further perpetuating the notion that this is still women’s work.
So while it’s been clearly established that this is a problem, none of it answers why there are still so few men’s bathrooms with changing tables in them. Here are a few reasons:
The Laws Requiring Changing Tables Vary
The BABIES Act passed in 2016, but it only required that changing tables be added to publicly accessible federal buildings, and there are some exceptions —like if there’s already a bathroom with a changing table elsewhere on the same floor, or if new construction would be required and isn’t feasible.
Convincing the private sector to add bathrooms is trickier, and states vary on their willingness to legislate the matter. In 2014, California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that would’ve added diaper-changing tables to bathrooms in movie theaters and shopping malls, arguing that while he supported the idea, he preferred to leave it to business owners to figure it out. That bill is currently back on the docket and moving through the Assembly Appropriations Committee, seemingly without opposition this time.
In 2015, a similar bill went up in New York from State Senator Brad Hoylman, a father sick of changing his daughter’s diaper on a bathroom floor. The bill pushed for baby-changing tables in all bathrooms in “any public building or place of public accommodation, resort or amusement.” Hoylman argued that the current inequity is “an anachronism that reflects the bias toward women being caregiver.” Two years later, however, that bill is still in committee.
Some People Still Think Only Women Should Change Diapers
Schrier mentions in The Guardian that he’s still asked why men even need changing tables. “The answer seems so simple to me that I wonder why it is even posed in the first place,” he writes. “Because I have a kid with a dirty diaper that needs changing! Duh.”
And while he says most of the men he knows are, “by and large, supportive” of changing tables, particularly those who are very engaged fathers, he continues to encounter men who are upset and bothered by the idea. “I’ve been told things like: ‘A real man doesn’t change [expletive] diapers’ and ‘So, when did you grow a vagina?’”
Not All Men Think There Should Be Changing Tables in Men’s Bathrooms, Even When They Change Diapers
Citing sanitary concerns, lack of privacy and the need for human decency, Jonathan Church at The Good Men Project argues:
I think instead that it is highly indecent to change an infant girl (or boy) on a table within full view of a crowd of grown men pissing in urinals, zipping up and washing their hands, in the same way that it would be highly indecent for public restrooms to have no private stalls for women to urinate or men to defecate. It is also highly indecent for a baby with curious eyes to follow grown men to the urinals and watch them urinate.
Other men who change diapers don’t think the changing tables belong in the men’s room, but should be in family or parent rooms, which are far more accommodating to doing the deed. Darrell Milton at Modern Father Online writes that at his favorite shopping center in Australia, such parent rooms are pretty plush, including private breastfeeding stalls and microwaves to heat bottles and baby food. Putting men and women together in these rooms breaks down stereotypes, he argues, and reminds women that their spouses can and should be equal partners when it comes to parenting.
That said, it may be difficult to get most businesses to create those kinds of rooms, which would cost a lot more than your standard-issue Koala Kare changing station ($200).
Not All Women Support the Idea, Either
Even though most women seem to be clear, ardent supporters of changing tables in men’s restrooms, there are some women who don’t. “One woman even told me, ‘I would never let my husband take my baby into the men’s room,’” Schrier wrote at The Guardian. “‘You never know what kind of sickos are hanging out in there, trying to get a look.’”
Basic, Garden-Variety Sexism
What it really seems to come down to, though, is assumed need — women change diapers, not men, and so women’s bathrooms need changing stations, not men’s, according to one architect I spoke with.
There’s no difference in the space to work with for men’s or women’s bathrooms, just the difference between placing urinals versus stalls, she explains. Technically, you’re not supposed to put a changing table in a handicap stall at all, for instance, because it could create an access problem if it’s left down and a person in a wheelchair couldn’t get out. However, it’s done all the time in women’s restrooms.
What, then, is to be done? Outside of the federal law requiring changing stations in men’s bathrooms, too, it seems the only option parents have — and men specifically — is to make a stink.
It works. Macy’s recently added changing tables to its men’s restrooms after Maryland father Anthony Dew took his 4-month-old son shopping for Christmas presents, couldn’t change his diaper in the bathroom and left without buying anything. He wrote a letter to the CEO, and the company “put a team together and started work almost immediately.” Ruby Tuesday also added changing stations to men’s restrooms last year after Scotty Schrier (of The Guardian piece) took his complaints to the news.
In the meantime, there are numerous websites and apps designed to help find places where a dude (or anyone) can change a diaper in a bathroom on an actual table, such as Dads Who Change Diapers, Diaperpedia and Changing Table Locator.
I gave them all a whirl just to see how helpful it might be if my kid suddenly filled her diaper and I had to find a men’s restroom with a table, but the results weren’t exactly great. Even in progressive Venice, the nearest changing-table-equipped men’s bathroom according to Dads Who Change Diapers is apparently 5 miles away from the MEL offices—kudos to you, Public School. So I tried Diaperpedia for comparison , but the app timed out every time I tried to search, and the website appears to be down. Changing Table Locator doesn’t seem to be yet operational, either.
In other words, if I’m a man with a kid right now in a soiled diaper, I’m shit out of luck. Which means probably, out of necessity as much as spite, I’m now changing this kid’s diaper in the most public place I can find. How’s that for progress?