The Ladies of the United States Senate Get a Larger Bathroom: What This Signals About Women and Politics


These past few days, news sources have been highlighting the expansion of the Senate women’s bathroom with a humorous attitude. With sensational titles and witty puns, the coverage of the restroom installment was not belittled.

Originally the two-stall bathroom near the Senate chamber introduced heavy traffic flow, forcing the Senators to travel to the other side of the building to use a restroom while their male counterparts enjoyed the comfort of a large, conveniently placed bathroom. There are even talks about installing a baby-changing station to tailor to the needs of the ladies.

To some, this announcement may sound rather frivolous, but in a larger perspective this decision is a major one.

This past election in November 2012 introduced the 113th Congress as the most diverse in United States history, notably the emergence of women participation in politics. There are currently 78 women in the House of Representatives out of a possible 435, and 20 women in the United States Senate out of a possible 100. Record numbers, yet not high enough.

The installment of the bathroom is an inspiring tale, for it represents the evolving attitude towards women and their ability to lead. As more women are elected to represent our voices, and in turn buildings are renovated to respond to these changes, our nation will pave a way to truly democratic nation. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) eloquently wrote that,

“When women are at the table, a broader agenda is discussed, an agenda that looks out for all Americans, particularly those who are voiceless. Women’s voices are not better than men’s, they’re different and the broader perspective that we bring often leads to better results.”

To shed some light on the reality of her statement, a few weeks ago Senator Gillibrand introduced the Military Justice Improvement Act— a congressional proposal to remove military sexual assault cases from the military chain of command. Under the current law, senior commanders control the military justice system. 62% of those who report sexual assault don’t believe the chain of command, who have no legal training, will protect them. Rather, they feel as if they will be ignored and victimized for speaking out.

This issue, when previously brought up a decade ago, was received in complete silence and dismissed without another thought. It wasn’t until Senator Gillibrand was elected and brought this issue into public that it was considered with the seriousness it deserves.

Women compromise 51% of our nation, so why shouldn’t they compromise 51% of our representatives? While the expansion of the ladies’ bathroom on the Senate chamber is a great renovation, we need to challenge the women in our country to outgrow this one, too.


Elyse H. Lee

Emory University

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