Networking in the John

September 3, 2008

I keep thinking about the comment thread that followed a post by Angry Professor and I have to laugh a bit. The AP was a bit outraged by the notion that men conduct professional activities whilst peeing.

Here are only a few of my recent observations:
* Men have important discussions and sometimes make administrative decisions with male colleagues while standing at the urinals. There’s rarely more than one woman in the restroom at a time in my department and at my conferences; there are too few of us.

No, that’s not the funny part.

The funny part is the comment thread.
Jack: One correction. Men never have discussions at the urinals. It is a big faux pas to initiate conversation or even acknowledge one another’s presence.
greybeard prof: Jack’s right; men DON’T do discussions or decisions in the bathroom, either while peeing or otherwise. The men who excluded you are assholes and liers, and the urinal story is just a bad lie to cover up the fact that they deliberately excluded you
Anonymous: Men do not talk in urinals. It seems your colleagues are aware of your fight for equality and they are yanking your chain on purpose with that story.
Righto, boyo. Angry P is clearly one of those hysterical types, seeing sexism shadows where none exist. Sure.
Professor Zero: But my male colleagues report to me on conversations had in the urinals. They *say* it’s one of the places work really gets done. They also say that if they can’t get colleagues to talk in urinals, they sometimes have better luck in locker rooms. No kidding. I didn’t know about all of this until men told me.
hmmm. what?
Nurseman: The “no talking” in the urinals is the rule of Gen X-Y. Older men do talk in the restroom. Not Talking to another guy at the urinals stems from the the same latent homophobia as the Generation X-Y tradition of not showering after gym.
Now that’s just crazy talk!
Okay, here’s the thing. Angry Prof is right. It is not quite so much that men are chatting away blissfully while actually peeing at the urinal. It happens, but perhaps infrequently. The question is whether men talk shop on the in or out of the bathroom and/or while doing non-excretory activities in the bathroom. They do. Period. Not all, I am sure. But some. And I see nothing that respects or adheres to generational boundaries either.
My first awakening on this was some time ago when a BigCheez asserted that he was going to bat for YHN by “taking a piss” with the superior of the underling who was troubling me. He was not kidding in the least, nor exaggerating (too much). He really would’ve done it if necessary although I am almost certain the metaphorical version would have sufficed. Still, the metaphor came to his mind for a reason.
Since then, I’ve noticed that yes, networking and business takes place in and around the restroom. At conferences and study section for example this is one of the places where you just say hello to your colleagues and casually ask what’s shaking. Sometimes that is all that occurs and sometimes it gets into discussions of science, grant scores or what have you. If you are aware, you will notice just how much this casual stuff occurs. Just because it is casual, natural and unforced does not mean it is not still networking.
Networking that is generally not afforded to colleagues of the opposite sex.
Update: I couldn’t resist one more amazing comment over at A Gentleman’s C. Anonymous:

I will be walking with a group of men and we will be having an interesting discussion or argument about something, they will veer off into the men’s bathroom, still talking; I wait outside, they emerge, talking about something COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. I ask one of them “What happened? How did the discussion turn out? Did you agree/disagree about X?”, and I always get told “I don’t know” or “I’ll tell you later” (which never happens later). OR, one or more male colleagues will say to me during a conference “We decided X. Don’t you remember? Oh that’s right, we were in the restroom when we decided that.”

No Responses Yet to “Networking in the John”

  1. PhysioProf Says:

    There is absolutely no question that men talk shop while pissing. Amy man who claims this isn’t true is lying.


  2. KH Says:

    Hate to mention it but the same is true of the woman’s washroom. Done plenty of networking type stuff whilst engaged in handwashing/hair brushing/green stuff in teeth checking. Just isn’t as big a thing when there aren’t as many female profs or something.
    I think I missed it but who or what is YHN?


  3. YHN Says:

    That would be Your Humble Narrator. The proper pronunciation may be acquired by watching A Clockwork Orange


  4. KH Says:



  5. Lots of men do talk in the john, and it annoys the hell out of me. I’m of the ‘Hank Hill’ variety, would just as soon not interact with anyone in the bathroom. Others start chatting merrily away and I wish they’d shut up. Besides, as others have pointed out, it isn’t a space everyone can share.


  6. PhysioProf Says:

    “who or what is YHN?”


  7. KH Says:

    Oi! PProf. That’s not very nice. Just because I’m not up on the minute details of DrugMonkey pop culture…away and cook your fish course.


  8. JSinger Says:

    Hate to mention it but the same is true of the woman’s washroom.
    Yes, I was wondering how little familiarity DM must have with women to imagine that this is “Networking that is generally not afforded to colleagues of the opposite sex.” It’s not the men’s rooms that have couches in them!
    As for:
    Talks given by women are more frequently interrupted, often with irrelevant or tangential comments. At my recent conference presentation, a man interrupted my first slide to ask a procedural question about Pap smears.
    I have sat through quite a few conference presentations by women, and can’t say I have ever heard anything remotely like that question. One wonders if that anecdote doesn’t belong in a discussion of why mental illness is tolerated in academia in a way that would never be considered in any other workplace.


