Roxcy Bolton's Campaign Against Men's Grills
Roxcy Bolton's Campaign Against Men's Grills
Date: October 8, 1969
Source: Letter to Roxcy Bolton on her campaign against men's grills, October 8, 1969.
About the Author: In 1969, Roxcy Bolton protested the establishment of "men's grills" in Miami restaurants—public eating areas set aside for men only. This letter, not originally anonymous, was written in rebuttal.
Roxcy O'Neal Bolton was born in Mississippi in 1926 and became a pioneer of feminism in Florida. She helped found the Florida chapter of the National Organization for Women in 1966 and founded a nonprofit women's aid organization called Women in Distress. In 1974, she was instrumental in establishing one of the first rape treatment centers in the United States, the Rape Treatment Center at the Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, Florida, now called the Roxcy Bolton Rape Treatment Center.
In 1969, Bolton began a campaign to end the practice of "men-only" lunch sections in Miami restaurants. She wrote letters and met with business owners, arguing that the practice was discriminatory. Her actions were successful, and eventually, the men's grills disappeared. The document below was written by a woman who argued that Bolton's opposition to the men's-only lunch businesses was excessive and improper.
Roxcy Bolton's Campaign against Men's Grills
8 October 1969
Dear Mrs. Bolton
I have been watching the progress of this NOW organization with some misgivings, and feel I must speak out against some of your activities.
"Persuading" Jordan Marsh [a department store chain] to open its Men's Grill to women strikes me as highly ridiculous, and very unwise. This is the kind of move that simply gives rise to resentment among men, without being a significant gain to women.
There are many areas of life, in which separation of the sexes is desirable—I very much enjoy the female atmosphere of a beauty shop, and feel men are entitled to their Barber Shops to themselves. With four sons I have had occasion to intrude on this little masculine world, and much prefer to do some shopping or otherwise occupy myself while the boys are having their hair cut.
I have attended the Plaine Powers studio, and all of us were discomfited when an electrician was working in the studio—not that we were so modest, just that that is a woman's place.
Now I realize that eating lunch is not something which requires separation of the sexes, but men ENJOY being special, just as they enjoy their all-male poker games and hunting trips. Why should we try to snatch this away from them?
A parallel situation would seem to me to be the relationship between parents and their growing children. There are things my children do which I simply find no pleasure in, front lawn football games, loud rock music sessions, even slumber parties. There is no reason why I must intrude myself on their pleasures, nor why they must intrude on my more quiet pastimes. We are Different, with different tastes and different interests, and we can both benefit from time spent apart, pursuing our separate lives, discussing with our own friends the things that interest us.
While I myself have never felt that I was treated as an inferior by men, I realize that there are probably some injustices in hiring practices (though I can even see reasons for much of that—I wouldn't want to be a jockey, or try to fulfill some other traditionally male role, and a female minister simply leaves me cold).
The point I am trying to make is just this: we should not confuse discrimination with a mere and harmless desire on the part of men to be separate and a little special.
Opposition to feminism has taken a number of forms over the centuries. Some men have argued outright for male superiority, often with the support of temporarily fashionable scientific arguments, including that women are less intelligent than men because they have smaller brains. (On average, they do, but only in proportion to their body size; smaller men also have smaller brains. Human body size does not correlate with intelligence.) It was also acceptable for many decades to argue that women are inherently more childlike, emotional, and irrational than men, hence unsuited for political leadership and other traditional male roles. This is the brand of antifeminism sometimes known as "male chauvinism."
Another type posits that men and women have innate differences that are properly reflected in various forms of segregation, such as different professions for men and women. Both women and men have argued for such a position, believing that there was value in social role differences, whether in dress, profession, segregated eating or socializing spaces, or the like. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, some influential writers (for example, G. K. Chesterton) argued that women would lose some part of the peculiarly feminine purity or dignity properly belonging to them if given the right to vote, which would involve them in the rough-and-tumble sphere of practical politics—which they could influence anyway by telling their husbands what to do. The letter given here is an expression of a related view: It argues that essential differences between men and women properly give rise to different roles, including the separation of women (and possibly men, though the writer does not specify this) in some otherwise public places or activities.
The belief that some activities or spaces can and should be segregated by gender, is, in fact, almost universal; the issue is how many activities and what sort. Contrary to some panicky claims made in the 1970s, for example, few if any feminists have ever advocated the elimination of gender-segregated toilet and shower facilities in public buildings, gymnasia, and the like. Also, many feminists support the existence of women's colleges in addition to coeducational institutions, also the free and private formation of men- or women-only groups. It would be difficult to find a feminist, in 1969 or today, who would disagree with the letter writer's contention that both men and women can "benefit from time spent apart with friends." The letter writer, however, implies that the "mere and harmless desire on the part of men to be separate and a little special" may rightly be served by the formal exclusion of women from some public businesses, such as restaurants.
In contast, most feminists would contend that all professional and political roles and general-purpose public spaces should be open equally to men and women. Both men and women can—and, despite the lack of men-only eateries post-1969, still do—form all-male or all-female dining parties.
In any case, by the time Bolton conducted her campaign to open up the men-only eateries to women, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had already removed the question from the realm of personal opinion. The Act explicitly banned discrimination in public facilities on the basis of sex, race, religion, or ethnicity. Banning women from a public restaurant was, therefore, illegal in 1969, as it is today. The nondiscrimination provisions of the Act do not necessarily apply to private facilities and clubs, so men-only organizations remain an option for those who desire them.
The Florida Memory Project. "Roxcy Bolton, Pioneer Feminist." 〈http://www.floridamemory.com/OnlineClassroom/RoxcyBolton/index.cfm〉 (accessed March 26, 2006).