Seeing as Most Writers Are Male, and femininity is considered inaccessable to men, the women's restroom naturally has an air of mystery about it. Why do women go in pairs, what do they do in there and why do they spend so long doing it?
The general assumption seems to be that the ladies' room is in fact a mini-Shangri-La full of wondrous things. In extreme cases the ladies' room is portrayed as a mini-spa, complete with fountains and musicians, while in more realistic cases it's simply shown as being much cleaner and nicer looking than the male facilities.*
(sorry, guys, but most of that restroom graffiti and vandalism really is your gender's fault)
While more extreme portrayals of this are notTruth in Television, as women are just as capable of making total messes as men, paid maintenance personnel tend to be much faster about dealing with them, since the perception (accurate or not) is women are much more likely to care about such things.
More generally there is some truth to this. The ladies' rooms at most places (particularly restaurants) that are fairly upscale are usually kept cleaner, and they tend to be decorated with pictures and plants compared to the usually spartan men's rooms. Meanwhile, places that don't decorate the ladies' room often can't be bothered to perform basic maintenance or provide things like soap in the men's room.
Also, due to basic biology, women are far less likely to... er... miss.note At least, if they're willing to sit down, they are! There's this idea that toilet seats are inherently dirty that leads too many women to "hover" over the seat, which is far from conducive to good aim...
While most ladies' rooms are fairly similar to men's rooms, it is not uncommon for a nice one to include a small anteroom before the restroom itself. This room may contain a couch, often will contain chairs, and possibly a lit vanity. This room is designed to make it easy for women to fix their hair or make-up without blocking access to sinks. It is also useful because lines for ladies' rooms tend to be longer than for men's rooms since women rarely use urinals (ladies' rooms lack them anyway), do have to deal with menstruation, often visit the bathroom in groups, and often have young children of either sex with them who need assistance. Having a nicer room to wait in helps to balance this out a little. This is very rare in any men's room, which does provide more truth for the trope (And as stated on The Drew Carey Show, if the men's room had a couch would you want to sit on it?). The couches in the ante-bathroom may be placed there for the convenience of nursing mothers or women with cramps, or it may be a holdover from the days of fainting couches.
For the ultimate mystery of the ladies room a bidet will be mentioned let alone portrayed. For the uninitiated, it is a low standing sink with a upward spout of water for washing the nether regions, and is not actually mysterious to men in parts of Europe, the Middle East, and Asia (where they are standard fixtures in house bathrooms and even men's rooms). Spit Takes will ensue for those (American) men (and many women!) who become informed.
See also Bathroom Stall of Overheard Insults, Women's Mysteries, Disgusting Public Toilet, Mysterious Teachers Lounge.
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Played literally in Tenchi Muyo!. Resident Mad Scientist Washu created a pocket dimension to house a complete spa for use as the women's bathroom. The men got stuck with the rather small ordinary bathroom.
Funnily enough Tenchi is perfectly fine with this. One imagines he's just happy he doesn't have to share said small bathroom with five to six women.
Also in the first series Tenchi was allowed to use the bath house and there was actually a small section set aside just for him.
In the second series, Tenchi was teleported into the spa prior to the dimension-hopping arc. Reactions from the bathing women was... mixed.
Given a minor inversion during Excel Saga when Excel - currently employed as a janitor - notes her excitement at seeing a urinal for the first time while cleaning the men's room.
One episode of Heaven's Lost Property has TomokiTomoko enter the girls' bathroom after a failed perversion attempt. The bathroom's cleanliness leaves her amazed.
One episode of R-15 has Raika invite Taketo into the girls' room so he could have a perverted reaction she could properly film, but he says there's no point if there's no one inside. So she starts removing her pants...
Pretty In Pink, when Ducky complains about how nice it is compared to the boys, mistaking the tampon dispenser for a candy machine.
In the porn film The Ladies Room, the main purpose of the ladies room is to provide a location for women to indulge in some hot girl-on-girl action.
In Louis Sachar's There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom, Bradley assumes the girls' room is nicer than the boys', with colored water in the toilets and fountains, perhaps. When he does hide in one, he finds it's pretty much like the boys'.
