Before we progress further on this discussion, allow me to clarify an important point: I do know how to open doors.
Okay, now that’s past us, let’s talk about men opening doors for women, or not opening doors for women, and whether or not they should, because it’s a civilized gesture of respect, one of those male/female chivalry things; or they shouldn’t, because women aren’t fragile, shrinking violets who stand, quivering, on the sidewalk until some big strapping male strides up and grips that handle with his massive, muscular hands, wrenching the recalcitrant door off its hinges with a rippled flexing of his biceps so that the pathetic weakling quaking at his feet can totter feebly through.
Back in the 1970s and the 80s, at the height of the modern upheaval of male/female relations, many a young man whose mother had spent hours drilling him on the fine points of opening doors for ladies was reviled as a bigoted, sexist Neanderthal pig — this addressed to a clean-shaven 18-year-old in a plaid, button down shirt, or a 40-year-old father of three.
Yes, I realize that a point was being made, and in protesting this seemingly small gesture the feminists of my generation asserted their right to march out of their I Love Lucy dresses into the boardroom and the fire station and the Pentagon and the halls of Congress – as well as into the modern office rat cubicle and the night crew of the box store – but in doing so, they definitely lost the concept of “ladies” and “gentlemen.”
I was at the feed store the other day, and the clerk helping me, a woman, pushed the handcart with my 50-pounds of grain to the end of the loading dock and sang out,
“Here you go!” leaving me to unload the bag and shove it into the car myself. None of the men at this establishment do this. Granted, I personally can handle a feed sack, but what if I couldn’t? Would I have to beg this woman to do her job? Is this equal work for the equal pay?
Another time, I was leaving a repair shop with a 35-pound chain saw in one hand; my purse, paperwork, and a bag full of oil and old chain saw blades in the other. While I fumbled with the door (which opened toward me, of course), the female associate 15 feet behind me watched. Her male co-workers never let me out of that store carrying heavy, greasy machinery things. They never even let me open the door.
I have approached many a building behind a man who stops, opens the door, and ushers me through with a smile. I have also approached behind too many women who sail ahead, obliviously not looking back as the door shuts in my face, leaving me to think that, as many good things came out of the feminist revolution, common courtesy wasn’t one of them.
In protesting the offense of men opening doors for women, is the solution for nobody to open doors for anybody?
Automated doors aren’t the answer. Being aware of one another, male or female, and extending small gestures of courtesy in each other’s direction – a smile, a thank you, stepping back so another can go first, expressing gratitude to someone who invites you to do so – is forward movement. It is the small gestures that say big things about who we are.