Zeke’s Mystique: To hold the door or not to hold the door?

It’s cold, roughly -15 degrees Farenheit to be precise. I walk from Olin Rice, fully bundled, to the library. I open the door, and as I walk through the first door, my natural tendency is to turn around to see if anyone is behind me. I see someone approaching, and I just stare for a minute with the door open, moustache frozen, waiting. Then, after about five or six more awkward seconds, this someone arrives at the door, and we both walk through to the second door, where I continue walking and hold the door open. Then, I sit down at a computer and start procrastinating my night away with 8 Mile rap battles and Gemineye slam poems.

It’s not until several days later that I come across an article and a discussion about chivalry that I begin to question and think about my decision to hold the door open for the person behind me. Was I wrong for holding the door? Is the gender that this person identifies with relevant? Because I identify as a male, does that mean I should never hold the door or hold the door specifically for those people who I know or I assume to be a certain gender? By assuming a person’s gender, wouldn’t this also be problematic?

I understand, these are separate things, i.e. chivalry and gender. However, my intent is to point out that holding the door for someone is not usually something about which one thinks. It happens naturally, and yes, to be fair, this could be the result of a cultural patriarchy or demonstration of the inequality of the genders. However, this is also where I pull out my red flag. I hold the door for basically everyone. Yes, I understand that certain men will hold the door for women simply because it is what they have been taught. But, if in fact a person who identifies with any or no gender does hold a door for a person they may be attracted to or someone they would not for others, is this detrimental to the other person, or to the way in which they identify themselves? If one answers yes, ok. I understand, as a principle, why one will object, assuming a common response is that it puts the woman on a pedestal, and further, this is only because of the fact that a man has the privilege to do this. Further, if one feels uncomfortable because holding the door creates the possibility for unwanted flirting or attention, I understand the objection.

Yet, in light of these two and other objections, as a principle I will continue to hold the doors for others, including for women. And, here’s why:

1) It’s an easy way to talk to someone. On a campus where there is constant stress and tension, I like being goofy and telling a joke to someone. When I hold the door, I can say hi, make small talk, and focus on something other than a paper on genocide or, ironically, political correctness for a minute. Selfish? Maybe, but I believe that almost every time I hold the door for someone, and yes, this includes women, we both share a laugh or at least a mutual acknowledgement of how horrible the weather is or how much mid-terms suck.

2) It’s cold here, a lot. I know that it is cold here a lot, and by cold, I mean negatives, single digits and low double digits. Half the time when it’s cold and everyone is bundled, one can’t even really see the person behind them. But opening the door is annoying, and anyone who is front of me who does do it, I say thank you. Thus, in return, I’ll do it too. Yeah, it might waste some heat by keeping the door open, but again it comes down to simple gestures. When it’s -15 out, I’m not thinking primarily with a politically-correct frame of mind. I’m barely thinking at all. So alas, if it’s cold, I hold the door, wait for the person to take it and maybe even pass it off the next person behind them.

3) There are other battles to wage. For several of the men who I’ve talked to about this, holding a door for a woman or a person in general, is just second nature. When I asked them if they thought about the fact that their idea of chivalry could be understood in a way that was negative for others, they responded with frustration and negativity. Essentially, most of these guys have not taken any gender studies courses and know very little about the rhetoric of academic and political feminism (myself included). Thus, for me, as someone who has heard from others that holding doors can be interpreted as negative, it caught me off guard. Men I’ve talked to have often become defensive about this issue, and calling them out in a harsh fashion doesn’t create much room for dialogue. In my own experiences and for others I’ve talked to, being put down when trying to do “the right thing” never helps make positive change. By calling men like this out for holding the door and limiting their good intentions, I fear they will no longer be interested or confident enough to learn and make changes in the way they approach gender issues.

4) Assuming the person behind you identifies as a specific gender is problematic. While I did mention that chivalry and gender are apples and oranges, I do think there is a dynamic at play between them. If one claims holding the door for a person is wrong because it is the man who holds the door for the woman, and as a principle this is indicative of a gender inequality, I am critical. Why is it okay now to assume the gender of another person in using this as the main basis for argument? The issue is not, then, about gender inequality. It is about an instance of disrespect, and while yes, overwhelmingly, it can be said that those people holding the door identify as males and those having the door held identify as females, assuming their genders as a basis for critique invalidates the argument.

If you disagree and decide not to hold doors for women or others because you feel it’s putting them on a pedestal, I respect that. For me, the pros outweigh the cons. It may not be politically correct and it may not adhere to feminist theory, but it almost always puts a smile on someone’s face and can make an average day a little better.