Opening doors for people should be about manners, not gender

Dealing in heterosexual relationships can be tough for a feminist — one contention is the idea of chivalry.

On one hand, you don’t want some guy who “forgets his wallet,” expects you to pay for everything, has no manners, and/or assumes dinner is a path to … um, “dessert.” On the other hand, you don’t want a guy insisting on opening doors, paying for everything, and basically smothering you with “chivalry” in a way that leaves you with no agency and/or a sense that you can’t do anything for yourself.

The Sexist had a series of comments posted yesterday about chivalry, and one of them highlighted the often radical (and to me, misguided) theory that chivalry is always a means for men to control women and a man opening a door for a woman is always a bad thing.

At first, the commenter (EmilyBites) seems like someone I would totally agree with:

The biggest fail is doods who says ‘Brilliant, chivalry is dead! Now I’ll go and punch all of those uppity whores in the face because you can hit women now!’

Way to uncover that not-so-latent misogyny.

Totally on the same page with her — when women say they don’t like chivalry, they don’t like the idea that it belittles women and gives men the power in every situation — men must open doors, pay for things, take out your chair, etc. because it not only gives them control of a situation, but it illustrates that you can’t do those things on your own because you’re a woman.

Plus, if you’re happy chivalry is dead and you’re a man, then you really only did those things because society told you to, not because you wanted to be polite.

But then her comment takes a turn for the worse:

This is why a man going way out of his way to open doors for me is insulting and irritating, and we will most likely get into a crazy door standoff. Infantilising and othering me is not a sign of politeness; you are trying to control me. Men who get offended ‘on behalf’ of the woman insulted in their presence are erasing the woman as a person in her own right, as though she is merely a device for communication between real humans, aka men. Why can’t the chivalrous men see this?

The part about the chivalry argument that always gets to me is the idea that a man opening a door for you is always about control. For me, it’s about equality and fairness. I don’t care if a man opens the door for me because I see it as a polite thing to do, but I do care if the man refuses to let me open the door for him.

I can’t stand when a man balks at the idea that I would ever hold the door for him. I hold the door for parents with strollers, old people, anyone who is right behind me — if we start looking at door-opening and the like as an act of politeness rather than as a gendered act, there’s no need to feel like it’s “insulting and irritating.”

Because, if women start doing all the door-holding, then yes, there is a power shift, but it still leaves things unbalanced and unfair. The aim of feminism shouldn’t be to shift all the power and control from men to women, but rather to balance and equalize it.

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4 Responses to “Opening doors for people should be about manners, not gender”

  1. A.Y. Siu Says:

    On one hand, you don’t want some guy who “forgets his wallet,” expects you to pay for everything

    By the same token, I hope you are equally as unforgiving of women who forget their wallets and expect men to pay for everything.

    The part about the chivalry argument that always gets to me is the idea that a man opening a door for you is always about control.

    A good way to tell is to see how he treats other men. If he opens doors only for women and not for other men, it’s patronizing “chivalry.” If he opens doors for anyone, he’s just a polite and well-mannered person. Likewise for women—if they make a point to hold doors open for only men to prove a point that they are not helpless but don’t hold doors open for other women, then they are just as bad as the so-called “chilvarous” men. If, however, they open doors for other women, too, they are polite and well-mannered people.

    Despite the backlash mantra that men and women are “wired differently,” we are all human and want to be treated with respect. No gender has it in its genes to need a door held open for it.

    • cathyjwilson Says:

      Oh, I definitely don’t think it’s OK for a woman to head to a date without bothering to bring any money — I was focusing on the mindset specifically of heterosexual feminists, who likely go on dates and hopefully 1) always bring money and don’t expect a free meal and 2) have to grapple with politeness vs. patriarchy. Good point about people holding doors for people of the same sex — I agree.

  2. Bricona Says:

    the first time a girl opened a door for me I was soooo amazed. I asked her out and she got weirded out by me 😦

  3. catch Says:

    The simple solution to this is to treat feminists like men (equal to), giving them no more courtesy than we accord other men – but offer chivalry to non-feminists who prefer to be treated like ladies.

    This way everyone wins! Feminists get the equality they want and non-feminists get to be treated like ladies as they want. Everyone ends up satisfied.

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