The New York State public restroom equality law, popularly being referred to as “the potty parity act,” is no laughing matter. Rather, it takes away gains achieved by men in their long struggle, starting with the establishment of the first public restroom, to receive some degree of compensation for past inequities. The purpose of the new law, passed on June 21, 1989, is to reduce the time women spend waiting in line to use public restrooms. Before the law was passed men’s rooms, as they should be, were better equipped than women’s. Both had the same number of toilets, but men had urinals as well. Henceforward, both toilets and urinals will be counted as “sanitary fixtures.” All restrooms will contain the same number of fixtures, which means that toilets will have to be added to the ladies’ rooms.

The blatant insensitivity to the needs of men perpetrated by the new arrangement becomes glaringly evident from the merest glance at the history of human elimination. For example, a recent illustrated volume, The Vanishing American Outhouse, explains why wooden outhouses featured a crescent moon on their doors. Originally, it seems, a sun indicated a men’s facility and a crescent moon one for women. But, to quote The New York Times Book Review of July 2, 1989, “Since the women’s outhouses were generally kept in better repair than the men’s, more of them survived, until finally the moon became the universal outhouse trademark.” In other words, for the better part of American history women enjoyed the superior restroom facilities.

What follows from this history of privilege is clear. Men, having suffered severe outhouse deprivation in the past, were just beginning to be compensated in the supposedly more enlightened 20th century when, perversely, the New York State legislature gave the advantage back to women. Consider just what it was that men suffered in the past—and had continued to suffer in some respects right down to the present. For decades, even centuries, the icy blasts of winter hissed through the slats of poorly maintained men’s outhouses, some of which no doubt collapsed onto their defenseless users, causing embarrassment and in many cases personal injury.

But from a cultural point of view the male outhouse disadvantage was even more severe. For in the first place who but men were euchred into providing the superior maintenance for women’s outhouses? The habits of servility and self-sacrifice engendered by the imposition of responsibility for outhouse maintenance on men have failed to be stamped out to this day. In the second place, a precious part of the male cultural legacy was further eroded with every outhouse collapse. There came a point when men no longer knew that they once had enjoyed outhouses of their own. The very symbol of men’s once proud eliminatory status—the sun on the outhouse door—was lost from their gender memory.

It has been argued, the Times reports, that “since women spend more time in the bathroom than men, women will still have to wait longer than men if each restroom has the same number of sanitary fixtures.” But this is to apply crude numerical values in an area where men have suffered psychological injuries of a kind that simply cannot be measured. The legislature, instead of tinkering with the definition of “sanitary fixtures,” should be exhibiting some sensitivity and understanding for what men have lost. The lawmakers could begin by providing that all children, male and female, receive mandatory instruction in the male outhouse experience. As for the contemporary restroom, the male advantage deriving from urinals should be restored until such time as men have been compensated for the physical abuse and cultural deprivation they suffered in the past.