There is a lot of discourse about whether a gentleman should open a door for a lady. Some women argue that this action is condescending, and portrays the image that a woman can’t open a door for herself. Others argue it reinforces a patriarchal power. I just wanted to weigh in on a few points, and give my personal advice. As always, I welcome any responses or thoughts.
If the opportunity presents itself, I open the door for anyone: male, female, in-between and beyond. For me, this is not just a polite gesture reserved to feminine-identified people. It is quite simply, a polite gesture. End of story. Now, there are times when opening the door for someone who presents themselves in a masculine gender, causes a bit of confusion. As if this masculine person never thought that a door could or would be opened for them by anyone (outside of a doorman). They look at me like I’m nuts, then fumble awkwardly as they try to figure out what they’re supposed to do; take the door from me, and allow me to enter, thank me, stand aside and wait for me to pass? Guys, if someone unexpectedly holds the door open for you, a simple smile and “thanks,” will suffice.
So, the point of this, is, if you’re going to hold open a door for someone, do it for everyone, so long as you have the ability.
I have, on occasion, been confronted about what others have called my “sexist assumption” that I should open the door for a feminine person. As a proud feminist, as well as trans-person, the first few times this happened, I was shocked. Here I was, trying to be polite, and rather than being thanked, I was getting berated by a total stranger, in public, no less. How does one respond to such allegations? Naturally, yelling back is not something I would suggest. As far as I can tell, the best response is a simple apology, as well as an explanation that you do this for anyone, regardless of a person’s presented gender. Typically looking something like this:
“I sincerely apologize for the misunderstanding. I was trying to be polite, and this is a practice I reserve for all people, regardless of gender. Again, I apologize.”
If the person refuses to accept your apology, or continues to berate you, simply apologize again, and go on your way. Of course, understand, that people come from all different perspectives and experiences; just because something seems harmless and polite to you, doesn’t mean it may not be perceived as an offense to another person. Just don’t let it ruin your day, or your opinions of gentlemanly manners.
Ask my wife, and she will tell you that 90% of the time that I am able, I will open any door for her: front door, car door, restaurant door. Any door. This began many years ago, when we first started dating, and has continued since. In my opinion, opening the door for a significant other is a public display of affection, and conveys to that person “I am thinking about you, always.”
Of course, this is my relationship, and by no means do I believe that what is true for my relationship is true for all. If you are dating someone for the first time, try opening the door for them (especially the passenger door in the car, if that applies). If this doesn’t go over well, or if they look at you questioningly, then reconsider. However, I truly believe that, to error on the side of gentlemanly manners is the best route, in these types of situations.
There is a fine line between polite door-opening, and awkward, out of your way door-opening. For instance: if you’re approaching a door, and someone is half a city block behind you, then holding the door and waiting for them to approach can be awkward, at best. I did this once, when a young woman was several hundred feet behind me (I honestly thought she was closer than that), and in heels. She saw me holding the door open, and began to jog to the door, so as to (kindly) not leave me hanging there. I felt bad: those heels were definitely not running shoes, and she felt pressured into hurrying. So, be wary of distance, time, and footwear: if the person is too far off, then don’t wait around and make it awkward. If this does happen to you, simply saying, “there’s no rush,” in a friendly (not condescending) way, will, hopefully, avoid too much awkwardness. And how to gauge the right distance? Honestly, there is no scientific equation to this. My thought is this: if the door closes behind me, and into the face of the on-coming person, then I should hold the door open.
And what about high traffic, when you hold the door open for one person, and a tidal wave of people start to blindly pour in behind them? Awkward, again. In these types of situations, if I’m feeling a little put out, I try to merge into the traffic and hold out the door for the next kind soul to grab. It’s a bit like passing a torch. Just remember, being polite doesn’t mean sacrificing yourself (or your time).
Considerations for Transmen
Many of us have a unique perspective on this. I used to be in the category of people for whom doors were opened. Now, I find myself in the reverse position. However, even when I was female-identified, I opened doors for anyone that was around.
The point is, be mindful of those around you, mindful of stereotypes, and, above all, mindful of courteous, gentlemanly manners.
Cheers – Mason
(Thank you to a friendly librarian for suggesting this post and motivating me to write it!)