The presumption that women needed men’s protection in every aspect of life led to a kind of near-infantilization. Looking back on her life as a housewife in the 1960s, the writer Jane O’Reilly recalled that she had “never earned my own living, never taken a trip alone, never taken total responsibility for a single decision. The only time I tried to give a speech, I fainted. I had been divorced once, and lasted only four months before I remarried in a fit of terror. I had never gone to a party by myself, never gone to the movies by myself. I wanted to run away from home, but I felt I had to ask permission.”
When women ventured into the outside world, they often felt tentative, unsure of their welcome. And it was no wonder. The Executive Flight to Chicago was not the only service that barred them at the gate. The world was full of men’s clubs, men’s gyms, and men’s lounges, where the business of business was conducted. Even places that were theoretically open to the public reserved the right to discriminate. The public golf course in Westport, Connecticut, would not allow women to play during prime weekend hours, claiming that men deserved the best spots because they had to work during the week. Heinemann’s Restaurant in Milwaukee banned women from the lunch counter because “men needed faster service than women because they have important business to do.” Many upscale bars refused to serve women, particularly if they were alone, under the theory that they must be prostitutes.
Early in the 1960s, a freelance writer from New York, traveling to Boston to interview a psychologist for a book she was working on, stopped by the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and ordered a drink at the bar. “We do not serve women,” the bartender said, and whisked her off to a little lounge off the women’s restroom, where he brought her the whiskey sour. It was a moment Betty Friedan recalled with humiliation decades later, long after she helped spark a movement that made sure nobody ever got consigned to that lounge again.
Excerpted from the book When Everything Changed by Gail Collins. Copyright © 2009 by Gail Collins. Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, N.Y. All rights reserved.