  9. River Tam Says:

    I never realized how progressive my department was! Here faculty often gather outside the bathrooms to talk science and department politics. Since the men’s and women’s are adjacent, it’s very equal opportunity (though sometimes hard to get into the bathroom for the knot of people). Perhaps university building designers should take this into account when designing bathroom facilities for university buildings!
    Hate to mention it but the same is true of the woman’s washroom.
    Yes, it is, but most of the real powerplayers, in my field at least, are men which means my husband often has better networking opportunities in the john than I do (yes, we do compare notes 8) ).


  10. drdrA Says:

    It’s difficult for women faculty to network in the bathroom when they are the ONLY woman in the department- not very useful networking with oneself.
    Faculty in my department DEFINITELY network outside the bathroom- I can’t say anything about inside- obviously. I also notice that they play golf together from time to time… of course I only find out about this when I am the only one left in the department on a Friday morning. It’s rather annoying.


  11. blatnoi Says:

    Yeah, some men talk science in the bathroom to each other. That’s why I sometimes go out of my way to find deserted ones or wish really hard that they would shut up. I, like many other men, despise talking in the bathroom beyond saying hello. I’d rather pass up on that networking opportunity, thank you very much. The really chatty ones go to the same lower circle of hell that is reserved for bathroom stall cell phone chatterers. Burn you suckers!!


  12. Actually, I have learned to pee standing up so that I can network in whichever bathroom tickles my fancy that day.


  13. S. Rivlin Says:

    “At conferences and study section for example this is one of the places where you just say hello to your colleagues and casually ask what’s shaking.”
    If you don’t know what’s shaking then, what’s the hell are you doing there? The bathroom is the only place a man knows what he is doing.


  14. Interrobang Says:

    At conferences and study section for example this is one of the places where you just say hello to your colleagues and casually ask what’s shaking.
    All things considered (like, oh, say, context), are you sure you really want that answer? šŸ™‚


  15. DrugMonkey Says:

    Oh Sol and Interro, you are such cards! Yes, it was a poor choice of vernacular.
    JSinger and KH @#2, see responses from RiverTam, drdrA and the referenced post from Angry Professor. The opportunities for useful/advantaging interactions are most assuredly not the same.
    Isis, I’m certain that a Goddess can control or mimic human bodily functions any which way she pleases.
    drdrA- Friday golf round to which you are not invited? I’m sure that is a complete and utter coincidence and I am sure nothing relevant to work ever happens on the links.


  16. S. Rivlin Says:

    The only conversations I had with my peers by the urinals for the past 8 years were all about the shitty W’s administration.


  17. drdrA Says:

    ‘Friday golf round to which you are not invited? I’m sure that is a complete and utter coincidence and I am sure nothing relevant to work ever happens on the links.’
    So they tell me.


  18. NM Says:

    I’ve never heard of anybody talking about science whilst taking a piss. Football maybe but nody is going to discuss the significance of little p while taking a big pee.
    Isis- Since you think you’re missing out on something you should invest in the ShePee and be another one of the fellas.


  19. The only nice thing about the long lines for ladies’ rooms at big conferences is that you get to network. The men get in, get out–where’s the fun in that?
    But only on line. I can walk and chew gum at the same time, but peeing and talking is beyond me.
    Check! There’s my quota of oversharing for the day.


  20. I don’t know if it’s because I’m an engineer, or what… but I rarely see women in academic restrooms. There just aren’t many of us. At conferences either. NOT a big networking place for me. To make up for this, I spend a lot of time hanging around the water fountain. You know, to talk to all of those thirsty people walking the halls.


  21. daenku32 Says:

    So what’s the solution? Removal of urinals? Unisex bathrooms? Replacing a common bathroom with multiple individual ones?


  22. DrugMonkey Says:

    Unisex restrooms are as silly as saying people shouldn’t talk about football or arrange the lunchhour pickup basketball game. It is not necessary to go totally overboard with remedies.
    The goal should be awareness, first and foremost. Awareness of all the small ways in which networking occurs that might tend to disadvantage specific groups. For many of these, like golf games and happy hours the partial fix of universal invitation is the first step. I had a colleague relate an interesting story about a new workplace in which he was immediately invited to a recurring happy hour type event to which several existing employees were never invited. When the group was queried as to why….crickets chirping.
    Other things like the restroom issues are tricky, yes. Were I a silverback in the field could I come up with ways to make myself more open to casual interactions elsewhere? Sure. Were I a noob-rube and I figured out that my peers were networking with the silverbacks in the john would this motivate me to be a little more forward in the coffee line or something? I’d hope…


  23. DSKS Says:

    Well, there are clearly different standards (possibly cultural as well as age-related) with regard to khazi commentary. But I think it’s a truth universally acknowledged that is is wholly unacceptable to engage in conversation with a fella taking a shit.
    That’s when a man can get some some serious thinking done, and distractions are not welcome.


  24. NM Says:

    DSKS- Amen to that


  25. Cashmoney Says:

    DSKS, NM- that’s the time you reserve for reading blogs, right?


  26. NM Says:

    You could get a screen installedd in the back of the cubicle door.
    Not sure I’d want to use the keyboard though…


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