In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets the hidden entrance to said Chamber was behind the sink in a girl's restroom. Come to think of it, all the cool bathroom-related stuff that happens in the series (with the exception of the Prefect's bathroom in the fourth book) takes place in ladies' rooms. Of course, that particular bathroom is haunted by Moaning Myrtle and known to flood fairly often, so 'wondrous' may not be the best term..
In Blood On The Water, Jack overhears two gangsters searching a ladies' restroom for intruders. One of them voices surprise that the toilets look no different from those in men's rooms.
Alluded to in Septimus Heap: Since ghosts can only go to places they visited in life, Alther cannot spy on the evil cabal's innermost workings since they meet in a converted former lady's room.
Not actually fictional, but in her memoir She's Not There: A Life in Two Genders, author Jennifer Finney Boylan notes that the an unspoken purpose of women's restroom amenities is to give women a few minutes' peace away from their husbands.
Saturday Night Live had a sketch wherein the ladies room was a Greek garden with a eunuch lyrist who sang softly to them while slave boys fed them fruit and wrapped them in silk.
Farscape took this to the extreme in the episode "A Human Reaction", where a world is created out of John's memories. As a result, everything is something directly taken from his memory - every random person on the street is someone he's met, none of the magazines and newspapers are from after than he left Earth, and so on. So when John figures this out, he opens the door to the women's bathroom (because he's never been in one) and behind it is — a giant, swirling vortex of orange-brown energy. As elaborated on at Television Without Pity, this veers headlong into deconstruction.
The Drew Carey Show had this, where Larry, feeling disoriented, passes out on the couch in the women's bathroom. When he comes to he wants to know why the women have a couch in their bathroom and the men don't. Drew asks him "If there was, would you want to lay on it?"
A running gag in the high school years of Boy Meets World was boys becoming indignant on seeing that the girls had a couch.
Used a similar joke as above, with a similar answer.
Parodied in NewsRadio: When the male staff complains that the ladies room has a couch and demand something similar for the men's room, Jimmy ends up refurbishing the restroom into an exclusive lounge (to which Beth successfully applies for membership). Then Matthew ruins it by going to the bathroom in the bathroom.
This was a running gag in Cybill. Ira commented on the potpourri and soap on women's bathroom. During a flashback episode set in the middle ages, the king went to the women's bathroom and was surprised with the stool (you know, the thing we sit on) and the curtain.
In Popular, the girls' room (the Novak) has a tuffet and is the site of many important plot developments, though when a boy actually does go in there he doesn't seem to be too shocked either way.
In the TV show Corner Gas, one episode has the signs on the restrooms of the gas station swapped, leading to men praising the cleanliness and women complaining about the smell. Eventually, Brett decides to just make it so that both rooms are equally filthy.
In The Office US, Michael takes all the women shopping, making Kevin very excited about getting to go inside the women's bathroom (he seems to have mixed it up with the popular women's locker room fantasy). Upon going inside his first words are "Oh...my...GOD!" Soon all the guys are hanging out in there, sitting on the couch and reading magazines.
This annoys Creed, who has paid his female coworkers for the privilege.
Creed: I've been caught many times and paid dearly for it.
The highly-underrated Nickelodeon show The Adventures of Pete & Pete turned this trope completely on its head. In the episode "All-nighter", Pete (the younger) and two of his friends (Wayne and Monica) end up locked in the school overnight by accident. Naturally, hijinks ensue as all three take the opportunity to do all the things they would otherwise never be allowed to do on school grounds. Monica decides to go and check out the BOYS room, since she has never been inside one in her life, apparently. Upon entering she is utterly astounded by the presence of urinals and completely baffled as to their purpose. The two boys (who happened to be in the exact same bathroom for some reason) decide to have some fun by telling her the urinal is "a foot washer".
A similar situation arises in The Zack Files. Gwen bursts in to the Boys' Room to yell at Zack, and has no idea what the urinals are. He tells her they are planters. For vegetables. She believes it.
In an episode of Weird Science, after entering the ladies room, a virus-afflicted Lisa zaps herself into a soap opera set in a seaport town. Trying to find her, Chett enters the ladies room and arrives in the soap opera, too. Observing his spacious and beautiful surroundings, Chett remarked that this why women spend so much time in the ladies room.
