The Vagenda

The Toilet Brush Incident: How an Office Disagreement over the Loos Turned into a Gender War


It started with poo stains. Yes, poo stains. In the communal toilets of my office. And it escalated into a feminist nightmare, an overgrown petri dish of patriarchy vs. matriarchy madness that lasted for days.

On Monday morning, a sign appeared on the door leading to our toilet corridor. ‘Toilet etiquette has been slipping’, it said. ‘Can people please remember to use the toilet brush after use.’

It was a fair point. I’d had to wield the loo brush a few times myself on behalf of less considerate colleagues and, just before Christmas, I’d had to take my managerial role to new levels after someone become hysterical over a particularly dirty protest. Nothing gets you in the festive mood more than grimly scrubbing away at the leavings of another, I have to say.

However, I’ve never been a fan of the homemade workplace sign, mainly because they usually involve clipart, but also because they always fire up a storm of office bitterness and consternation.

This one was no different. Not only was there a cartoon picture of a toilet brush, but within ten minutes it was being frantically whispered about in quiet corners.

It’s a small office, there are just twelve of us – nine girls and three boys. I’m no boffin, but probability states that there’s a fair chance our phantom poo-leaver is a woman (more women = more poos of female origin). However, later that morning, another sign appeared – a ‘women only’ sign on two of the four toilets.

Now ladies, you may have your own opinion on whether men are statistically more likely to leave poo marks in the bog than women.  If you’re inclined to do the maths, please feel free to do so and send me your working, but for the purposes of this article, I’m giving the guys in our office the benefit of the doubt.

The ‘women only’ sign in the bogs got the blokes rattled. They were pissed off and I could see their point: nobody wants to be falsely accused of a poo-and-run.

But let’s set the guys’ feelings aside for a second, because what you really need to hear about is what happened once the toilet became a vagina-only zone.

Nature called and I went to answer. I saw the sign on the door, but nothing could prepare me for what I was about to encounter in what I’ve come to think of as ‘The Cubicle of Shame’.

There was a calendar hanging by the mirror, featuring half-naked firemen and the head of Mr April had been cut out and replaced by a photo of a male colleague – that’s a whole other article about the female objectification of men right there – but that wasn’t all, oh no.

There was a cuddly toy. A CUDDLY TOY – like at the end of the Generation Game, except small enough to sit on top of a paper towel holder.

What woman wants to extract their tampon while being stared out by the grinning face of a middle-aged man you don’t know that well and a grubby yellow rabbit? You may call this anthropomorphic whimsy, but that was not a happy bunny.

There was a new hand cream too, but I’m going to let that go.

Who was responsible for this? It was, it turned out, a perfectly lovely female colleague in her late 30s. You’d actually struggle to find a nicer person and I have no idea what possessed her to perpetrate such an atrocious attack on the sisterhood.

It actually makes me a little depressed that while one woman is starting the Everyday Sexism project, another is spraying a toilet with metaphorical shit, thus reinforcing the stereotypes everyone else is trying so hard to stamp out.

If we label blokes as dirty poopers who leave their droppings around willy-nilly, while decorating every ‘female’ space with inane girly accessories, then we open ourselves up to men painting us all with the same pink-wearing, kitten-stroking (toilet) brush.

When I brought this up (very nicely) with the lady in question she told me it was ‘just a bit of office banter’ and I wanted to chew my arm off.

‘A bit of banter’ has been the excuse of insalubrious males in offices up and down the land for decades. Groping, offensive jokes and wholly inappropriate conversations that have made women’s lives a misery for decades have all been stuffed under the ‘banter’ fig leaf.

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander you might say. Except it’s not going to get us anywhere. I know it’s tempting as unwilling residents of a patriarchal society to think ‘FU GUYS, JUST DEAL WITH IT, WE HAVE TO!’ but strategically it’s a no hoper and a sure-fire way for feminists to be sidelined as sour-faced bitches who just need to get laid. Also, I like the blokes in my team and I don’t want them to feel uncomfortable. Everyone should have the right to poo in peace – a future manifesto pledge if ever there was one.

Debate within the feminist movement about what we should/shouldn’t be doing rages on, but I think that those of us lucky enough to feel part of it need to have a look around and bring other women with us. It’s not about never having a laugh in the office, or even our attitude towards cuddly toys – that’s a personal choice we all have the make. It’s about keeping our noses clean enough in public so that people can’t throw shit at us.

