I was recently at a hotel with a pair of new parents, their four month old baby, and the baby’s grandmother. Like many millennial parents, this couple would like to divide caretaking responsibilities as evenly as possible. And like many millennial couples, they are beginning to realize that the world they live in is not going to make that goal easy to achieve.
On that particular Sunday afternoon, their baby needed a diaper change and the dad quickly picked her up and gathered the necessary materials; the hotel had just been remodeled and everyone present agreed that there would most likely be changing tables in the men’s room. When he returned he reported that there were no changing tables, and he had to perform the maneuver on the bathroom floor. This didn’t much bother the new parents, but the grandmother was clearly perturbed and shot a disapproving look her daughter’s way.
Incidents like these, small as though they may seem, happen all the time and can have a big impact on why and how women tend to internalize the responsibilities of parenting more than men. What makes this particular scenario so infuriating, compared to changing parental leave policies or finding ways for men to be more involved in the feeding of infants, is that the solution is so simple: Install changing tables in men’s bathrooms. This would benefit heterosexual couples, as well as single and gay dads whose babies also excrete waste despite, yes, the absence of a female caretaker.
Kudos then, to Congress and President Obama for passing a law that will make changing tables mandatory in women’s and men’s restrooms in all federal buildings. Introduced in the House of Representatives last spring by Rep. David Cicilline, the bill was passed by a large margin in the house (389-34) and signed into law by the President on October 7. Named the Bathrooms Accessible in Every Situation (BABIES) Act, the bill “requires male and female restrooms in a public buildings to be equipped with baby changing facilities that the General Services Administration determines are physically safe, sanitary, and appropriate.” The legislation mandates that any necessary changes be made in the next two years and allows for some exceptions such as in cases where the cost of construction is unfeasible.
“Federal buildings are paid for by taxpayers and it's important to ensure that they are as open, as accessible, and as family-friendly as possible,” Rep. Cicilline wrote on Facebook. “This is how government should work to make commonsense reforms that make life easier for the people we serve.”
In recent years, there’s been a growing movement among dads fighting for changing tables in men’s rooms. Last year, Ashton Kutcher created a petition on Change.org asking for Target and Costco to put changing tables in all their stores and received 104,384 signatures. In 2014, the California State Assembly passed the “Potty Parity for Parents Act,” which would have required businesses installing changing tables in the future to make them available to both sexes. Unfortunately, Governor Jerry Brown vetoed this bill, as well as another one which would have required government buildings and other public places to make changing tables available to men, explaining that he thought implementing these changes would best be left to the private sector. Also, last year New York state Sen. Brad Hoylman introduced legislation, currently in committee, which would require new or recently renovated public buildings in New York to provide equal access to changing tables.
Hopefully the recent action taken by the federal government will inspire New York and other states to follow suit, making it easier for dads to perform the always necessary, if not always fun, task of changing a child’s diaper.