Donte Palmer, a father of three, had been running errands with his 1-year-old around St. Augustine, Florida, when he ended up at a chain steak restaurant— and found himself in urgent need of a changing table. There wasn’t one in the men’s room, so he did what he had to do.
On Instagram, he documented what he must often endure to change his baby’s diaper when out in public. “This is a serious post!!!” Palmer captioned it. “What’s the deal with not having changing tables in men’s [bathrooms] as if we don’t exist!! Clearly we do this often because look how comfortable my son is. It’s routine to him! Let’s fix this problem!”
The post found its audience and quickly spread.
Think about the thigh strength alone you’d need to balance for as long as it takes to change a diaper: One estimate suggests it takes five minutes from start to finish. A typical 1-year-old, who won’t be potty trained yet, will need, on average, about eight diaper changes a day. Sure, you won’t be changing that many while out at dinner, but as any parent knows, predicting how many of those will happen in a two- to four-hour span of time is like trying to pin down the wind.
Not only is sustained squatting one of the most difficult exercises, but most people aren’t looking to squeeze in a workout when they simply need to get a squirming child out of a poop-filled diaper and back into the grocery store, movie theater or shopping mall.
In other words, having to change a diaper in this situation, while dodging norovirus, hepatitis, staph and strep — the four Horseman of the Apocalypse hiding in your typical bathroom — is a Herculean feat. And if it’s hard for a fit dad to pop a squat, you’d better believe your typical Dad Bod won’t find it any easier. Most non-squatters will use the disability stall, a backseat, a trunk, a sink or the women’s restroom, or toss a hoodie, towel or other kid’s clothing on the floor and make the best of it:
Which is why Palmer’s post went viral — because it demonstrated that we still don’t think men do the dirty work of parenting. At least not out in public. It implies that changing diapers is still a mother’s job most of the time, especially out in the world, and fathers require no additional accommodations, even if they “pitch in.”
Never mind that there are 70 million dads in the U.S., and 2 million are single, and there are some 40,000 households with two dads at the helm. Which means we still seem to picture a dad needing to change a diaper on the fly as the exception to the rule, instead of the rule for plenty of men. (Palmer is married, but still obviously changes diapers.)
The resulting hashtag and movement Palmer created, #squatforchange on Instagram and also Twitter, compelled other parents to chime in:
Adult children joined in recalling what their dads had to do to get their diapers changed back in the day:
And other fathers noted that they had no idea about the vast inequality of diaper changing tables until they needed a clean surface to change a diaper themselves:
Still others made clear that it’s a challenge for all parents to get creative when there’s no diaper-changing table in sight:
Last year, we wrote about why men’s restrooms still lack changing tables in spite of the pleas of fathers around the country. The CDC found (in 2010) that dads change diapers every day or several times a week. Other research suggests 65 percent of fathers are in on the diaper change.
President Obama passed the BABIES Act in 2016 — Bathrooms Accessible in Every Situation — but it only applied to public restrooms in federal buildings (courthouses, post offices, etc.). Fathers have pushed for changing tables in their own communities and seen success. Last year, Oregon father Clint Edwards pressured his church to add a changing table to the men’s room, and it did. Ashton Kutcher has used his celebrity platform to call out major retailers for not accommodating dads.
Some of them have acquiesced: Department stores did; coffee chains did. Some states, such as Maryland, are introducing legislation to require changing tables in state-owned buildings. And metropolitan areas are following suit: New York City passed a bill requiring all new construction with public restrooms to add them to both men’s and women’s facilities and became the first U.S. city to do so. It’ll be a blessing to all parents: Plenty of women’s restrooms still lack changing tables too.
Therein lies the rub of the diaper ointment: The world doesn’t always cater to families, but when it does, it still leans heavily on an outdated notion that it’s women’s work to tend to the family.
“Families are diverse, and it is an injustice to assume it’s only a woman’s job to handle changing diapers,” Kutcher argued in his petition to one membership-only retailer to add changing stations to all restrooms. “This assumption is gender stereotyping and companies should be supporting all parents that shop at their stores equally — no matter their gender.”
For their part, the retailer agreed to add family changing stations to every store, and claimed they’d been installing changing tables in men’s and women’s restrooms since 1995. But not everyone has jumped on the changing-table bandwagon.
California finally passed a bill last year after two vetoes of similar bills, requiring at least one baby changing facility for men and women in any state or local agency, as well as any public venue (movie theaters, grocery stores, restaurants, sporting arenas). But like the bill in New York City and the BABIES Act, it also only applies to new construction or significant renovations, meaning any old places will remain exempt.
Part of the issue is that men have really been changing diapers for only about 25 years at this point, and bathroom design simply hasn’t caught up.
As the Atlantic discovered last year, providing changing tables in public has largely followed parenting trends. They weren’t routinely added to public restrooms until the 1980s for women, either, who also used toilet seats, back seats, car trunks and filthy bathroom floors to get the job done.
In part, it took urban planners simply realizing that mothers were spending less time out in public and keeping their dollars in their pocketbooks because they had to lug the entire family operation home every time someone had a full diaper. By the 1980s, there’s an influx of working and newly single mothers running errands and spending time in public spaces, children in tow. As a result, shopping malls, airports and restaurants would realize the opportunity: The more inviting you make any capitalist enterprise for families, the more time (and money) a parent will spend on your turf.
But if Palmer’s viral squat and the attention it’s getting mean anything, then perhaps we’ve reached that moment for fathers. Droves of men out in public with children, in need of a comfortable place to change a diaper, are good and pissed — and instead, taking their children, and their money, elsewhere.