Economy

Why Ashton Kutcher is So Worked Up About Public Bathrooms

March 29th 2015

By:
Laura Donovan

Two weeks ago, Ashton Kutcher made news for publicly venting about the lack of baby changing tables in men's restrooms, and now he's doing something about it. The proud father recently launched a Change.org petition, which has garnered more than 90,000 supporters, asking Costco and Target to install "universally accessible changing tables in their stores."

"As a new dad, I recently learned an unfortunate reality about changing diapers while out in public with a child," Kutcher wrote. "Almost all public changing tables are in women's bathrooms, which makes it nearly impossible to find a table that's accessible to dads. As crazy as it sounds, many stores don’t give dads the option to change their babies’ diapers. It's 2015, families are diverse, and it is an injustice to assume it’s only a woman's job to handle changing diapers. This assumption is gender stereotyping and companies should be supporting all parents that shop at their stores equally – no matter their gender."

Because Kutcher considers Target and Costco to be companies that "honor diversity, support families, and provide great services to kids of all ages," he called upon them to rectify the "legacy of gender discrimination" in our country by providing this resource to all. He's also confident that other businesses will do the same if Target and Costco make the first move.

Target responded to Kutcher's initiative by saying that their men's bathrooms already have changing tables:

"As you've noted, at Target we are absolutely committed to creating a family-friendly environment and accommodating the needs of our guests," Molly Snyder of Target Public Relations wrote in a statement. "For the convenience of all of our guests, we have made changing tables a standard feature in both our men’s and women’s restrooms for more than 25 years. In addition, as we build new stores, we place changing tables in our women's, men's and family restrooms. In the event a changing table is unavailable, we encourage our guests to notify a team member and we will be happy to offer an alternative private location to meet their needs."

How others responded

Though Kutcher obviously received overwhelming support, he did have some detractors in the petitions comments section, with one fellow dad chiming in, "I'm a father who changed my boys diapers many times while out running errands, and most stores didn't have a changing station. But somehow I got the job done, generally going out to the car to perform the dirty deed." 

Anytime a celebrity attempts to enact social change, there's inevitably a backlash from those who say wealthy A-listers have no business trying to relate to regular folks, but the massive support for Kutcher's petition shows it's something that resonates with people all over. Babies don't care if you're famous: when they need to be changed, they need to be changed.

Kutcher said in an interview with A Plus that he hopes the public restroom situation improves by the time his little girl is old enough to fully understand it, "I would like my daughter to experience a world where gender doesn't dictate one's responsibility or limit one's opportunity. Having changing tables in men's rooms is just a tiny step in the process of rectifying legacy gender discrimination. Men who are aware of this bias want to participate equally in the child care process and our society should support that. It's time to get our hands dirty."

How politicians have tackled this issue before

Last year, California Governor Jerry Brown barred two bills that would have made changing tables more accessible in public men's restrooms. The measures were widely praised in the Senate and Assembly chambers and would have adjusted current state regulations so public places like malls and movie theaters would have to include changing areas in the women and men's rooms. 

"At a time when so many have raised concerns about the number of regulations in California, I believe it would be more prudent to leave the matter of diaper changing stations to the private sector," Brown said, according to Reuters. "This may be a good business practice, but not one that I am inclined to legislate." 
 
Democratic Senator Ricardo Lara backed both bills and told Reuters that his work for dads wouldn't stop with this speed bump.
 
"I am disappointed that the Governor did not sign my bill that would have brought greater equality and a more modern outlook on family life.  I hope businesses will recognize that providing baby changing facilities for both mothers and fathers is not only the right thing to do, but also makes good business sense, as the Governor suggests. I will continue to recognize the growing role of fathers in raising their kids, and celebrate the amazing California dads and their dedication to their children."
 
Dad blogger Doyin Richards also expressed disappointment in Brown, "No good dad is immune to this. We’ve all walked into a restroom with our babies and found no changing tables. Enough is enough ... Parents all over America looked to see if California would be the trailblazer in this effort and you completely dropped the ball. You could’ve been a champ, but you proved to be a chump that wasn’t up to the challenge. That’s okay. Change isn’t easy. We’ll take this to other states. We’ll make sure the media is constantly aware of how important this is. We’ll turn this into an unstoppable movement until we get what we want. Equality."

Now that a well-known public figure has drawn attention to this issue, perhaps improvements will be on the way before long.