Only when we have all women on board the F-bus will we be be able to drop our knickers safe in the knowledge the only crap we’ll find in our toilets is the kind that’s supposed to be there.

And quite frankly, I could definitely deal with a few more poo-stains in my life if it meant I never had to wee eye-to-eye with a disgruntled looking bunny again.

- CB

11 thoughts on “The Toilet Brush Incident: How an Office Disagreement over the Loos Turned into a Gender War

  1. I work in an office of about 20 and we have two toilets. One labelled for women and one labelled for men. Also in Welsh cos we are a all inclusive bilingual lot. The lights are broken in the ladies and today I noticed the poster about work place training is on the back of the door for ladies but on the back of the wall for guys. Someone put a lot of thought into poster placement. When the ladies is occupied I often pop into the “mens” as a full bladder is not becoming of lady. I always have my excuses ready in case someone catches me on the way out. Pretty silly as the only real difference between the two is the signs that were put there.

  2. We had separate toilets at the law firm I used to work at. I can guarantee your phantom pooer is a woman. We found poo on the floor, on the seat, lipstick marks on the rim of the toilet(!!!), pooey paper on the floor etc etc.

  3. I agree, it is grossly unfair to tar all men with the same (toilet) brush. Having said that, your colleague went way over the top in creating the man alienating toilet. In my experience, a strategically placed packet of tampons is enough to send even the most stoic of male colleagues scuttling for cover. No need to over-egg the pudding.

  4. I had the Horrendous Diarrhoea Colleague From Hell in my workplace: yes, it was a man, and yes, it didn’t OCCUR to him to clean the loo after he’d used it. Never seen anything so bad, and I have irritable bowel syndrome, ferchrissakes.

    I went downstairs and yelled at him to clean that goddamn mess NOW, then I made that loo mine (three men, one woman, two loos). No skin of the guys’ noses, they got to use the downstairs one in slightly better nick; I was the one climbing the stairs.

  5. I love hearing about what goes on in the men’s toilets, the fact they all pee communally and take dumps without fear or embarrassment, sounds like heaven… I can’t wait for the day that women can go to the toilet and don’t have to pretend that nothing comes out of them when they lock that cubicle door. Some friends of mine refuse to pee if there isn’t some other noise to disguise it, and others spend their whole day in pain rather than pooping in a public toilet. Women are full of anxiety about pooping and weeing, and it’s all top secret stuff, whilst men get the “luxury” of enjoying the primal fun of pooping and get to share the happy and sad poops they’ve had. But the joy of pooping is universal and it’s a human right to be able to do this without the outrageous ladie’s toilet etiquette causing masses of anxiety. It all starts with us, next time you need a poo, just go for it, full pelt farts and all and walk out confidently. Others will soon follow. Just remember to use the toilet brush.

    • Could not agree more with this! There’s also a similar issue around periods. They’re a pain, they’re messy, and occasionally they turn up at unexpected moments. It would be really nice if one day that wasn’t a cue for gut-wrenching panic, and instead, one could sail out of the cubicle saying airily, “Just off out to get some emergency pants. Damn that unpredictable crimson wave.”

  6. I have given up on loo seat etiquette with the 4 men in my life – 1 husband, 3 sons. After years of asking them to put the seat back down, I bought one that glided smoothly back into place at the tiniest flick from a male finger and to my surprise, I became the one who used it most and I positively encouraged the others not to. You see it was during the time that my youngest boy was being especially bad at peeing liberally over the whole seat because he couldn’t reach properly, and if the boys had neglected to put it back down then I could then do so being safe in the knowledge that I wouldn’t get an unpleasantly wet derriere thanks to my errant 6 year old – uggghhh!

    • As a man I don’t know why other men stand up to pee into a home toilet (i.e. not a urinal). Sitting down is cleaner for all involved and (urgh, bear with me) it allows a smoother transition if the emptying of the bladder spurs on further emissions. Not only that but in this day and age it makes it easier to have a quick peek at something on your smartphone than doing the dual-wield at a urinal.

      • Tacking on to that, I don’t understand (aka refuse to understand) why other men make such a fuss over which position you pee in.
        Admitting you prefer to pee sitting down somehow opens you up to derision and having your manhood questioned

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