## Thursday, March 10, 2005

### Battles of the Sexes, Bathroom Arena

Readers who appreciate my hyperanalytical takes on everyday life will certainly enjoy Gil Milbauer’s analysis of toilet seat norms (specifically, whether the seat should be left up or down). Gil’s analysis is so good – and clearly correct, I might add – that I wish I’d written it myself. Here’s a sample:
Let's call one policy AD (Always Down) and the other candidate policy CWN (Change When Needed). There are other potential candidates, but I think these are the main interesting ones.

Even without going through the gory details of the math, I think you can see that the answer is that AD requires more seat adjustments.

In AD, all of the seat adjustments are driven by a male urinating. Whenever this happens the seat must be raised before use, and lowered afterwards. So the number of seat adjustments in a day is twice the number of male urinations in a day...

So, it seems that CWN is superior to AD with respect to both seat-adjustment effort, and a more equitable sharing of the seat-adjustment burden.
Read the whole thing for the mathematical proof. For my previous excursions into excretory economics, read here, here, here, and here.

#### 19 comments:

Michael Yuri said...

There's another option in the toilet seat wars that I never see advocated: Toilet seat and lid down

This has a number of advantages:

1. Sanitary. When a toilet is flushed, some of the water is aerosolized, causing microscopic droplets of contaminated water to be deposited all over the bathroom. Even if this isn't a major health risk, it's still quite disgusting.

2. Aesthetic. The fact is, an open toilet is an eyesore. A bathroom with a closed toilet lid looks much more attractive. Not a major concern for most people, but still nice if you have guests over often.

3. Practical. I would bet that just about everyone at some point in their life has accidentally dropped something or knocked something off a shelf or sink, and had it land in the toilet.

4. Gender neutral Everyone lifts the lid up at the beginning, and puts the lid down at the end. Yes, men have to lift up the seat as well, but that doesn't add any inconvenience since it occurs in the same motion.

The obvious disadvantage of this system is that it is very inefficient in terms of seat-adjustment effort. But seriously, how hard is it to lift up a toilet seat?

The problem with Glen's approach is that it is optimizing a single value, without considering the relevant side-effects.

Anonymous said...

Glen, the reason you should, as a guy, always put the seat down, is that your girl will take notice of this fact. The effort expended is trivial, and the difference will be enormous, because EVERYTIME she encounters some reference about guys never putting the seat down, she'll smile.

Gil said...

Michael,

The question that I was trying to answer, and the one I usually have heard debated, was between the two policies most preferred by default (AD by women, and CWN by men), which was really most efficient, and which distributes the burden most equitably. These are what people often argue about.

You make a good case for for the closed-lid policy, and I imagine that many people would value the attributes you specify more than efficiency; but others wouldn't.

In any case, I just think it's fun and good to figure out the truth of the matter under debate before deciding on the best policy.

Anonymous:

Why, exactly, is she smiling?

I suspect many will say that it's because she is reminded how considerate her man is.

But, I think there's probably also an element of "I've got him trained; and I manipulated him into doing what doesn't make sense for him and he didn't really want to do." involved too, which I don't think is such a nice thing.

Why is appeasing her better than having her adopt the better policy and have him smile?

Anonymous said...

Gil,

Appeasing her by a small effort may be the reason he stays happy.

Anonymous said...

Amen to that anon. ;)

sk

Anonymous said...

Amen to that anon. ;)

Anonymous said...

Gil,

Trained? You are not a puppy. And manipulated? Why would you think that a simple request or thoughtful act (not just talking about putting the seat down) be a result of manipulation or forced act?
I certainly don't think that way. I would just think it's nice to have reciprocated thoughtfulness.
sk

Glen Whitman said...

Granted, thoughtfulness is good. But as Gil's math clearly demonstrates, the overall seat-adjustment burden under CWN is both lower and more equitably distributed. So it strikes me as rather UN-thoughtful for women to assume the entire (unnecessarily large) burden should be shouldered by the men in their lives.

Gil said...

sk,

If it's not about training and manipulation, why are many women so resistant to adapting to CWN if it reduces the overall burden?

In what way is it reciprocal thoughtfulness if all of the burden falls on the men?

Here's what I really think:

I really think that there is a disparity between how much men and women are willing to accommodate each other in this area. For some reasons, it seems more difficult for women to adapt to checking before they use the toilet, even if they suffer horrible consequences when they fail, than it is for men to change their habits and remember to lower the seat.

I'm really ok with this. I think it's great for us to accommodate each other when some feel distress, and burdened.

The only problem that I have is when women insist that this is just fair and reciprocal and common sense and efficient, rather than an accommodation.

Anonymous said...

yes yes yes, overall seat-adjustment burden under CWN is more equitably distributed.

but if you want to talk about accomodation and burden, don't even get started on who cleans the toilet most or all of the time. (i know i'm going out of scope here as you're strictly talking about toilet seat adjustment). i would think that putting the seat down would be more than a reasonable trade.

i hate touching the seat because the act is unpleasant to me but i don't feel distress at the "unnecessarily large" burden of putting in down when i have to. =)
sk

Anonymous said...

omg Gil, i just went to your site and checked the comment section of the bathroom post and i'm almost in tears because one of the comments was so damn funny and gross. one woman suggests that the standing pee-er pee in the sink because it's the right height. and your counter is just too funny.
sk

Gil said...

