Dear Men Who Think They’re Just Being Chivalrous:
You know who you are.
You believe that it’s your responsibility AS A MAN to always hold open doors for women. To always pay for dinner, especially if it’s only the first (or second, or third) date. Maybe you even pull out her chair for her when you get to the restaurant.
You always step aside, when waiting to board a bus or train, in deference to the woman standing behind you. And the woman standing behind her. And all the women standing behind that woman too. (Don’t deny you do this! I ran into two of you, just this week, who kept glancing over your shoulder to see yet another one of us women waiting to be graciously deferred to, until you finally boarded the bus/train right after me. First in-line, last aboard. Very chivalrous of you both.)
I’ve got two words: STOP IT.
Your chivalry is not polite. It serves no purpose other than to remind me that I am being a woman in public. Again.
(I’m incorrigible that way, I’ll admit.)
Look — I’m not saying don’t hold a door open for the person right behind you. And if you reach an entrance at almost the same time as someone else, feel free step aside and invite the other person to go in ahead of you. I do that too. I’m a polite person, after all.
I have also been known, from time to time, to give up my seat to a pregnant woman or a man with a cane. Or to absolutely anyone traveling with a toddler.
These are all things polite people do.
And the polite people they do it for will smile, maybe murmur a quiet “thanks,” and be on their way, everyone’s day a little brighter for the interaction.
Men being chivalrous, on the other hand, tend to get flummoxed if the whole who-holds-whose-door-open thing gets regendered. Like the guy in my building who always responds with a weird scramble, as he tries to take the door handle away and make me enter first — even though he’s still kinda in the doorway and I am now forced to do my own awkward mambo to get around him. (There’s more than one who does this, actually. I sometimes wait on the other side of the street if I see one of them approaching the door, until he’s in and I can enter by myself without the theatrics.)
I do understand: many of you chivalrous types — perhaps even most of you — don’t see the problem here. And maybe you’re grappling with deep insecurities about your own manhood. After all, science tells me your self-esteem drops if I open the door for you.
And, you may be thinking, where’s the real harm in a woman’s occasional awkward mambo, if it manages to protect one man’s ego? You may even feel compelled to remind me how women in the Global South have it way worse than I do, every day of the week and twice on yawm al-aHad.
Let’s skip over that derailing tactic for the moment, shall we?
Do an image search for “modern chivalry” and one of the things that pops up (several times in fact) is this lovely little phrase:
A Real Woman can do it by herself
. . . but a Real Man won’t let her.
Yeeahhh. See, I’m not so keen on any Real Man-ness that depends on controlling what I can and can’t do. (This search also turns up memes riffing on the trope of “ungrateful bitches” so, yknow, this is the company you’re keeping, when you commit to being last to board the bus.)
About that man at my bus stop on Tuesday? The one who stepped aside to let a woman board first — and then did it 8 more times? I’m fairly certain he did not realize, when he smiled at the first of us, how many other women were also standing in line. By the time my turn arrived to navigate his “oh no, after you, please” shuffle, his irritation was showing.
No doubt he’d find his commitment to chivalry far less aggravating if there were fewer women sharing his public transit — or public space in general.
Even chivalry done without stinkeye tends to smell fishy. On Friday, a young man at my train station did the same Abdicate To All the Wimmens routine. I met his pleasant smile with one of my own [see above re. my politeness], as he waved me past with a broad sweep of the Dunkin Donuts coffee cup held in his right hand. Once on the train, I noticed his girlfriend holding a seat for him (presumably having gotten in line and boarded like, yknow, a person).
How many apologetic “this seat’s taken” half-grimaces did his girlfriend make, shooing people away from his now-reserved space — while Mr. Chivalry stood on the platform and glad-handed the matronly set?
Given the nasty fallout potential from a woman saying, “Guys, don’t do that” (and Elevatorgate was about behavior far more problematic, to my mind), I thought I’d end with a “Don’t do that! Do this instead!”-style tip.
1) DON’T change your door habits based on people’s perceived genders.
2) DO be polite, kind, and courteous to everybody.
See how simple?
Still worried this is going to strip you of your masculine cred? Tell you what — if I ever need the chivalry of a Real Man™, I’ll be sure to arrive at the bus stop like a Real Woman™: