Loos – no, not the Belgian town where thousands of soldiers were slaughtered in the First World War, but that vital commodity of our public spaces. This is the scene of the latest ideological conflict in our restless society. Traditional dual facilities have been troubling young people enlightened to a world beyond what they perceive as the social oppression of male and female divides. Gender fluidity, however, is not the only challenge to our toileting norms.
Growing populations from distant shores have been quietly stretching our lavatorial latitude. I first experienced the import of foreign toilet customs in a hospital residential block, where most of the neighbouring occupants were from the Maghreb. Every time that I brought in a toilet roll it mysteriously disappeared; I soon learned the purpose of a plastic water bottle that I had innocently been discarding in the litter bin. To my co-residents, Andrex was probably unhygienic.
The University of Sheffield has recently responded to another deviance in the loo. It seems that some students have been standing on the seat to make their deposit. Squatting, which is our natural posture for opening the bowels, is obstructed by the modern western convenience. After several complaints, signs have been posted on the toilet doors showing the right and wrong way of using the seat, to the mirth of students on social media.
I doubt that the university’s notices will work. As soon as students become aware that members of ethnic minorities may be targeted, they will stop laughing. How insensitive, they will think, to criticise students for following their cultural practices. Muddy footprints on the toilet seat are a small price to pay for multicultural harmony. Many other women, though, will not be so tolerant. After years of decrying men for leaving the seat upright (thereby necessitating their replacing it by hand), they won’t like placing their tender flesh where the previous occupant has stood, with all the contaminants from the toilet floor.
Judging by concessions to other minority habits or rituals, we cannot expect politically-correct students and their slavish educational institutions to defend the throne. Once again, feminism will be trumped by culture in the hierarchy of identity politics. Perhaps conservative women will fight for the comforts of the toilet. Otherwise, I foresee a costly multiplication of lavatory choices, with standard male and female, squats for either sex, plus a unisex loo for the pansexual lobby. Enough to put you off opening that trendy café!