Brazilian TV show TV Pirata explained why women go in pairs to the bathroom - to play a round of table tennis.
Inverted on James May's Man Lab, where James May and the team turn a horrible bathroom into a veritable Arcadian garden of contemplation, complete with a fountain, pot plants, and... rabbits. ('Course, in real life someone would piss in the fountain within about five minutes)
The Golden Girls did this once, with a scene with a rather fancy ladies' room and a guy who came in by mistake and was surprised it was so nice. He did, incidentally, mistake the couch for a toilet.
Inverted in The Amanda Show. When the girls in The Girls Room had to move their show to the boys room because their bathroom was under maintenance, Deb is at awe of the "Waterfall Machines" (the urinals).
Happy Days played with this. At Arnold's malt shop, the restrooms were labeled "Guys" and "Dolls". While we rarely if ever saw the interior of the girls' facilities, the guys' loo was seen often enough to be recognizable. Indeed, The Fonz called the guys' john his "office". One day, for some reason Fonzie sent the 3 boys into the (empty) girls' room. From behind the door we heard them comment "There's something missing in here."
And when Arnold's was rebuilt, one of the girls (probably Joanie) commented that there was now carpeting in the girls' room.
Parodied in the song and video BaĆ±o de Mujeres ("Women's restroom"), by Mexican singer Manuel Mijares. The "hero" of the video (played by Mijares himself) has to sneak in to learn who has been spreading ill rumors about him. Hilarity Ensues.
The video clip for No Doubt's "Just A Girl" is a good example.
The video for Garbage's Androgyny. The ladies room is a clean space with multiple seating areas and unique light fixtures. The men's room is visually bland (but full of men and women engaging in various acts of debauchery).
In Dilbert, the eponymous guy overhears two women talking about various luxuries in their bathroom. Then, after hearing them discuss which film they want to watch and who can sit on which couch, Wally walks into the cubicle with tiny specks in his hands and a big smile on his face, joyfully announcing: "Hey, look! The men's room has soap!"
In an Outland comic strip, Opus and some members of The Men's Kouch went on an exploratory mission to a ladies' room. They discovered some mousse ("I don't want to know what part of the moose is in there!"), and some things which offered "Maximum Protection", and got freaked out and ran away.
In a Finnish newspaper comic B. Virtanen, the main character is once again overworking and is the last person still in his office building. Thus, he thinks of all the things he could do. And chooses to peek into the ladies room. The reader doesn't get to see the room, but his comment makes it seem like he was expecting something more stylish.
In a Cathy strip, Irving realizes he is puzzled about how: Cathy is always complaining about finances, but he never sees her shopping; Cathy is always talking about the need to diet, but he never sees her eating, etc. Irving then concludes that everything happens inside the ladies' room. The last panel depicts the apparent interior of a ladies' room — complete with snack vending machines, a shopping boutique, and so forth.
One Adventures Of Aaron comic strip had men wondering why women always took so long in the ladies room, and then cut to the mini-spa version with the women playing board games.
In one series of strips from Shermans Lagoon, the gang is at a restaurant and Sherman enters the women's bathroom by mistake. He discovers that it's less a bath room and more a huge, luxurious spa which employs masseurs and also includes surveillance cameras so that the women can spy on the tables they've left and find out what the men are talking about in their absence.
One Piranha Club strip (back when it was still named Ernie) subverts it by pointing out that the ladies' room is exactly like the men's room... to the point where all the women encountered in it act like extremely stereotypical macho men.
Discussed by the late Richard Jeni in his second stand-up special. Jeni said that women have a cure for baldness (seeing as how men go bald but women don't), and since men are from Earth, this means women have come from some other planet. He goes on to say that they hold meetings about it in the woman's public restroom, since no man can get two steps in there without being eviscerated.
The women's room in the Developer's Room level of Blood is about as fancy as Blood can get, while the men's...well the less said about that the better.
The video game Prey averts this trope in the first few seconds, with the ladies' room being just as grimy as the men's. The player character points this out with the smart-ass comment "Sugar and spice, my ass!"
