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Women's History

Hi, as an active American feminist living in France I am a member of a group called Chiennes de Garde (She-watch) defending women's rights. We were shocked to learn recently that there is an excellent restaurant on the CHamps ELysees that refuses to allow unaccompanied women to enter after 6 o'clock! This rule was started at the turn of the century to prevent prostitutes from coming in looking for customers. This continued ban implies that to this day, a woman out alone (or with another woman, "unaccompanied" means unaccompanied by a man) is still considered as a potential prostitute.

Without wanting to address the issue of prostitutes' rights, we want to make a scandal about this ban. When I first heard about it, I said, "I can't believe it, I'm sure those battles were fought in the States 20 or 30 years ago." I have vague memories of feminists suing the Oak Room at the Plaza Hotel and some pub downtown whose name escapes me, but those battles were won before I was old enough to drink... Now my French "camarades" want the facts. WHEN did American feminists break down the ban on women in those bars in NY? And as I say, it's all too far away and vague for me to say... Being as I'm in France, it's really hard for me to get any of the women's history books you mentioned in your FAQs, so I would be unmeasurably grateful if anyone there could help with this. I'd be glad to know regardless, but if by any chance we could get the info ASAP, it would be particularly helpful, as we're planning to stage a "commando attack" (peaceful of course, just asking to be served) next week. Thanks again, and bravo for your site!


Thanks for your note to FEMINIST.COM. Yes, American feminists were successful in breaking down barriers both at public places and also private clubs. Besides the more famous example of the Oak Room at the Plaza, the final case was actually with Jaycees--and it was several years of activism that led to the case. For instance, they first picketed out in front of the Jaycees back in 1974 noting that "they accept public money and yet deny women membership."

Then in 1982 the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund filed an amicus brief on behalf of the Minnesota Supreme Court, which had ruled that the U.S. Jaycees is a public accommodation, prohibited by state law from excluding women from full membership on the basis of their sex. This case was decided in favor of the women in 1984. Then in 1987 a similar case came before the U.S. Supreme Court and the result was that male-only clubs such as the Rotary, Lions and Kiwanis Clubs must admit women.

So you can see that it was a long haul, but it did start with picketing. Though you might want to back up one step further and try by asking the place if they realize that this law exists and what they intend to do about the fact that it diminishes their clients--also letting them know that your next step is to picket. Also you should do some research as French law is certainly different than the U.S.--one, make sure that you can picket--you might need permission by the city--and two be clear about what law they are breaking--is it sex discrimination. You also might want to contact the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund since they were responsible for filing the case in the U.S. I hope that helps--and good luck to you and your comrades.


Amy

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