Back in the 1970s, it was still quite common in the United States to refer to a men's toilet as “the men's room”, but to call a women's toilet “the ladies room”. Despite decades of feminism, this type of asymmetry can still be quite common in the United Kingdom, where I live. The UK use of toilet names differs slightly from the US examples above, and many people refer to the “ladies toilet” in Britain when the men's toilet is just “the men's toilet”.
Although some people in Britain can refer to men's toilets as “the gents”, to say “men's toilet” is still more common than to refer to a women's toilet as just that. I was at an induction a few weeks ago and the trainer showing myself and colleagues around referred to the “men's toilet” and the “ladies toilet”. I was quite surprised by this and with equality in the workplace being a key factor I wondered why he chose to say “ladies” when the toilet for men was simply referred to as the “men's” and not the “gentlemen's/gents”. What is it in the 21st century that makes people reluctant to use the words woman/women?
Many UK toilet signs nowadays have symbols on their doors denoting female or male, toilets in pubs still often have “ladies” and “gents” on the signs; at least these are comparable and equivalent terms. But many toilets in other establishments that don't use the figure symbols on their signs do often read “Mens” and “Ladies”, once again reflecting a discrepancy and avoiding the use of “Women”.
It is worth noting that the word “lady” is much more commonly used than “gentleman” in many contexts, and a number of these uses result from people feeling uncomfortable with using the word “woman”. People often comment that they believe “woman” can sound rude in some contexts, but “man” doesn't. The word “gentleman” is also used often in its literal sense, ie “he's a real gentleman” and although it can be used as a polite way to refer to a man, there are still many uses of “lady” that don't match its male equivalent. In fact, “lady” has suffered such semantic derogation, particularly in the United States, that it can be used in an insulting manner, ie “hey lady, look where you're going”.
With decades of feminism and the emphasis on equality between men and women, surely people should by now be comfortable with using the word “woman” in the workplace and in society in general. It surprises me that in 2020 people are still avoiding saying “woman/women” including in references to toilets, when they don't have a problem with saying the “men's toilet”. I think it is about time we changed this old and unequal use.