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The Glamorous, Sexist History of the Women’s Restroom Lounge

As I grew up, ladies' lounges adjacent to restrooms were common in department stores and hotels, and it was a familiar spot inside my small town's movie theater. It was a place to gather, to smoke, to hide from a bad date or to discuss a good one. There was no lounge for the men's restroom, so we assumed it was a little bonus for all the sexism that came with being a woman in the 20th century. But when you look into how ladies' lounges came about, the sexism was there from the beginning.

It was rooted in the idea of separate spheres: that women’s place was in the home and men’s was outside, in public. So when middle-class women did venture into public for extended periods—when they went to the theater, for example—it was thought that they required a private, safe, gender-segregated space of their own that looked and functioned like part of their home. “They were designed like living rooms—like parlors—as spaces to protect virtue,” Wood said.

But at first, these lounges for women did not include a toilet component, says Terry Kogan, a law professor at the University of Utah. Kogan has worked on guidelines for gender-neutral bathrooms and is an expert on the legal and cultural norms that mandate the segregation of public restrooms by sex.

“Interestingly, ornate lounges for women preceded public restrooms by several decades,” Kogan explained, noting that there were parlors for women in public buildings many years prior to when most of America had indoor plumbing. In other words, gender separation and protecting women’s virtue was initially the justification for these spaces, and the toilet came later.

The history of the lounge is how public toilets came to be called "restrooms." Ladies' lounges are becoming more rare, which is a shame, since it's still nice to have a place to touch up your hair and makeup, to breastfeed or change a baby's diaper, or to just rest on a long day of shopping without having to pay for food or drink. Which are reasons to have them for men, too, outside of breastfeeding. Read the history of restroom lounges at CityLab. -via Digg


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I'm just glad we've moved away from our problematic past. True freedom from gender separation and protecting women's virtues, all that stuff. The progress we've made as a society has led to things like twitch and youtube and chaturbate.
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The family was at Macy's in New York, and I had the kids look for a restroom sign. No one could find one, but finally, one kid said, "The only sign I saw said Ladies' Lounge." They had no idea what that meant, but Mom and I did!
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