Patriarchal peeing contest?

The front page of yesterday's Philadelphia Inquirer featured an irresistible story about Philly's latest urinal quagmire. I mean, who could resist this headline?

City plumbers union says no way to no-flush urinals

A political fissure has developed between environmentalists (who love the no-flush urinals because they don't waste water) and the plumbers' union (which wants building codes to require old fashioned urinals because the labor costs are higher).

No, seriously! The situation is an embarrassment for Philadelphia, which always lags behind New York anyway:

The local plumbers union is blocking Liberty's plan to install no-flush, water-saving urinals in the men's rooms at the Comcast Center. Without them, the finished skyscraper would guzzle an extra 1.6 million gallons of water a year, and Liberty could have trouble obtaining a coveted seal of approval from the U.S. Green Building Council.

If the 975-foot Comcast Center fails to win the council's certification, the title of tallest green building will fall instead to New York's 962-foot Bank of America Tower, going up across from Manhattan's Bryant Park - complete with waterless urinals.

Once again, New York wins. And all because it has better toilets.

New York wins because of better toilets? (I'm assuming that must be why Philadelphia is going to pot....)

Understanding local political chicanery and corruption is of course the key to understanding the urinalysis:

"It's a terrible situation. Here's a private developer trying to do the right thing, and they're hitting a roadblock," said Robert Diemer, who chairs the board of the Delaware Valley Green Building Council. "This is an important project for Philadelphia. The city needs to take a leadership role."

Philadelphia's powerful trade unions, which contribute heavily to political campaigns, have long called the shots on various building issues. During the years that the Zoning Board of Adjustment was run by Tom Kelly, head of the Sheetmetal Workers Union, he insisted that even modest construction projects have central air-conditioning rather than less-costly window units. No city code requires a central-air system, which is connected by expensive metal ducts.

Ironically, the Philadelphia Water Department has been looking for ways to reduce the water flowing into the city's overburdened sewer system. After a heavy rain, the city must often release untreated sewage into the Delaware River. "Waterless urinals would certainly be in line with our sustainable goals," said Glenn Abrams, the department's urban watersheds planner.

I hate to say anything which might be construed as advice for clueless political hacks, but in this case I think it's safe, because I doubt they read this blog. And besides, I consider my remarks to political satire. If others take satire seriously, that's not my responsibility.

So, here's what I'd do were I running the plumber's union. I'd contact the local chapter of NOW, remind them of the union's "commitment" to "gender equality," and ask their opinion of the Liberty's building's stated plan to "install no-flush, water-saving urinals in the men's rooms at the Comcast Center."

I'd ask the feminists, why only the men's rooms?

Potty parity is not a new idea of course, and I've discussed it repeatedly. But this is a bit different, and from a feminist perspective, I think it's far worse.

Does this not send a clear message to society that men are more environmentally friendly than women? Doesn't that create and enable a brand new and totally unfair stereotype? Isn't it bad enough that women face discrimination everywhere without granting men another patriarchal advantage to hold over women? Rather than be seen as lagging behind New York, shouldn't Philadelphia be seen as leading the way towards environmental gender equality?

Those who think this is an exercise in frivolity should bear in mind that some of the most invidious forms of sexist discrimination arise from unnoticed subtleties of precisely this sort. Every time men take a leak in the environmentally friendly urinals, they'll be likely to harbor hidden thoughts that they've done a better job of saving the environment than women. Pretty soon, they'll be emerging from the men's rooms with barely perceptible, knowing sneers. A nod here, a wink there.

The old boys network is at it again.

(They always find a way to get a leg up on women.)

posted by Eric on 03.20.06 at 09:12 AM


Now I know non-flush toilets will never be installed in colleges. Seriously.

Harkonnendog   ·  March 20, 2006 5:59 PM

It's increasingly difficult for me to understand the distinction between satire and public policy. . .

That's because one man's satire is another man's public policy.

Perhaps I should learn to be more tolerant. (But then, I too am a member of the so-called "public.")

Eric Scheie   ·  March 21, 2006 9:31 AM

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