Opening the door – chivalrous or sexist?


Young man dangling on a hook and offering flowers to demurely seated female below. Becky Hall/San Jose Mercury News 2007/MCT.
Young man dangling on a hook and offering flowers to demurely seated female below. Becky Hall/San Jose Mercury News 2007/MCT.

A month ago, I auditioned for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in the theater. It was a tense moment, getting ready to walk up the stairs and onto the stage to recite lines. Before I stepped up, I noticed that a girl in the opposite line was walking up to audition as well. Trying to be a gentleman, I let her go up first. Looking back, I wonder whether it was necessary. By allowing her to go first, I was sending the girl to her nerve-wracking audition even sooner. Did she perceive my act as polite or merely sexist? Did letting her go first do her any good, or was it an awkward inconvenience for her? Letting girls go before me was a habit I had had for so long that I never questioned the act. I think the reason we males keep doing this is that we are simply afraid of looking bad in front of a girl. After my experience at the audition, I realized that the custom of “ladies first” may not be as respectful as I thought.
The tradition of men letting ladies go first dates back to a time when not letting a lady go first was considered a grand insult to the “fairer and gentler” sex. As time has gone on, society claims to have shed these unfair conventions. Yet I, and other males, still let the lady go first, even if we want to go before. The occasions when I let a male go through a door first are relatively few.
I first theorized that this phenomenon had to do with impressing the other gender. I asked several males of the LGBT community about their opinions on male chivalry. Cam Polinsky, a student at Claremont High School, had an opinion to offer. When I asked him about his opinion of the “ladies first” rule, he said, “I think it poorly represents genders. I offer the door as a kind gesture to both guys and girls.” Another member of the LGBT community and student of Claremont High, Andrew Marchant, said, “I feel like even though it [gender chivalry] is minor and pretty much insignificant, it is sexist against men.” He added, “I feel like it has a sexist basis and there is no reason for it to continue. The principle of it may be carried over …but tying it to gender should not.” It seems that boys who were not trying to impress girls had a bit of a disdainful view towards male chivalry.
I then interviewed a girl to see what she thought. Mina Bloom, a freshman at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), gave me an opinion regarding opening doors. Bloom initially said, “I like it, but women are capable of opening doors themselves.”  Then, she added, “A man who is gracious and chivalrous enough to open a door for a girl …has an attractive quality to him; it suggests longtime commitment to being there  and making life a little easier for a girl.”
I finally interviewed a defender of the act in question, Jonathan Anderson, a student at Whittier University, about his opinion on male chivalry. He said “It isn’t very common to find men acting like upstanding gentlemen anymore…and, also, we are losing a lot of the respect for women that we have gained over the years…I do my best to be a gentleman and use the rule of ‘ladies first’ to hopefully be an example to other guys.”
By the end of the day, it really seemed that these small habits that men have regarding women and doors were just gestures meant to keep up an old code of chivalry to impress a more impressionable generation of women. The gesture is a now a modern souvenir of an old code that is now deceased. Yet it seems that the gesture is alive for the sheer romance of it. Still, there is no need to act as if a uterus prevents someone from opening a door for her and for others. In all fairness, the door must be open to all, including those who want to go through first.
Staff Writer