I am frying up potatoes, squash and onions on my hatchback. Behind me, The Chief looms. His granite chest stretches up, absorbing the last rays of a now somnolent summer sun. Dots of warn climbers and the lines of their ropes fade slowly. Headlamps flicker on.
As I continue to cook, the cliff’s shadow moves over my car and across the parking lot, then stops, as if wary, as if too tired, not a hundred feet further at the edge of highway 99. The debris of weekend traffic continues to spew into Squamish.
And I need to pee.
The nearest bathroom is a good two-minute walk, and that’s if I’m down to spank some brambles. Five minutes over gravel. And here I am, comfortable, cozy, at home, looking quite matronly: spatula in hand, coconut oil perfuming the open air. I have no apron, but my cheeks are aglow. The beer in my hand may be contributing to that.
I am thus impatient to take care of my dilemma. And for the sake of convenience and efficiency, I fancy a squat. I suppose after living on the road for two years, it has become my norm.
Being the prim and proper lady I am, though, I pause and wonder whatever shall I do? I am, after all, in a parking lot. A parking lot right off the highway. And I get it: not everyone wants to see someone making that effervescent fizz.
But this isn’t just any parking lot. Kids aren’t running behind reversing cars while moms attempt to contain their senseless glee with lazy waves. Smiling, camera-ready tourists aren’t meandering into the middle of the street side by side, oblivious to your hands rat-tat-tatting the wheel as they pass in slow-motion, like a cloud across forecasted sun.
No, no. Those scenes are at the upper parking lots, and almost exclusively on the weekends. This is a climber-infested parking lot right now—the overflow. Removed and undesirable. Almost all the people parked around me will be sleeping in their cars tonight, dreaming alongside the hum of barreling semis, and the comfort of piss bottles, some of which are unlabeled, and dangerously close to arm’s reach of their bed. They are not strangers to urine.
And realistically, there’s no one around right now to offend. Not really. So a squat seems safe; a squat seems acceptable; a squat must be damn near everyone’s preference (I don’t know how I conclude that last one).
I should clarify: I have little shame. I don’t mind if someone glimpses my white ass in the gawking sun. I only hesitate to squat out of concern for another person’s emotional response to my action. I do not want to make another person uncomfortable, awkward, or grossed out. EW! PEE!
Let us not forget the reality—though I often do—that a woman peeing in public is not socially acceptable, at least for the masses. A boy looking over his shoulder as a stream of urine cascades across the sky is somehow cute; I’m pretty sure there’s a Precious Moments, and probably a Norman Rockwell. A man doing the same is, though perhaps not cute, a motif of sorts out on the open road, or in the wild. Not worth noting or dropping one’s jaw over.
But a girl squatting in daisies, her stream much less conspicuous than the man’s Old Faithful, is still viewed as crude, defiant, or simply inappropriate by many people. If you can see enough of her body position to know what she’s doing, the act is now too exposed. It is not okay.
So I hesitate, out of respect for my potential audience. Because sometimes I am too damn nice—or, more accurately, self-conscious—and still let those proprieties, little demons though they are, get in the way.
But alas! That’s a rarity. And, as is the case most often, my selfless curtsey to propriety this evening is followed by a sneer, as I decide, onlookers be damned! I’d rather not retreat behind dense overgrowth, or close myself in a fly-infested, sun-scorched plastic box teeming with more germs than an asshole (the nearby porta-potty), to cover my shame. I am too jollily domestic right now to do that.
The potatoes continue to sizzle as I lower my bush into the brush behind my car. I’m backed up to a small field of long grass and wildflowers, so there’s plenty of coverage for my mystery machine, and beauty to mitigate the horror of my act.
I guess it’s no surprise, then, when a friend walks up to my car, no doubt smelling the food and considering it safe, and starts a conversation as I’m mid-squat. I suppose it’s all natural-looking enough to keep him from noticing what I’m doing.
And he continues talking.
And I’m a bit uncomfortable. I’ve not been in this position before.
Well, the physical one is quite familiar, but the social situation, refreshingly new. He walks right up to my hatchback while discussing a climb, and even though he’s looking right at me, it still doesn’t register: I am peeing.
He finally gets it when I stand, decide against a shake-off for fear it’ll be too much, and wriggle my pants up my thighs as quickly as I can manage, letting out some mumbling about my current condition. Oh! Yes, hm. I was peeing. Whoops.
The wave of realization comes quick, and while he continues talking, he’s now turned away from me slightly, to give me the privacy I no longer need, and perhaps recover from—or let me recover from—any embarrassment neither of us should be feeling.