Thanks sk,

At first I was tempted to just dismiss the suggestion as ridiculous and gross. But, then I remembered the sentiment that Stephen Pinker expressed with respect to the Larry Summers incident: "The psychology of taboo is incompatible with the ideal of scholarship, which is that any idea is worth thinking about, if only to determine whether it is wrong."

So, I decided it it would be better to analyze the suggestion and have fun with it.

Anonymous said...

Luka,
It isn't sexist nor a throwback to "the men need to take care of fragile women era" b/c the act of putting the seat down isn't in the spirit of "women are not capable of putting the seat down themselves", but rather being mindful of the other partner you share your house with. Just like I like to clean the drain of all my long hair after showering.
But to be clear, I don't really care if the seat is up or down; I grew up with brothers.
And in regards to the toilet cleaning; I have yet to see a man clean the toilet more than I do, even if it's THEIR house. My tolerance level is a lot lower when it comes to cleanliness so I end up doing it.

sk

Anonymous said...

I've pondered this same issue. It seems clear that the efficient answer depends what variable you are maximizing, and that there are different reasonable alternatives. Obviously changing the state only when you need to is going to accomplish the minimum number of flips, that's trivial. But there are other reasonable minimands. For example, suppose the toilet is in a female-only home. Minimizing the flips required by the owners might be a good thing for a guest to do, hence leaving it down. For the common situation of couples, perhaps we want to equalize average flips, even if that increases total flips. (While it might seem to be a Pareto improvement to minimize total flips and have a side payment from the man to woman to make up for the difference in flipping efforts, my experience is that spouses are not always receptive to what seem like Pareto improvements.]

- Patri Friedman

Anonymous said...

sk,

Oh. I guess I have two things to say.

(1) I don't think it's just about being mindful of your housemates. It seems to be more than just that. B/c if it was only that, then many women would put the seat UP after they were done. Many men would prefer that.

It's about treating women different than men. It's clearly NOT about just treating everybody equally.

And you're right that it's not something that's done with the thought that women can't do it themselves. But neither is the opening the door thing. Did anyone ever really think that women couldn't open doors for themselves? I imagine that the idea was that they shouldn't have to. Probably because they were the "weaker sex."

Look, it's not a BIG deal. But it definitely isn't equal treatment and it's questionable whether or not it's fair. Men, generally, need the seat up a LOT more than they need it down. Period.

(2) I suppose that I don't think that you deserve to have the seat put down for you if you're the one that insists on cleaning the toilet as much as you do. If the men in the house are fine with keeping it less clean than you are, then I don't think they owe you anything for cleaning it more than they feel is necessary.

The case where they would owe you is the one where they want it as clean as you and you're the one doing the all of the cleaning.

-Luka

Anonymous said...

ok, my last comment. well, granted nobody owes me anything per se for cleaning the bathroom; i guess appreciation would be nice since the parties involved would be free-riding from my cleaning. I guess ultimately it's not that big of a deal, i just happen to have a lower tolerance for filth -- i don't take it out on anybody by demanding that there is some sort of a reparation by way of putting the seat down.

and as for women being the physically a 'weaker sex'; yes we are (unless you're a weight-lifter). i don't claim nor want to be like a man. the nice gestures are just social ettiquette and conventions. i am not an extreme feminist that frowns at any effort a man makes to be a gentleman (like when my suitcase is too heavy for me to put in the overhead bin in an airplane). I will gladly defer this duty to a nice man or a (stronger woman) who offers to place it up there for me.

sk

Glen Whitman said...

Lower tolerance for filth... have you read this post?
http://agoraphilia.blogspot.com/2003/11/labors-of-love.html

Anonymous said...

sk,

But if they don't care at all if the toilet is more clean, then it's not clear that they owe you any thanks at all. The thing is usually people care somewhat about stuff like that. And that's why they should be thankful. And if it's worth enough to them, then maybe there should be an implicit agreement that you'll clean the toilet and they'll leave the seat down. That would be fair, it seems to me.

As for women being the weaker sex, I agree they are. (Of course, this doesn't mean that every woman is weaker than every man.) And stronger people helping weaker people with physical tasks is great.

Leaving the seat down is not something that stronger people have to do for weaker people, generally. (And I know that you'd agree with that.)

I agree with Gil, I think, that the main point here should be that it isn't fair or equal to require that the seat always be put down. It favors women. That's not a big deal. But let's not act like it's fair or equal. It's a favor that's being done, usually, out of a sense of old-fashionedness. The mindset that women should have things like this done for them comes from a time when women were not seen as equal to men. If we want to go on doing things like we used to, for the sake of tradition or whatever, fine. But let's be clear that it's a little weird. And women aren't entitled to this type of treatment. It's a favor.

--Luka

Anonymous said...

Glen: yes i have; if it's read-worthy, i've read it. except, is with-holding sex the only leverage the woman has? i don't think that's a fair assumption. i'd hope that there are reasonable bargaining/negotiations about the chores before it resorts to that.

Luka: "But let's be clear that it's a little weird. And women aren't entitled to this type of treatment. It's a favor."--you must be popular with the ladies with that attitude. I suggest that you go now to the lady in your life or mom and tell her how much you appreciate her. ;)

sk