By State Senator Brad Hoylman
Imagine, for a moment, that you’re a new father, out to lunch with your significant other and your baby. You’ve just ordered your meal when you notice it’s time for a diaper change. You head to the men’s room, only to find it has no changing tables. Your only option is to change your child on the floor or the sink of a dirty bathroom.
As someone with a husband and a young daughter, I know this scenario all too well.
Across New York and much of the country, baby-changing stations in men’s restrooms are extremely uncommon. The lack of them is sorely out of step with the modern world and something that lawmakers can address.
Earlier this year, the TV star Ashton Kutcher took to Facebook to air his frustrations about the lack of changing stations. His post went viral, racking up more than 17 million likes and shares.
While on its surface, the issue of so-called “potty parity” for men may seem trivial, the enormous public response to Kutcher’s complaints demonstrates the resonance the issue has among men and women alike and points to larger gender imbalances in our society.
Female-only changing stations may have been sensible 60 years ago, when 70 percent of workers were men and same-sex marriage was nonexistent. But in 2015, in the age of working women, stay-at-home dads, and the constitutional right to marriage equality, such arrangements are at best antiquated and at worst discriminatory.
Gay dads are a growing phenomenon. I should know. My family’s temple teems with them during Saturday morning children’s Shabbat and these days it’s hard not to spot another pair of gay dads at any of the local playgrounds. But this is not merely a gay issue. Rather, it’s a question of gender equality and evolving parental expectations.
We no longer live in an age of segregated gender spheres. Since 1989, the number of stay-at-home dads has more than doubled, climbing to more than 2 million by 2010. Women now constitute fully half of the American workforce and serve as breadwinners for 40 percent of households. Even more dramatic, amongst married couples nationwide, well over a majority are dual-income.
Fathers can and should share in the care of their children and are increasingly picking up the slack in heterosexual relationships. Yet, despite this rebalancing of responsibilities, society still places a disproportionate share of parental obligations on women.
If we expect fathers to bear more of the burden of child-care, we must ensure that public accommodations reflect this new normal.
To that end, I introduced a bill in the State Senate earlier this year that would require equal access to diaper changing stations in men’s and women’s bathrooms.
Under my legislation, if a business open to the public or a government agency installs a diaper-changing table in a women’s restroom, it would be required to do the same in a men’s restroom. Only newly constructed buildings or publicly accessible buildings undergoing substantial renovations would be included. Existing restrooms would not be impacted.
Aside from changing stations in men’s rooms, I hope to see “all-family” or gender-neutral bathrooms, which would be an elegant and simple solution to the problem. Until that day, we should prod government and the private sector into action.
Whether it’s closing the pay wage gap for women or ensuring “potty parity” for men, New York State has a crucial role in eliminating social and economic inequities between men and women. By the time my daughter is in the workforce or has her own child, I hope my generation will have done its part to make this a reality.