Over the past few years, daddy blogs have become more and more popular as fathers chronicle the unique obstacles they face. One of the greatest, and perhaps the most fixable, of all their problems is the struggle to locate restrooms with changing tables. Fathers have found themselves forced to change their babies’ diapers on bathroom floors, knees, on top of toilet seats, and sometimes in their cars (a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do). To address this complaint, some buildings offer family bathrooms where both mothers and fathers can tend to their children’s needs. But the fact that most women’s restrooms contain changing tables while most men’s restrooms don’t is a ridiculous reflection of outdated assumptions.
Ashton Kutcher brought the issue to the public eye in a 2015 Facebook post where he said, “There are NEVER diaper changing stations in mens public restrooms. The first public men's room that I go into that has one gets a free shout out on my FB page! #BeTheChange.” Kutcher took it one step further when he started a petition on Change.org to demand that Target and Costco make changing tables accessible to fathers as well as mothers. Importantly, he notes in the petition that “Dads, like myself, want to participate equally in the child care process and our society should support that.” One man even wrote to Macy’s CEO to demand changing tables in male restrooms. In response to Kutcher’s petition, Costco vowed to include family bathrooms in all new or remodeled stores—but this won’t change the practical and symbolic imbalance of changing tables between men’s and women’s bathrooms.
Given the speed that it usually takes for the federal government to answer calls for change, it is a surprise that the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure is scheduled to debate the BABIES Act on Thursday. The “Bathrooms Accessible in Every Situation (BABIES) Act,” submitted by Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), will require that “male and female restrooms in public buildings be equipped with baby changing facilities.” (Disclosure: My brother used to work for Rep. Cicilline.) Two years after the enactment of the bill, public bathrooms in all federal buildings would be required to have a “device suitable for changing the diaper of a child age 3 or under,” or “clear and conspicuous signage indicating where a male or female restroom is located within the same section or corridor of such public building.” “Families should never have to deal with inadequate facilities in a publicly-accessible federal building,” said Rep. Cicilline in a statement to Slate. “I’m looking forward to the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure considering the BABIES Act this week and moving this commonsense legislation closer to becoming law.”
Even though it would only affect federal buildings, this piece of legislation is an important step toward leveling the expectations between male and female parents. The ubiquity of changing tables in women’s but not men’s restrooms perpetuates the idea that it’s women’s responsibility to raise babies, and that men don’t have to worry about (literally) the crappiest part of the job. It’s all well and good to talk about equally shared parenting, but as long as men’s bathrooms lack changing tables, it’s only talk. Men and women both raise children, and our infrastructure needs to reflect that fact—and support all parents.