Family-friendly restrooms

by Eszter Hargittai on April 14, 2006

Diaper-changing sign Family restroom sign I’ve been traveling a lot recently (four locations in the last week), which has given me new opportunities to find interesting gender signs. A twist on the topic I hadn’t explored much before is whether taking care of children is assumed to be a female responsibility. I found a couple of examples recently that suggested inclusivity. At the San Francisco airport, both men’s and women’s restrooms show a diaper-changing image. At JFK, there was a separate area for families.

FYI, the gender signs pool on Flickr has over 100 photos now. Don’t be shy, join in on the fun. Or for a different type of fun, try to figure out what this restroom sign means. (I’ve explained it in the comments to the image so only read that if you’re ready for the solution.)

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USA at The Syrex Press
04.27.06 at 10:22 am



Hektor Bim 04.14.06 at 8:08 am

In my experience, Europeans are the worst in this. I’ve been in groups where the male Europeans remark on how stupid it is that there are changing stations in male bathrooms. God forbid that a man would change a baby’s diaper!


harry b 04.14.06 at 8:44 am

My experience of the UK and the US is that the US is far ahead on this; the places I go in the US (not just metropolitan airports, but for example in on road trips in the midwest) there are almost always CLEAN changing tables in the mens loos, and no-one bats an eyelid when I take my daughter (5) into the loo. The UK…not so easy (quite apart from the fact that loos in public places are frequently so disgusting that I shudder to take a toddler or even, frankly, a 5 year old in).


Steve 04.14.06 at 9:47 am

those changing stations in the men’s rooms are clean because they’ve never been used.



harry b 04.14.06 at 10:00 am


nope, I have waited in lines to use them. Its the toilets, not the changing stations are clean. Relatively — spend a day or two walking round an English market town dying for a pee…


Mrs Tilton 04.14.06 at 10:55 am

The sign Eszter links to obviously means that the non-wheelchair bound must crush a box full of midgets to use the toilet.

Hektor, I can assure you that plenty of European men take their fair turn at mucking out the mess. But then I speak of the Germanic northern lands, where men are bearded natural-fibred müsli-munching softies all ‘in touch with their feelings’ etc. I concede that, say, your proud Castilian or your Glasgow hardman might not know his way around a Pampers as much as one might like.


Hektor Bim 04.14.06 at 11:43 am

Mrs Tilton,

The most vociferous one I know on this subject is Bavarian, but then lots of northern Germans don’t consider them German anyway, so maybe you have the right of it.


Adam Kotsko 04.14.06 at 11:58 am

You have to take the elevator to the handicapped bathrooms — a different floor for each gender.

More bothersome than the signs is the complexity of the underlying reality.


Matt Austern 04.14.06 at 12:18 pm

Now that we have a baby, I’ve become much more conscious of whether there are changing tables in men’s rooms. General observations:

– They’re there more often than not.
– There isn’t necessarily a sign on the door saying that they’re there.
– The places that are most likely to have them are large bathrooms in public places, e.g. airports.
– The places least likely to have them are small one-person bathrooms in places like cafes. Those bathrooms are often unisex anyway.
– Most of the time, if there isn’t a changing table in the men’s room, my wife tells me there isn’t one in the women’s room either.
– Changing tables are convenient, but if necessary one can diaper a baby on all sorts of strange surfaces.


Vega 04.14.06 at 12:41 pm

Forget the signs…for a refreshing rejection of euphemism nothing beats Chicago O’Hare’s American terminal, where a large sign in the baggage area reads: “Men’s Toilet.”


Mrs Tilton 04.14.06 at 12:45 pm


yes, well, a Bavarian is pretty much a direct hybrid between proud Castilian and Glasgow hardman, so that sounds about right.


tj 04.14.06 at 12:46 pm


Your wife is lying about the lack of changing tables. Did you look? It’s a common trick to avoid changing a diaper. I’ve used it myself.


Urinated State of America 04.14.06 at 1:36 pm

Gotta say it pisses me off if there isn’t a changing table in the men’s toilet, ‘cos then you have to change the tyke on the floor or in a sink.

I’ve even seen children’s museums/theme parks without changing tables in the Men’s room. Like, Jesus, don’t you think a guy might be on his own there with an infant?


Tom T. 04.14.06 at 2:33 pm

I was once by myself in a large men’s room (highway rest stop, I think), at the far end of a long row of urinals. I heard someone else come in and vaguely noticed him walking up to the opposite end of the urinal row, but I was staring at the wall and didn’t pay any attention to him. Then I heard him say brightly, “Well, hello, smiley, how are you? You look happy!”

For the women reading, this is not how a man generally begins his business at a urinal. In fact, there is typically no greeting involved at all.

I dared a brief glance over at him. The urinals were separated by shoulder-high metal dividers, so all I could see was his head at the other end of the row, looking down in front of himself with a silly grin. I must have betrayed some alarm on my face, because he glanced back at me with a “WTF?” look. I returned my gaze to the wall and hurriedly finished up.

As I was walking out, it was only then that I realized that he wasn’t at a urinal at all — rather, he was at the changing table, with his baby in front of him.


Jay Conner 04.14.06 at 5:43 pm

The most cryptic I’ve seen was last month in Lisbon, at the tourist office down by the river. The graphic for the restroom is a simple coil, something like a question mark with the top coiled.

Three drops emerge from the end of the coil.

For MEN, they emerge from the side, and the graphic is blue.
For WOMEN, they emerge from the bottom, and it is pink.

I read the drops, my companion read the colors.


Dmitri 04.14.06 at 11:48 pm

Check this one:

You should add it to your collection.



Spotted and Herbacious Backson 04.15.06 at 8:25 am

Only women without any shoulders get to ride in an elevator? Not fair!


Eszter 04.16.06 at 9:17 am

Dmitri, interesting find, thanks.

Regarding the collection (the group pool), a bit of clarification:

1. I cannot add others’ pictures to the group pool, only those who post a picture can add it to a group pool.
2. The focus of that particular group is on gender signs not toilet signs, it just happens that one obvious place to find gender pairs is around restrooms. However, a basic important rule of the group is that only photos representing both genders (either in one image or two) can be posted. The only exception is if a sign is supposed to represent both.


Baptiste 04.16.06 at 10:01 am

A collection of gendered symbol signs :

(“male symbol” is used for “female symbol” except for toilets… “Baby symbol” has no gender ?)


Western Dave 04.16.06 at 10:12 pm

And death (or at least a really bad stomach ache)to all non-parent types who use the family bathroom because it is “cleaner” or “there wasn’t a line.” And has anybody noticed those wonderful chair things you can strap a mobile child into while you go to the bathroom? Whoever invented that thing earned my gratitude. Just wish there were more of them.


Uncle Kvetch 04.17.06 at 9:01 am

Then I heard him say brightly, “Well, hello, smiley, how are you? You look happy!” For the women reading, this is not how a man generally begins his business at a urinal.

Hmph. Speak for yourself.


Baptiste 04.19.06 at 7:09 am

This japanese family toilet sign includes “old man” sign as well.

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