ATTN: Men, This Is Not How Doors Work

Dear Men Who Think They’re Just Being Chivalrous:

chivalry_TapisseriedeBayeux

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.

Konrad von Limpurg as a knight being armed by his lady in the Codex Manesse (early 14th century)
Konrad von Limpurg as a knight being armed by his lady in the Codex Manesse (early 14th century)

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.)

Tournament from the Codex Manesse, depicting the mêlée.
Tournament from the Codex Manesse, depicting the mêlée.

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™:

(via wilwheaton.tumblr.com)
(via wilwheaton.tumblr.com)

[Images: Meister des Codex Manesse (Grundstockmaler) (source) Public domain. “Tapisserie de Bayeux 31109” by Serge Lachinov Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.]

18 thoughts on “ATTN: Men, This Is Not How Doors Work

  1. Hello, Alice. I’m really delinquent in coming over from The Green Study, but–boy–am I glad I saved this link!

    The door-openers (male or female) that make me want to fill the air with blue vapor, are the ones who go through the door themselves, then stand in the doorway propping it open for me *when I’m still in the parking lot.* I yelled at one woman who did this, “I’m not running just because you’re holding the door!” With a yuck-yuck-aren’t-we-hilarious grin. This happens so much, I stop now and look back at my car like I forgot something until the door-prop goes away.

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  2. My door holding pet peeve is the door that opens inward. The chivalrous men push the door open with their forearm while being careful not to walk brought first, making me do an awkward shuffle past them. I want to carry an illustrated card to hand out with instructions on how to walk through an open-in door and hold it open from the inside, with assurance that I’ll still find them polite.

    I am also far to amused by how flustered men get when I hold the door for them. You don’t have a monopoly on politeness, patriarchy!

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  3. Yes!! I totally agree. People always think I’m overreacting when I criticize this practice of men holding doors for women (and that awkward dance–totally a thing!), but I think you hit the nail on the head–it’s another small instance of woman =/= person, and it’s based on a long tradition of viewing women as physically and mentally weak. I find that study that men’s self-esteem drops if a woman opens a door for them pretty alarming–because it really suggests that for most men view women as belonging in some “special”/”other” category, and whatever that category is, it’s not full-on human being who can/should do some simple act like opening a door for another person.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Given some weird, dystopic hypothetical, where I need to choose (from highly limited options!) the one other person who survives the apocalypse with me — and with whom I’ll be stuck for the rest of my life — I’d definitely opt for the benevolent sexist over the virulent misogynist. And he can open all the doors he likes, while I scope for zombies, or wev.

      Barring this scenario, though, I find both species fairly poisonous to women’s participation in the social contract as fully equal…(whaddya call ’em? oh right:) people.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Really good points! For my part, even as a feminist, I don’t mind having the door opened for me by a man or a woman. I appreciate the gesture and I enjoy the chivalry. Like Roxanne Gay, I consider myself a “bad” feminist- choosing what works for me and what does.

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    1. Roxane Gay! I ❤ her work forever and every. The world is a better place for having her writing in it.

      And I'm not at all opposed to door-opening in general, or as a polite gesture! 🙂 (You might be interested in what I wrote one comment down, as response to Love & Biscuits, to clarify my dream of a world where all kinds of people open all kinds of doors for all other kinds of people.) My annoyance is just with rigid expectations about "men are the people who open the doors" and "women are the people who are grateful to men."

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  5. Firstly – and perhaps most importantly – thanks for the laugh this evening as I pour my glass of wine and sit down to picture you casing your own building from across the street, waiting for the right moment to enter without gendered cultural confusion.

    But I hesitate at your demand that they stop. Of course I agree. When I moved from the South to the West Coast, I liked but also kind of missed doors opening for me. Then I moved to Mexico where I didn’t touch a door. Then back to Southern California, where I habitually paused at doors only to be almost knocked down by the men behind me who didn’t anticipate my pause and ran into me. Ouch. Back in the South again, I lately love doors held open for me.

