I had already gone twice that day and my stomach was grumbling again. I was with my former partner, who knew that worse than the diarrhea for me was using a public toilet.
He consoled me by saying he had a secret toilet, and we walked fast, then faster, and lo and behold, a sanctuary in the basement of a nearby office building, really nice, air-conditioned and, best of all, no one was using it because it was a Sunday.
Relieved (meaning after relief), I suddenly remembered that my former partner also had this problem with poop shame— not so much having to use a dirty public toilet as feeling uneasy because there are so many people around, and they know what should not be known.
I have written in the past about the Japanese’s famous toilet seats that warm up and have different water sprays, all reflecting an obsession with sanitation. In addition though, those seats have a button that plays the sound of flushing. You press it from time to time while going through your ritual of passage and there’s no real flushing, just the sound, intended to make persons nearby think you went in to pee instead of poop! There’s even a portable version you can buy, named Sound Princess, but, goodness, it costs the equivalent of P2,000, if I remember right.
The New York Times had a recent article (“Women Poop. Sometimes At Work. Get Over It.”) about how this poop shame victimizes women more, mainly when they’re at work, leading to all kinds of tragicomic situations like running to a toilet on the next floor or even the next building (like I did), or rushing the duty (described as “pooping at the speed of pee”).
I thought about it, and I suspect with women (and some men) in the Philippines, it’s both poop and pee shame and, while we’re at it, also fart shame.
Holding back poop instead of releasing it has adverse health consequences, the New York Times article warns: irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease. I thought of how women holding back peeing could lead to urinary tract problems as well.
I’m amazed and happy to see that younger Filipinos are now less embarrassed about these perfectly natural body functions. We’re finishing a meal and one of my kids, thoroughly liberated from poop shame, will announce they need to go (not home), and I’m the prude complaining they didn’t need to let the world know.
I do raise them not to be ashamed of peeing and pooping, but still insist there are some social norms that make sense, like not talking about pooping while eating, and taking leave by saying, “CR muna ako” rather than “Uy, poop muna ako” or, in Filipino, “Uy, tae muna ako.”
Passing wind, I feel, does require some sphincter control because of the odoriferous assault. Here, there’s gender bias as well, my son often doing that inside the car and then blaming it on evil spirits passing by—an excuse he learned from my ex, who, I used to tease, was more a farter than a partner.
When you think about it, all the shame we’re talking about comes from smells being embarrassing. The olfactory stigma seems important enough to have Messy Bessy and other shops now offer “poo drops” which you use right after, er, delivering.
There’s an acoustic angle to toilet shame. The Japanese’s recorded flushing is also meant to mask the sound of poop hitting the water. Note that peeing is acoustically neutral while farting is a paradox, because it’s the silent passage that’s so dangerous. A ballistic fart is actually odorless, but is still considered rude because it’s heard far and wide.
Holding back poop, pee and fart are instances where, for a change, it’s the upper classes that are at a disadvantage. “Breeding” dictates that you suppress the urge, or use poo drops. It all gets to the point of class snobbery. I have a friend who never goes to a lower-end mall near her place because, she claims, you can tell with your nose that there are passing armies of evil spirits. She drives 5 kilometers out to a supermarket where people are more proper, although I suspect they have their share of evil spirits, too. But the supermarket exorcises them with deodorizers.
To summarize, let’s overcome these shames, but still with some sense of propriety. If you were raised to feel that shame, give yourself time to outgrow that shame, even as you teach your children not to follow your footsteps—having to run off all the time to search for far-flung secret places.
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