This post has been in the back of my mind for a while….
I’ve had many conversations on sexism and feminism, and one question that I’ve noticed often comes up (when having conversations with other men) is “what about holding a door open for a woman? Is that sexist?”
Men holding doors open for women is just one of the things that society teaches us to do from a young age. To not comply with these societal rules exposes us as impolite and ill-mannered. Clearly, if we avoid such judgements then we are doing the right thing. So we comply, and more than that we learn to feel good about ourselves by doing it.
So, what’s the problem?
Chivalry is perceived as politeness and kindness of men towards women. But with chivalry we offer to carry heavy things for women, implying that the poor, fragile little things couldn’t manage it for themselves. We hold doors open for women, seemingly out of kindness but all the while quietly reasserting our power over them.
Not convinced that a simple act of apparent kindness (such as holding a door open) is a power play? That’s no great surprise when you consider how long we’ve had the ‘chivalrous’ perspective drummed into us. Let’s take gender/chivalry out of the equation for a moment: on many occasions I’ve been in the company of other men and they’ve held the door open with an “after you”. Every now and then I feel playful and offer a “no, after you!” in response. Often the original person reasserts their “after you”. On a number of such occasions I haven’t given in, and it has led to a strange stand-off with neither person going through the door. We’ve hit a stalemate - neither person wanting to back down! With chivalry, “Ladies first” takes this power play and directs it towards women.
When you find things like this and catch a glimpse of them in a new light it is easy to dismiss them. After all, the conditioning that we’ve had for so long makes it hard to view them objectively. I find it interesting to watch myself and to try to spot behaviours like this that I do without realising. And when I do spot them, I try to ask myself if I would have done the same thing if it were a similar situation with a man. For example, if I offer to help a woman with something then I ask myself if I’d offer to help a man with it (and would I go about it in the same way). It can be hard to answer that objectively - most people don’t want to be sexist so we have a built-in desire to answer “yes”. Most of the things that I spot are things that I know I’ve done more than once, so if I answer “yes” to “would I offer to a man” then I ask myself a follow-up question: “have I offered that to a man?”. That question is a lot more uncomfortable to answer as it forces me to be much more honest with myself. If it’s a behaviour towards women that I think I would do towards men but haven’t then it’s pretty clear that I wouldn’t but didn’t want to admit it!
If you would offer to help carry something for a woman, would you offer for a man? And how often have you offered?
Answering these questions helps to determine whether we’re acting out of kindness, or just old-fashioned chivalry.
So, if not chivalry then what?
To be clear, I’m not suggesting slamming a door in anyone’s face! Instead, how about holding the door open for anyone, man or woman (or child)? Instead of not hitting women, how about simply not hitting anyone? Instead of chivalry, how about just being decent people and treating each other with respect?chivalry sexism