I thought it time to bring back this at Christmas; when respect should be the by-word for our interactions with each other.
At a dinner party recently, in conversation with a friend (thanks, Mette Mikkelsen, for making me reflect on this a bit more), came the subject of men opening doors for women. I am a man, and the interlocutor a woman. Both of us, I think it is fair to say, qualify as feminists. But our takes were different on the question of a man opening a door for a woman.
I shall start this by admitting that I do it. I will open a door for a lady IF the situation is such that it makes sense for both of us. But in the same way as I would open the door for anyone. To be clear, in my younger years I opened doors for women because I was taught that a gentleman does. And a gentleman does BECAUSE he is a man, and she a woman.
Like so many things that are symptoms of patriarchal structures, the ‘why’ of it is the proof in this particular pudding.
The issue, as there certainly is one attached to a man opening a door for a lady, is about the intention.
It is nice, not rude, or sexist, to do something nice for someone because you respect them, because they are another person, and it’s the right thing to do, and it’s courteous. I would, and do, happily open doors for a wide range of people, and allow them to go first out of respect, courtesy, or just plain niceness.
That decision should (and I hope it mostly is although we are all fallable!), not about the sex of the recipient of the benevolent act. I would like to think my act is a gender non-specific one. At times, however, I find myself through my Aussie male (sexist) conditioning, forgetting myself and opening a door for a woman BECAUSE they are a woman. Nobody is perfect. 😦 The trick, like combating racism, is to catch yourself out and question yourself.
Where it becomes a problem is if the intention of the male opening a door for a woman is to be ‘correct’, according to his own idea about what is correct, to her as a woman.
Why is this a problem, I hear you ask? That’s a great question, and the subject of my dinner party conversation.
Because doing nice things for someone CHIEFLY because of their sex is, you guessed it, sexism, and is quite simply the flip side of doing something bad to someone for the same reason. It betrays an uneven power relationship.
The safest way as a guy to act on this question of ‘man opening door’ is to, before the situation occurs, reflect on your own intent. Do you act out of niceness and courtesy in a general, gender unaware sense, or do you do it out of ‘correctness’ and hold the door mostly for ladies because they are women?
if the latter, for the sake of promoting gender equality, then consider changing your perspective.
That starts with understanding that women are not the weaker or more decorative sex, and you can and should rather open the door equally for anyone whether man or woman, young or old, out of niceness; because you are a good guy.
Try this: I open the door for
women other people, because I am a gentleman polite.