Hold the Door, Please

Disclaimer: This will not be an editorial of my opinions; simply my musings on something I think is interesting to pay attention to.

 

Manners are kind of a funny thing. Politeness has a lot of odd connections to class and gender that directly relate to how actions that are usually intended to be nice are actually perceived. To give an extreme example: a man pulls out a woman's chair and it’s chivalry, though some might criticize and call it outdated. A woman pulls out a man’s chair and suddenly it's a statement about equality and politics. Maybe she just wants to be nice, but maybe she is purposefully calling attention to traditional gender dynamics by disobeying them.

Recently, this question was brought to my attention when some of my friends were given a class assignment that tasked them with analyzing interactions that involved one person holding the door open for another. They had to take note of how it different based on gender. To be honest, my expectations didn't go much further than that men would hold the door open for women. I figured vague chivalry and not much else.

What was reported to me was a little different. True, most often men held doors for women, but apparently the ladies were grudgingly thankful. Were they tired, unaware, or expectant? I imagine more of the first two, but the appearance of the interaction is odd. The reverse (women holding for men) happened rarely. When it did, it was met with surprise or again, a lack of thanks, something I have experienced a lot.

(I do it on purpose. I hold the door open for everyone that passes me, because I'm a fan of general stranger kindness, but I admit, there's a purposeful nature when I do it for men. I both want to prove that people are still courteous and that just because I can’t open a pickle jar, doesn’t mean I won’t hold open the library door when you’re a few feet behind me.)

Men and women both held the door open for their same gender friends with little fuss on behalf of either, which raises the question of where should we begin to define politeness versus gendered statements versus carelessness. Is is better to let the door close on someone you know or on a stranger? Does one of those options feel more natural, less rude? Do you even consider something as little as holding the door cause for this much speculation? And ultimately, why is nobody saying thank you?

Manners, as I said, are a funny thing. It’s not the 1950’s and most of our parents aren’t sending us to our rooms without dinner if we start eating before the whole family has sat down. And yet, certain standards have still been handed down. It doesn’t happen often, but you can sometimes still see a man switch sides with a woman on the sidewalk so that he is the one walking closer to the road. Embedded in our culture is this idea of a gendered politeness that definitely stems from the idea of women being weaker and in need of protection. Regardless, I hold the belief that we should all hold the door for each other and that bills should be split evenly. Let’s just go with that, equal opportunity courtesy and be done with it.

 

Image Credit: Ivory Tower Style, Brain of Jay Isp