Monday, October 03, 2011

Toilet Paper Distribution, or how Equality and Justice aren't the Same Thing

At our church, once a month, I get to serve on the set-up team.  One of the most important tasks for set-up is examining the toilet paper in the ladies room.

When Kathy (a brilliant financial analyst with graduate degrees) trained me in toilet paper inspection, I was amazed at the thoroughness with which she had thought through this challenge.  In each stall, a large industrial toilet paper dispenser sits attached to the wall and holds 2 rolls of toilet paper, each about a foot in diameter.  The dispensers look something like the photo below, but not exactly, because each dispenser can't actually hold 2 12"rolls of paper.  If you shove in 2 full rolls, they're squeezed so tight you can't pull any toilet paper out of the bottom.

Therefore, the toilet paper checker (me) needs to make sure that there's one almost full large roll, and a smaller, about half-way used up roll, so that there's both enough toilet paper to last through 3 services, but not so much that the rolls stick together so incoming women can't retrieve any paper when they most need it.

This means I go from stall to stall, eyeing toilet paper roll proportions and transferring rolls from dispenser to dispenser, trying to get the exact right amount of toilet paper in each stall.  It's a surprisingly satisfying task.

Yesterday, however, the church changed the storage for large toilet paper rolls and it just didn't look like we'd make it through 1 service, let alone 3.  I was forced to tell John, Kathy's husband and the head of our service team (who has a doctorate and an MBA and is a brilliant businessman) about the toilet paper dilemma.  A man of quick and decisive action, he ran into the men's bathroom and brought out a roll with a big smile.

"Oh no!  That won't do," I said, "I need the large ones!"

"Large ones?" he crooked his head.

And that's when we both realized that the men have different toilet paper than the women. Having never been in the men's bathroom, I didn't know.  Likewise, John never learned the toilet-paper-whisperer ways of his wife.

That got me thinking about justice and equality.

Men and women's toilet paper needs are different.  Judging by the size of women's toilet paper rolls and the amount of training needed to ensure a welcoming bathroom environment, women need about 75% more toilet paper than men.  Our needs are just not equal.  But I suspect there's a general sense of justice happening, even if men are 75% short of toilet paper compared to women.  After all, no men have picketed the church demanding their toilet paper rights.

Likewise, at InterVarsity's gigantic 25,000 Urbana student convention, held in the old days at the University of Illinois-Champaigne/Urbana, in order to create justice for the hordes needing to relieve themselves, half the men's bathrooms were turned into women's bathrooms.  With women using 75% of the bathrooms, the lines into the bathrooms were almost equal between the sexes.

This is relevant because our kids are constantly crying out about unfairness, how some kid gets the goods while this particular whining kid gets squat.

Each time, I say, "Life isn't fair."

To their further outcry, I continue, "Only God is just."

And when they whine more, I say, "Everyone in our family has different needs.  We try to meet those needs to the best of our ability, but we may get it wrong which is why you should plan on getting therapy later in life."

In a family I know, the parents tried really hard to treat each kid equally and even boast about it.  But the problem is that each kid was different and what worked for one, didn't work for the other.  The kid for whom the equal tactics didn't work, has had to work through feeling like even if he got equality, he didn't get what he needed.

Paying for a math tutor for the kid who's struggling with math, or vision therapy for the kid who can't read, or an extra party for the kid who has no friends may be unfair, but it's my best attempt to meet my kids where they need it most.

And they should be happy!  At the very least, in our home, everyone gets all the toilet paper they need OR want.


athanasius said...

In college, we used to say that all conversations devolve into discussions about bodily functions. I'm impressed that you started there and made it land somewhere else. ;-)

Micheal said...

Have you been eavesdropping on our house? My wife and I were just struggling with teaching our 8-year-old the true meaning of the word "fair."