A spirited debate is spilling out onto U.S. military websites and forums following the Navy's decision to scrap urinals on aircraft carriers so as to accommodate female sailors. In a push toward "gender-neutral" ships, the Navy's new class of carriers will go without urinals for the first time, the Navy announced last week.
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The Navy listed plenty of sensible reasons for the change, which will materialize on all future Gerald R. Ford class carriers beginning in late 2015. But given the length of time sailors are cooped up on carriers (often 6- to 9-month deployments), even slight changes can cause a stir.
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"Navy is getting way too politically correct," wrote Steve Mcgaha in a thread on The Navy Times, an independent news source for sailors and their families. "Let's get back to projecting sea power ... and get rid of the NANNY NAVY." Others were worried about the logistical implications. "Great. As if there weren't enough pissed-on toilet seats on Aircraft Carriers," wrote Matt Metz on the same Navy Times thread. "I guess actual warfighting is pretty low on the list in today's big bucks, PC, diversity is our strength ... Navy," wrote Orville Seybert. In perhaps the most novel argument, Navy vet Timothy Ritchie argued that urinals aren't actually gender-specific. "In Europe all gender-neutral bathrooms have urinals. It is a matter of sanitation. And believe it or not even a female can use a properly placed urinal with a bit of practice."
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The urinal policy also gained traction on Military News, an aggregator of defense news, and Military.com, a website devoted to the military community. But it wasn't all negative. Joey McGuire, a nuclear machinist in the Navy, shrugged off the decision. "We didn't have any urinals on the Nimitz," he said, referring to the Navy's nuclear-powered supercarriers. "I don't see what the big deal is." At Military.com, a few commenters noted the maintenance benefits of not having urinals. Shylano wrote: "That is good news. Less things to clean." Jagges added, "On my deployment on the Whidbey Island, they had most of the urinals removed because they are a pain to maintain. We had one in our head but it broke all the time. Too many people put dip or something in it and it would clog and make a mess." Commenter SGTRJB took the new policy as a challenge. "I have toilets at home and have no problem. I can still stand and practice my marksmanship. Anything floating in the water instantly becomes the battleship Yamato or a new Chinese Aircraft Carrier."
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While many of the naysayers dominated the threads, the Navy explained to CNN's Jason Hanna a range of reasons justifying the decision, not least of which includes fostering a more equality-focused environment. "Omitting urinals lets the Navy easily switch the designation of any restroom—or head, in naval parlance—from male to female, or vice versa, helping the ship adapt to changing crew compositions over time," Hanna wrote. "The Navy could designate a urinal-fitted area to women, of course, but the urinals would be a waste of space." Additionally, as alluded to in the comments above, urinals are more difficult to maintain because the drain pipes get clogged more than toilets, leading to unpleasant odors. Suffice it to say these are new considerations for the 21st-century Navy, given that women only began being deployed on combat ships in 1994—a time that came after the date most of the Navy's current fleet of carriers were commissioned.