Toilet talk

Can using the ladies room help your career?

Published July 17, 2008 8:15PM (EDT)

I have never understood what goes on in ladies rooms. As someone who prides herself on the speed with which she can use a porta-potty (secret: unbutton your pants before you get inside), I once wanted to write an article in which I would time how long women spent in a particular restaurant's bathroom and then, once they'd emerged, interview them about what they'd been doing in there.

But an article in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal called "Not Just a Ladies' Room" makes me wonder if I've been missing out -- at least when the bathroom isn't a single-stall affair. Author Carol Hymowitz makes it sound like her office's ladies room is the equivalent of a men's golf club -- an informal gathering where pretenses are dropped along with pantyhose, and real communication takes place.

"For me," writes Hymowitz, "ladies' room banter is an endless source of wisdom and comfort. My ladies' room crowd includes a fashion maven, a globetrotter who knows every good cheap restaurant in Paris, Berkeley and Hong Kong, a marriage counselor, several cancer survivors and a bevy of super-moms. They've guided me about how to survive pre-school interviews and college tours and which internist to choose in my health-care plan. They've advised me about where to get the best cocktail dress, haircut and beach house that won't break my budget. The time I've saved shopping, searching for doctors and worrying about my daughter because of advice gleaned in my office ladies' room has added up to months of work for my company and saved me from numerous multitask meltdowns."

Really? The way she describes the bathroom, I'm surprised no one has yet come up with a lavatory-themed reality television show or prime-time drama. ("Up next ... Secrets of the Stall!") I guess part of my problem is that I work at home, which makes it difficult to do any business other than my own. (Also, how does one form a "ladies room crowd"? Is it like a knitting circle?) I'm wondering if any of you readers have had similar experiences. Ladies, do you find that you've had life-altering talks while washing your hands? Men, does this ever happen in the guys room? And going back to my previous question, when the bathroom is a single-person affair, what, exactly, takes so goddamn long?

By Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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