During one particular mission in Bully you spend some time in the girl's showers and bathrooms— not only is there not much to see, but they're just as grungy and nasty as the boy's facilities. Though this may reflect more on the overall crappiness of Bullworth Academy's campus than overall equality of standards.
Deus Ex never has bathrooms invoke this trope by architecture, but there are a suspicious number of occasions, especially in the first half of the game, when the ladies' room is important in some way. The men's room occasionally hides a secret as well, but nothing can top the secret passage way in the women's bathroom, opened by the secret keypad under the sink.
And if one persists in entering the women's bathroom at UNATCO, you will not only be berated by a woman in there but can receive a slap on the wrist from your boss.
Metal Gear Solid 1 and 2 had women's bathrooms, they're just like the men's. In both you can call your Mission Control while in them, and get some hilarious remarks.
The new Normandy in Mass Effect 2 has both a men's and a women's bathroom. Both are identical, but entering the opposite sex bathroom gets a snippy response from EDI.
And in Mass Effect 3 Shepard is prohibited from entering the opposite-sex bathroom altogether.
No More Heroes: Before Travis has to fight a boss, he saves by...taking a nap on the can. Most places he goes have a simple bathroom for him to use. Meanwhile, whenever Shinobu needs to save, she...takes a shower. In an immaculate bathroom. Which just happened to have a sterling tub and shower. Even in an abandoned movie studio...
Possible (as are most tropes dealing with human habitation) in The Sims 2 after the introduction of gendered restroom doors; though premade community spaces have men's and women's bathrooms identical, it would be easy to make a Wondrous Ladies Room.
In a weird inversion, Metroid: Other M has a couple times where Samus has to enter the lady's room, and it's a little fancy but nothing special. In both cases, you can't enter the men's room - one has collapsed and the other is just closed off.
Torg: It turns out all ladies rooms have popcorn machines and blinky Christmas lights.
Crushestro: I did not know that!
Torg: It's amazing in there.
A series of Retail Hell videos on YouTube had an episode where the male employees regularly had to clean up the Disgusting Public Toilet of the men's room. They actually wonder if the girls ever have to do this and find a Wondrous Ladies Room, with plants, too. The women explain that they actually take pride where they do their business, then the Guys leave to their own bathroom to wonder if they'll ever be able to do the same, only to spot a customer:
Customer: "I'm pissssin' on the wall, just pissin' on the wall!"
College Humor's rather disturbing solution to the mystery. Apparently girls are being taken to a secret holding tank that expels all of their gas, which is so painful that they look like they are having an orgasm.
The Simpsons takes this trope and applies it to the two halves of a gender segregated school.
There's also an episode where Homer gets the key to the executive bathroom at the nuclear plant; it's enormous and has a fountain and live musicians playing.
Moe has set up an office in the ladies' room at his bar, since no women ever come in.
This comes up in the Fillmore! episode "To Mar a Stall". While investigating vandalism in the girls washroom, O'Farrell starts going on about how much nicer it is than the boys and that it has air freshener. He then starts trying to identify the scent. (Much funnier than it sounds.)
A series of cartoon shorts run during the Psych commercials show the ladies' room as being an all-female Mount Olympus.
Not only that, but they had placed a bet on whether or not there was a "cigar dispenser" in there.
One episode of Dexters Laboratory depicted the girl's room as a huge meadow. He escapes by taking a Barbie doll hostage.
In a episode of Kim Possible, Kim and Ron are sneaking into a building via an air duct. When Ron starts to drop down into a room through the ceiling vent, Kim stops him, telling him that it is the ladies room, and forces him to continue on by himself to find another entry point.
In the Superjail episode "Superbar", the titular establishment's men's room is dirty and occupied by a naked Twister orgy. By comparison, the women's room is completely empty and pristine, with robotic Warden heads urging the user to wipe afterwards. However, seeing as how there's one woman in Superjail, and the Warden has a crush on her, this was most likely done to impress her more than anything.
Stoked!: In "Surf Surf Revolution", Johnny and Broseph are being chased and lose their pursuers by running through the ladies room. Afterwards, Broseph comments on how much nicer the ladies room is than the mens room.
