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A different kind of equality: Women can now relieve themselves standing up

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The GoGirl, a female urination device, is a funnel-shaped device that lets women pee standing up. (Photo courtesy of GoGirl)

Tommye Sigerfoos is an outdoorsy woman. Since retiring from her faux-finishing business in Atlanta, Ga., a few years ago, she spends her time biking, hiking and taking road trips. The only thing that puts a kink in her travels is the thought of the bathroom, or lack thereof, out in the wilderness.

“Men are so lucky—they can pee anywhere,” Sigerfoos said. “They don’t have to find a rock or tree to hide behind. And they don’t have to worry about squatting in the woods and getting bitten by a snake in the butt.”

On a recent biking trip, Sigerfoos packed a GoGirl in with the rest of her gear. She had seen the funnel-shaped, Pepto-pink silicone product on “The Doctors,” the health television program. And when nature called, Sigerfoos got off her bike, turned her back to the trail, and deployed the female urination device, as it’s known. For the first time in her life, Sigerfoos peed standing up.

It’s an age-old dilemma that women face daily but men worry little about—finding a place to pee. But now, sick of squatting and inspired by men’s ability to create an impromptu toilet anywhere, women around the world seem to be embracing female urination devices, from sophisticated funnel systems like the GoGirl to disposable paper cones, all designed to help women pee while standing upright.

There is the Australian-made “WhizBiz,” the “SheWee,” manufactured in England, and the disposable paper “P-Mate” out of the Netherlands.

The GoGirl, made by Minnesota-based FemMed Inc., is probably the most sophisticated and widely marketed. It consists of a one-piece, funnel-shaped apparatus made out of flexible, medical-grade silicon. Topping the funnel is a half-inch wide lip, which, when the GoGirl is applied, lies flush to the skin. There is a splash guard. Urine flows into the funnel and then into a compact storage tube, which can be rinsed and reused.

“You have to try it a few times in the shower, and then you’ll be a pro,” said Sarah Dillon, GoGirl president and founder.

Available for purchase only through the company’s website, www.go-girl.com, the GoGirl costs $4.99 or $12 for a three-pack. Over 15,000 GoGirls have been sold since launching at the end of January, Dillon says. The GoGirl’s tagline: “Don’t take life sitting down.”

The artwork on the packaging shows the white female skirted icon familiar from bathroom signs, except here she’s crossing her legs and nervously folding her hands, suggesting she has to—well, you know. It’s the same image that adorns Dillon’s pink and white Mini Cooper, which she drives around Minnetonka, Minn., much to the chagrin of her 12-year-old daughter, who wishes her mother sold something normal--like “candles.”

With women participating in traditionally male activities and industries in greater numbers, Dillon said, normalizing female urination devices may be easier than in the past. (Though it should be noted that the first known female urination device to be patented in the U.S. was in 1922.)

“Twenty years ago women weren’t doing the same things that they’re doing today,” she said. “Now we’re ice fishing, kayaking, hunting, skiing, camping, driving trucks and serving in the military.”

Hollie Lemarr, of San Francisco, Calif., fits Dillon’s description. She loves extreme sports, nature and works for REI, the outdoor supply and clothing company. She had heard about the GoGirl from a friend and decided it was just what she needed after having one too many experiences where going to the bathroom out in public created problems of subtlety. On one such occasion, Lemarr went on a vineyard tour through Napa with friends. The wine was flowing, the hills were rolling. As beautiful as the landscape was, however, it didn’t provide the best set-up for peeing discretely roadside.

“When men pee by the side of the road, their backs are turned so you’re not 100 percent sure of what they’re doing,” Lemarr said. “If you squat, people passing by in cars know you’re going to the bathroom. It’s awkward, and half the time you end up pissing on your shoe.”

According to the GoGirl literature, it can be used not just outside by indoors as well, including in unisex bathrooms. While Sigerfoos said she won’t be caught using her GoGirl in a urinal anytime soon, she plans on bringing the GoGirl with her on future excursions. An added bonus, she said, is “I no longer have penis envy.”

This is just as well. A less savory GoGirl competitor, the “Shenis,” which consisted of a 12-inch hollowed-out phallus-shaped tube, recently went off the market.

E-mail: dmb2176@columbia.edu