I have been chewing on this issue since a year ago at a cocktail party, when a friend of mine with two elementary school-aged sons asked for advice on navigating the conflict of interest between feminism and chivalry. Her eldest son, who is darling and hangs on her every word, questioned why men should hold the door for women if women can do it themselves. Didn’t that violate the laws of feminism? I did not have a clear answer then, but it seemed sad at the least (no thanks, I can open the door myself) to horrible at the worst (I don’t need you to hold the fucking door for me, asshole!) to do away with chivalry altogether. In the end, it just didn’t seem right to criticize something that’s so… well, nice.
Today the issue was unwittingly brought to my attention again by another friend. Because I am a Facebook stalker, I sometimes scroll through dozens of comments on popular postings to see what my friends have to say, especially because they might think none of their friends would do that (guess again). You know, when that little message in your newsfeed comes up because one of your friends commented on something controversial? This is what I saw:
My friend, let’s just call her “Er” for anonymity’s sake, is a gender equalitist (“equalitist” is not really a word, but “feminist” is misleading, IMO, and equalitists know we’ve had quite enough of that) that I admire. Outspoken but friendly, self-deprecating, community-driven, and best of all, fucking hilarious. She’ll take the joke over the jab any day. Now can you see why I spent time stalking her?
As you might have guessed, Er was not really in favor of this article. She is of a mind that manners trump chivalry, and on that point we agree. (If I had to choose one, manners all the way.) She brought up the fact that holding doors for women was born out of a belief that they are weak. True to the parlance of these internetted times, she did not cite her sources (tsk, tsk, Er). But considering that every person on the planet was at one point grown and expelled by a woman’s body (the vast majority without medication) I wonder how that belief could have been so widely held (open…hehe) as to spawn (sorry, I just can’t stop) that particular chivalrous act.
Besides, it’s a selfless act, opening the door for someone, and I struggle to believe it was born out of pity. Knowing, as I so intimately do, the power struggles in my own marriage to a man, I assert that no kind act begins with viewing someone as weak and incapable, especially when they are in fact the opposite.
What if a desire to honor women begot chivalry? Maybe we weren’t so disconnected from the harrowing tumults of life as we are now, and men recognized that women themselves are doorways, doorways to human existence. Maybe it started with sons insisting that they hold doors for their mothers out of gratitude, and when they were old enough to marry and have children of their own, they extended that courtesy to their wives.
Aside from being the human portal for three fabulous little beings, I hold doors for all genders. Chivalry is a gift we give each other, and nothing zaps the pleasure out of gift giving faster than criticism and expectation. Let us not condemn or demand, but open.