    But is this an ideological appreciation, or is it that an old shoulder injury makes those doors feel kind of heavy? Or is it my age as well as space that makes me waver?

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    1. Lemme clarify a thing: I’m not advocating for some Ayn Randian dystopia, in which the strong open only their own doors and the rest of us are left with our injured shoulders or 8 bags of groceries to tug futilely at doorknobs that won’t budge.

      In fact, I DREAM of a world where all kinds of people open all kinds of doors for all other kinds of people. Because they got to the door first, or because the other guy’s pushing a bicycle. Because someone is too frail or too small and the door is too heavy. Because it’s a nice thing to do, and it feels good to be helpful.

      Just don’t, for the love of Maude, impose an expectation on me that I have to let you open my door — or must make you feel appreciated for having done so. Don’t give me an aggrieved look because I’m getting on the bus before you, when you’re the one making up this silly rule. And — not to speak for the girlfriend of the Dunkin Donuts coffee guy — but I personally would be a little PO’ed if my squeeze said to me, “Hey honey, I’mma go make a bunch of people skip ahead of me in line. Can you make sure none of them sit in my seat?”

      Here endeth the dream of Alice…

      Liked by 1 person

  6. “Putting women on a pedestal to balance disparaging them.”

    Nice idea, but your math is wrong. Pedestal =/= positive attention. This equation does not balance.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Doors can be awkward all around so much of the time…but I agree with the entire notion of just being polite to everyone, without taking things to extremes. Then it’s merely a competition to see who can display the loudest message, rather that happens to be a heavy dose of macho, or ‘bitchy’ radical don’t you dare hold the door for me, or something in-between.
    I have a soft spot in my heart for the much older gentlemen who have been ‘trained’ to open and hold doors for females…at least the ones that are truly upholding what they believe to be right…not the jerks who have to open and then escort you on through with the hand to the back maneuver.

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    1. Yknow the thing I’m starting to experience? Men holding doors for me, not cos I’m a woman, but cos I look like an old lady to them. Haha! It’s throwing me for a bit of a loop: “Don’t Other me as ‘the fairer sex’, you young whippersnapper! But if you’re just respecting your elder, well then — go right ahead and open my door!”

      (*shaking my head* Oh Alice, whatever am I to do with you…?)

      Liked by 2 people

  8. You make some good points. At the same time I understand that a lot of men are confused because some women feel this way and some women don’t. So if a man opens the door for me I just say, “Thank you.” Because I assume he means well. By the same token, I think a man should be gracious if a woman is holding a door for him. Just the other day I was holding the door open for my mom and her husband and kept it open while a woman and her male partner walked in. He opened the other door so that he could open the door for her. Not gracious.

    And, we still live in a world where women are routinely called “Bitches,” and until that stops we may actually need something to balance the scales. Putting women on a pedestal to balance disparaging them. (And then there’s the horrible thing you bring up where a man calls a woman a bitch because she isn’t gracious!!! The worst of all outcomes.)

    In an ideal world we would treat everyone equally, as you say.

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    1. I’m having this same conversation with some guy friends on Facebook! “How do *I* know that *she’ll* know that I’m just being polite??” My response: if you’re consciously being polite, you will come off as such. (As much as any of us have control over how we’re read.) I too assume the best intentions in people, until they give me cause not to, as in your example.

      To my mind, the door-holding thing is not a huge issue — not even on the level of a microaggression (and not a topic I’d have addressed, except I had two encounters in short order, that both left a bad taste in my mouth). But it does exist on a continuum of ways “women =/= people,” which is why it bothers me. The benevolent sexism of pedestaling women is preferably to virulent or aggressive misogyny, no doubt — but in the large scale, it feels like rather a zero sum trade off to me.

      Did you come across Elon James White’s #DudeGreetingDudes response to the whole “why can’t women take a compliment??” derailing of discussions about street harassment? Brilliant. I want something similar to suggest to men who get pissy about all the door-holding they have to do!
      http://www.buzzfeed.com/rachelzarrell/dudes-greeting-dudes#.faWm0JgMQ

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