Allegedly we're all desperately afraid to poop in the ladies' room.
That's the point of a real story published by the Daily Beast and written by Laura Dimon, who claims that the ladies' room is where female anxieties about our bodies become most acute. The bathroom at work is, according to this story, a place working women try to enter alone and do their shameful lady business without anyone ever knowing.
Dimon -- the daughter of one of the world's most shameless bankers -- never acknowledges that men could possibly have anxiety in the bathroom (I mean side-by-side urinal peeing with your boss can't always be fun). But her story is absurd for more reasons than is reasonable to enumerate.
Most bothersome is that it completely obscures what really happens in the women's room at work. For many of us, the ladies' room is kind of a great place to bond. At a business made up primarily of men, you're often going to find your female allies in the john. And you may be more open to chit-chatting with your colleagues when you're reapplying lipstick or (horror!) using the feminine products machine.
It's a point made memorably in a piece for the Wall Street Journal from 2008 written by Carol Hymowitz, who notes that "ladies' room banter is an endless source of wisdom and comfort."
I met one of my closest friends in the ladies' bathroom five years ago when I was pregnant, working for a male boss and surrounded by a team of dudes and single women who were mostly clueless about what to say to an expecting woman.
In the middle of my second trimester I overheard an apparently pregnant colleague talking about how dressing for work was becoming a horror show. She was gaining weight by the day and aside from that, maternity clothes generally look like a slovenly mash-up of "Working Girl" meets Lane Bryant. I was having the same issues. She was my soulmate, clearly!
I rushed out of the stall to introduce myself and a lasting friendship was born. When we came back to work many, many months later, I could turn to her with all my anxieties about getting home for my 3-month-old son's bedtime and using the (horribly named) lactation room. (Talk about "secret shame" -- most workers don't know their office has a lactation room where new mothers can pump breast milk.)
Hymowitz had even better anecdotes. She writes:
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.
Of course, there's nothing wrong with pointing out the ways women struggle in the workplace. And there are real problems. Only a very small percentage of Fortune 500 CEOS are women; women still make less than men. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg wrote a whole book about these very real issues.
So let's all get back to work fixing those problems and do as New York magazine advises: "Go poop in your office bathrooms, everyone."