But I am embarrassed, and simultaneously annoyed by my embarrassment. Why isn’t my reaction the same as that of the dude when he’s caught peeing in the woods or on the side of the road, or in a bush not two feet away from a climbing route? Indifferent. Routine. There is no reaction. Why doesn’t a guy feel as I do right now, when he’s stumbled upon mid-stream? Like a naughty child caught doing a naughty thing.
We continue talking and I hop back to my cooking as if nothing happened. As the onions go on a’simmerin’, and my own sympathetic nervous-system returns to a state of ennui, I wonder to myself: when will a woman peeing off somewhere in the grass not be a deal at all? Not something I would think twice about? Not something any passerby would be surprised to find?
Later that same evening, a conversation takes place that relates directly to the piss incident. Lovely when life happens that way.
It’s a deep blue night, and there’s an asteroid shower scheduled to pop off around one. We’re early, but the show’s preamble is still quite promising; I’ve already seen five stars score the sky.
There are a few sounds mingling in the background which are unusual for a parking lot: jazz music cascading from a built-out cargo van; kernels ricocheting against a pot like hail on a tin rooftop; and liquid and ice comingling in a shaker.
I’m cradling fresh golden popcorn in the folds of my oversized flannel. I pick out the delicate morsels one at a time, then pop them through my lips between sips of some fancy drink I’ve never heard of. The other hand clasps the stem of my cocktail glass as effectively as it can one deep—which somehow means with all but one finger. The pinkie stiffens out to the side, as if it alone can dignify my sate and assure everyone I am quite alright, quite alright. But it’s been a while since I’ve had liquor more or less straight. But when someone’s having a cocktail party in a parking lot, you go. It’s pretty simple.
Our group of seven or so—newly acquainted neighbors—has loosened up a bit, surely with the help of the liquid. We’re talking openly. I’m stretching, probably. The conversation has since veered from climbing, finally. It’s something we’ve all been waiting for.
And it is here, inside this little cloak of night and comfort of booze, that one of the group—we’ll call him Stan (a name I like to use to represent the anonymous man, since I’ve yet to know a Stan in the climbing world)—decides to voice a major fear of his.
“You guys don’t worry about that? Man, it’s awful. Some mornings they’re just really full. You don’t worry you’ll get splashed?”
Apparently one of Stan’s fears out on the open road is that he’ll get splashed with old urine if he takes a huge poop and, in the words of Uncle Eddy, the shitter’s full.
The entire conversation is all very amusing until dear Stan shifts it from funny to something I find, in my tipsy state, to be rather infuriating.
“Women should be thankful…”
No Stan. Don’t. Don’t do it.
“…for not filling the porta potties with pee that could splash you.”
The others around laugh a bit, like grandma’s trying to tickle them long past the age they’re susceptible. The only other girl present smiles and shakes her head, perhaps annoyed, but not inclined to call out the statement of a guy she just met. I know him better—know him enough to realize he doesn’t actually mean what he just said.
And I think about the times I’ve heard comments like this, asides I let slither away, protected by my awareness of the other’s intention; my familiarity with the person who speaks them; my knowledge the person means no harm, isn’t sexist, and knows full well women are capable, and competent, and aren’t single-handedly to blame for full shitters.
But sometimes intention doesn’t halt me. And tonight a strong cocktail shortens my hesitation. I don’t let it go.
“Hah! What? I’m sorry, but I will not be thankful for men as a group, for anything.”
Bitterness drips off my tongue as I say it, and I know it. Because in my head goes something like this: Thank you, men, for always making me, as a woman, feel like an equal. Like I can figure things out on my own, and accomplish, and succeed, without your assistance, direction, keen eye or follow-up criticism.
Thank you, men, for all the ways you’ve made me feel safe when exploring big city streets, or taking public transportation at night, or camping alone, or using an empty bathroom, or walking in the woods, or doing anything in a space you might be waiting.
I think instead I’ll be thankful for all the individuals I happen to appreciate, men and women alike, and all the people who are not peeing in the porta potties, Stan. Some of which have a vagina, as you well know.
Because you are the same guy that walked in on me mid-pee not four hours ago.
But I don’t say any of that out loud. Much of the conversation is a blur, what with the booze, and the distraction of popcorn. I imbue it with more intensity than it probably had. Hindsight never works. I imagine Stan adamantly insisting women are to blame for the extra pee while simultaneously insistings his remarks are not sexist. “They are peeing in private spaces like porta-potties more often than men, period. And that’s the reality, and I’m not sexist for noticing it.”
