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Why Guys Should Lower the Toilet Seat

By Garrett M. Lam

Among the perennial philosophic debates of the past two hundred years, the question of who should put down the toilet seat has a special, special place. The burden of this maximum half-calorie burning motion is a trivial topic, but somehow it becomes the subject of passionate, often gender-divided disputes.

If you’ve never seen one, it looks like this: The issue comes up and light chuckles follow. To almost everyone, it is perfectly clear what should be done. But the problem is that half the people think that men should put the seat down, and the other half disagree.

Now, the Leave-Uppers mention reason and efficiency. The Put-Downers retort with appeals to bathroom aesthetics and being considerate of women. Horror stories about falling into the toilet arise. If the poor toilet seat hadn’t taken in enough shit already, suddenly gender scripts come up. There is talk of how chivalry is dead and rebuttals questioning why men should do the dirty work.

The innocent conversation elevates to canonical themes. Logic versus aesthetics, efficiency versus courtesy, diametric views about gender roles. The two sides talk past one another. An impasse forms.

I think we “inefficient” Put-Downers can end this stalemate by making a gambit. Let’s toss out our arguments about the sublime beauty of a seat lying orthogonal to the wall (and covering up the sight of yellow stains and curly hairs), and our appeals to courtesy. Let’s concede that cold, dispassionate logic should be the sole adjudicator of the debate. If we can do that and then show that reason actually favors the set down seat, the Leave-Uppers won’t have any platform to sit on.

The Leave-Uppers reason with two compelling principles:

1. PRINCIPLE OF TOILET ENERGY EFFICIENCY: We ought to minimize the total energy expenditure of toilet usage movements.

To see how this works, suppose that person #1 is a guy and goes number one, so raises the seat. #2 follows. If #2 needs the seat down, he’ll either lower the seat if #1 left it up, or exert no energy if #1 put it down. In both cases there is one seat lowering motion. However, if #2 needs the seat up, he’ll have to lift the seat if #1 put it down (meaning that both #1’s lowering and #2’s lifting were unnecessary), or do nothing if #1 left it up. So, the leave-up strategy is logically guaranteed to yield a total energy expenditure that is less than or equal to the put-down strategy in every permutation. (It should be clear how inefficient the “leave-it-how-you-found-it” strategy is.) Aren’t we already fighting hard enough against entropy?

2. PRINCIPLE OF POTTY EQAULITY: To be fair, we ought to distribute lavatory benefits that are unevenly distributed beyond people’s control.

Again, the Leave-Uppers win. Nobody chose what body they were born into, so nobody chose their biological waste system. The Leave-Uppers argue that guys shouldn’t have to bear the double-burden of lifting and lowering. They didn’t choose to have what’s down there, so why do the girls get to run with their luck?

This Leave-Upperian two-pronged attack looks strong. But it carries a sneaky background assumption that is outright false: It presupposes that men can’t pee sitting down.

As someone who’s (admittedly) done this before, it is possible. Moreover, there are several good reasons for doing it: Reducing the risk of splash back; preventing a yellow-stained rim (or floor, if you’re terrible); and not worrying about aim or split-streaming (girls, don’t ask). If that wasn’t enough, research shows that men with urinary tract problems empty their bladders more efficiently when sitting.

But these are side perks. The mere fact that guys can pee sitting down has drastic consequences for the two Leave-Upperian principles. It means that the Pareto pee-ers are simply mistaken thinking that the leave-up strategy is energy-efficient. If they want waste less energy, they should just sit down—the toilet seat would never move. (And if you get nitty-gritty about guys needing to pull their pants down when they sit, I think the energy saved by sitting instead of standing would compensate that). So if a guy lifts the seat, he is not following the energy efficiency principle—and so cannot appeal to it.

The second principle’s all that’s left. Or is it? Given that guys don’t need to stand, lifting the seat is not an unfair male burden; rather, it is a privilege that is unavailable to women. If we want to talk about fairness, we should realize that it is men, not women, who were given a benefit (of choice) when it comes to peeing. Men may stand for whatever perks it has (say, convenience), but they should recognize that these perks aren’t open to women—and so assume the cost associated with their exclusive benefit.

Guys should recognize that while they have the choice to sit down, girls do not have the choice to stand up. This means both that the efficient thing to do is to sit down, and, if they choose to stand, that the fair thing to do is to lower the seat. So, if you stand up to pee, be a stand up guy about your privileges. Remember that there are simply no good reasons for leaving the seat up. Whether you’re moved by aesthetics, efficiency, courtesy, or equality, put the seat down after you tinkle.

And please, wash your hands too.

Garrett Lam ’16, an editorial executive and a joint concentrator in Neurobiology and Philosophy, lives in Lowell House.

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