The Rise of the Feminist Revolution and the Fall of Old Fashioned Courtesy

Before we progress further on this discussion, allow me to clarify an important point: I do know how to open doors.

Yup. I know how to open a variety of doors. Bayside by Steve Henderson Fine Art.

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?

The solution to any problem begins by becoming aware of the world, and the people, around us. Descent into Bryce by Steve Henderson Fine Art

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.

About This Woman Writes

Carolyn Henderson is the marketing manager of Steve Henderson Fine Art. She writes about life, art, and the art of life.
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10 Responses to The Rise of the Feminist Revolution and the Fall of Old Fashioned Courtesy

  1. I think it comes down to common courtesy for anyone to open doors for anyone! Male or Female.
    I always take the opportunity to open doors for others if I can and have found that many also open doors for me – both male and female, especially when there are big, heavy packages and bundles to be considered. I always find that people are wonderfully surprised and happy when I open doors for them and I get a big smile and a thank you. In the grocery store if I have a lot of stuff to get to my car the cashier (usually female) always calls on a young, strong male employee to help me…but she asks me first if I desire the help. I am a 66 year old female btw.

  2. stewartry says:

    I have had men fight me for the privilege of holding the door if I happen to get there first and try to open it for them, or take it away from me to make me enter first. I’ve had men sprint to pass me so they could hold the door open for me. Which is mildly annoying – for heaven’s sake, let me be courteous! – but more funny than anything else. It is definitely better than all those women, and yes they usually are women, who drop the door without looking. But courtesy is, on the whole, if not dead then severely wounded….

    Late last fall I was collecting books for a book drive. A local bookstore offered me all the donated books they couldn’t use; this turned out to be about 300 books, children’s and hardcover and paperback, in over a dozen boxes. I went after work, so it was dark, and cold (but, thank heaven, dry), and I was by myself. The clerk – a teenaged girl – did not offer to help, but as she was the only one in the store I couldn’t fault her for it. I spent almost an hour wrestling those boxes from the back hallway to the steps (six of ’em), down the steps, into my car. People – male and female – passed me without comment or even, apparently, noticing, until a man pulled into the parking lot, saw me struggling with the seventh heavy box on the steps, and offered to help. I’m not a fragile flower, but I am five foot nothing, out of shape and over forty with a wonky back, and I thanked him gratefully. He picked up another (smaller) box, watched in concern as I slipped on the step and went to one knee, put the box in the car, and said “Have a good night” in a doubtful tone before fleeing into the store, leaving me with several more boxes to go. Thanks …

    Even better, though, was the next day. I had secured permission to bring the books to my office to store in an unused room until they went away, and I borrowed the handcart from the back. Out to the car, wrestle the bloody boxes back out of the car onto the cart, back to the door, figure out how to open the door and not let it shut on me or the boxes, wheel them into the room, wrestle them back off the cart into some sort of sensible stack, and back out to the car again. I must have made five or six trips (the boxes not being very stackable), struggling more and more as my back began reminding me it hadn’t forgiven me for the night before … and the whole time both my male co-workers were enjoying their lunches at their desks about ten feet away. I had to wheel each cartful in between them. I don’t think it’s really necessary to say neither ever offered to help even to the extent of holding a door … It wasn’t the first time, either; a while back a third male coworker watched me drag four 75-pound extremely awkward boxes across the room into storage. Again, without comment – not even a “bend from the knees”.

    So, yeah .. there are times when I could wish for a return to some old-fashioned values. Or, as you say, simple awareness of other people. That’s all.

    • As the old saying goes, “You get what you wish for.”

      A very vociferous group, a generation ago, demanded that men and women be treated as if there were no differences between them, and in the process, we lost as much as we gained.

  3. oldswimmer says:

    The door opening bit is a funny pc matter even these days, but what I have trouble with (still) is my own penchant for slamming them when angry. Wooden swearing, I’ve heard it called. Now that is not courteous…not at all. And women are often the “perps” — not so often men.

    Women’s lib: I was lucky to be brought up in a quasi-Quaker environment which gave me a culture with a pretty progressive view on equality of women and men. (This is not the Hutterites, but the Friends.) So I was astonished to find people at college who were angry at the men for being so bullying and self aggrandizing. I had not noticed. Angrier still were the NOW people I found in my new Pacific Northwest neighborhood who were not only fed up but seemed to want to decimate men, while picking up their nastiest language and most annoying hubris.

    Never mind. I think it will all level out. We all will lie similarly prone or fly about as ashes one day. Meanwhile, I’m not going to get derailed on this stuff… I think I’ll just slip a wedge under the door and let it go at that.

  4. Wooden swearing — I like that.

    Remember the days when phones could be slammed down with a satisfying click in the other person’s ear. Cell phones just don’t do that. You can throw them, but it only results in buying a new phone.

  5. Seasweetie says:

    I”ve been thinking about this topic a lot – the demise of courtesy in our society – and have a half-finished post about it. You’ve inspired me to pull it out and finish it. I share many of your observations and sentiments.

  6. Jana says:

    And once again, I believe you have read my mind (or peeked into my life – chainsaw and all!)

  7. What about this one — a significant male in your life needs something at the hardware store, and you happen to be downtown (albeit 12 miles from the hardware store) anyway.

    “It’s easy to find, and any hardware associate will know what I’m talking about.”

    Yeah, right.

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