Played with by an episode of Pepper Ann, in which a male character expresses astonishment over basic facilities in the girl's toilets.
In Real Life often times there are side rooms to the bathrooms in more high end places (Nordstrom comes to mind) so that mothers can breast feed their babies without men ogling or Moral Guardians chewing their butts off.
Once upon a time, diaper changing tables were only available in women's restrooms. Fortunately, this seems to be changing..
Go to the restrooms on the 95th floor of the John Hancock Center the next time you go to Chicago. The ladies' room has the best view of the city skyline ever. The men's room... doesn't. They must settle for the observatory on the 94th floor.
At Studio Ghibli, the women's restrooms were designed by Hayao Miyzaki to be bigger and nicer than the men's.
The women's bathrooms on the 77th floor of the Columbia Tower in Seattle (tallest building in the city) are spectacular. The bathrooms have two couches and a puffy chair, lotion, two different hand soaps (in normal bottles, not those things that attach to the wall), mouthwash, tampons, puff balls, q-tips, and once, free toothbrushes and floss. In addition, all the bathroom cubicles look out onto the Puget Sound and Mount Rainier. It is often said that the women's bathrooms have the best view in the city. Needless to say, while the men's bathrooms have soap and lotion, they lack the view and do not have the free toothbrushes and floss.
Inverted in the fancier sort of Boston bar, where there are TV screens in the men's room so that worshippers fans don't have to miss one second of the Red Sox game that's going on at Fenway Park. Or the Celtics game, or the Patriots, season depending.
Even some lower-rent places will helpfully tack the day's sports page up there.
Not to mention the Bleacher Bar which is under the bleacher sections of Fenway Park, and even has a wide opening that views straight out to the outfield at ground level. When standing at an urinal in the men's room, you're looking through a window into the bar and out onto the field. It's not a great view during games, but still pretty cool and pretty useful for seeing home runs while you are relieving yourself.
There is a women's restroom in the lobby of a Penn State dorm that has an extra unusual for women's restrooms: a urinal. (The dorm was converted from all-girls to coed; for some reason the urinal survived the transformation. I guess that makes it possible for men to use it if there ever is a need.)
It is not uncommon for the restrooms in co-ed college dorms to be effectively unisex so that parts or all of the dorm can be switched from one sex to the other without renovating. This means putting a few urinals in the women's restrooms and things like tampon dispensers in the mens ones.
When pressed for space, building designers will typically put the women's bathroom in a more accessible place than the men's to accommodate women with children and/or pregnant and nursing women. And just in general, even when the men's and women's rooms are right next to each other, the women's will usually be closer to the main hall/staircase/etc.
Most British pubs have the women's loos situated further away from the bar than the men's loos. This may be because older pubs only used to have a men's room, so the women's room was added later on, perhaps, but it's a rare pub where the ladies' is a shorter walk than the men's.
The old tradition of ladies 'withdrawing' after dinner leaving the men with their port and cigars- the point in the evening when conversation about serious business matters or politics - or failing that, what the men considered Serious Business - was usually had, may actually have been the result of this. Rather than it being a 'get the women out of the way' time, it's now speculated that the custom arose because after an hour or so at the table, most of the women would need to relieve themselves, but would be too embarrassed to leave individually lest anyone guess what they'd gone for.
Most people who work as janitors, regardless of gender, will tell you that actual use of the facilities in real life tends to invert this trope no matter what the amenities. Women habitually leave public restrooms much more of a mess than men, and in so many different waystoilet paper everywhere (American women are the world's biggest consumers of TP by country and gender, statistically), puddles of urine around toilets because so many women think they'll get STDs from the seat and refuse to actually sit on them while doing their business, feminine hygiene products and diapers inadequately disposed of, puke in the sinks etc. The real ladies' room is far from wondrous.
One possible consequence of this trope is that, when pressed, women will often opt to duck into the (single stall) men's rooms if there's a line in front of the ladies' room, while men are less likely to do the same. This is in part because mens' rooms usually don't have lines the same length, and also because the consequences if a woman is caught doing this are much, much less dire than the other way around. (Can you can picture the screaming and sexual harassment suits already?)