I imagine swinging to the other extreme—straddling a canyon sometimes isn’t comfortable—and so eagerly and exclusively blame men, which of course wins me points with all the men. “The only reason more women whiz in the box is because we’ve been taught by the patriarchy to do so. How can you not get that?”
There’s no resolution, of course. With words like patriarchy thrown about, how could there be? The topic passes through our circle about as fast as the stars above our heads, probably because all the while the others have kept silent, because they didn’t want to sound sexist, or sound angry, or pick sides, or stop eating popcorn; or they just don’t really care, or see the point in debating something so silly.
And that’s okay. All of it. Any of it. These disagreements don’t belong at the forefront of every conversation. They don’t belong at every cocktail party, or gathering, or inside every dirtbag van. I get it.
And in retrospect, I could have done better. Rather than becoming immediately annoyed, I could have introduced salient points with tact that would’ve helped Stan see his comment as obtuse. Surely there’s just as much male piss present, since: men often pee when they poop; many men use public restrooms for peeing when they’re available, especially in more manicured parks such as the Chief; far more men use the facilities in general, because in the outdoor climbing community, and especially the dirtbag community, men still far outnumber women.
But I was already too annoyed when I decided to speak, and when they came, my words were sharper than necessary to stick the point. I cut things along the way you shouldn’t if you want to get someone to listen: our shared understanding. I may have made him feel sexist, or insensitive, or like an oblivious asshole—all things I know he isn’t. He’s quite the opposite, actually.
But sometimes I’m too exhausted to be reasonable. Sometimes I don’t have the patience. Sometimes, I don’t have the compassion. Sometimes, I’m simply so far inside the role of devil’s advocate, I misplace my opinion; the act of not simply knowing the other side, but turning around and arguing it with persuasive logic, pries open one’s perspective with the violence of a crowbar.
And when I put that habit to good use, I get it. Like right now, I get it: what he said makes sense. Most women will pee indoors versus outside whenever it is at all feasible—even if it’s inconveniently far-off, or there’s a ridiculous line—while most men won’t. And in so doing, they just might contribute more urine to the world’s porta-potty supply.
But I’m not concerned with the surface of what’s going on. I’m not concerned with getting splashed. I’m concerned with why it’s still going on.
Women aren’t chitchatting in the outhouse line-up because it’s uncomfortable or difficult for us to pee outside. We’re chitchatting in that line-up because we’re adhering to a cultural norm. We’ve been conditioned to believe we’re supposed to pee in private. Our natural calls must be surreptitiously answered lest men might discover that charmed hole is anatomically multifunctional.
Which is why I felt uncomfortable when Stan confronted my peeing. And it’s why he felt uncomfortable, too. Neither of us saw the action as inherently inappropriate. Even so, our personal views, and the views of other like-minded climbers in our bubble aren’t enough to shift subconscious reactions, or convention. Views and opinions are one thing. Action is quite another. And normalizing this action, alongside so many other actions, is the way I would like to live feminism. One squat at a time.
So ladies, I’m calling out to you. Many who read this are already there—consider this a bravo, good work, keep it up. But to the others, it’s time! Time we stopped stopping-up them portable toilets when outdoors, and took our urine to the streets. Not literally the streets—I’m not saying pee outside at random when there are proper facilities readily available; we all know the stench of pee on asphalt. But to the grasses! Amidst the masses! Without fearing someone might walk around the corner and observe our lowly compulsions.
I still recommend being respectful: go behind a bush if it’s right there. Boys face away; we can squat low. It’s also important to make sure, like our male counterparts should, that we choose a porous place exposed to the elements, with plenty of airflow. Not under an overhang, for instance, climbers. (I hate having to write all this. It should be pretty obvious.)
Let’s take proactive, conscious steps to liberate our gender form this stale double-standard, and free up them shitter lines, for once and for all.
Call it a Bowel Movement.
Note: This is intentionally limited to the etiquette of peeing outdoors. For pooping, entirely different rules apply. Poo’s toxic, takes months to decompose, and beautiful places shouldn’t be littered with remnants of toilet paper. Use facilities whenever available for your poo-time, even if it means a bit of a walk, and either pack it out or bury it deep, well away from water sources and high traffic.
And please, ladies, don’t use toilet paper when you pee outside. For the love of all that is equal, the men’s guide can work for women as well: three shakes (twerks?) and you’re fine. If that doesn’t work for you, rocks and leaves abound. Get creative.
Panty-liners are also very convenient.