There was a news report the other day tolling the death knell for male chivalry in the city because “gender equality” now means men no longer feel obligated by the historic expectation of society to give up their train or bus or subway seat to a woman.

I admit the only time I will give up my seat is when a pregnant woman can’t find an empty spot to sit. Does that make me less of a man or less mannered or less polite in that I see my fellow passengers as people first and not as their gender unless, that is, they are carrying the future inside them?

Have we all whittled away our sense of graciousness and poise by giving up our traditional gender roles and expectations? When I first moved to New York a friend of mine — who was then 68 and old school in every way — told me a story when he recently gave up his seat on a bus to a pregnant woman.

She took his seat, looked up at him and said, “Sucker!” He burned with fury the rest of the way home though he vowed not to let her inconsiderate comment mar the intent of his future consideration. My friend still tells that story 20 years later with the same anger as if it happened yesterday.

I know women who are insulted if you pause to open a door for them because they feel you are being a condescending male who believes a woman cannot open a door on her own. No amount of explanation will pause the torrent of male chauvinist accusations. I have also never draped my jacket over a mud puddle so a woman could walk across without getting her shoes wet.

54 Comments

  1. I remember hearing a professor complain that another professor got angry at him when he held the door open for her when they were entering the school. He told the class that he’d never hold the door open for any woman or man again because of the incident.
    It always seems strange to me that people get upset about people holding doors open, etc.
    I always let people cut in front of me at the grocery store if they have a few items and I have a lot. I’ve held the door open for countless numbers of women. When I was dating, I used to open the door of the car instead of clicking the automatic key fob and letting her do it herself.
    I never experienced any hostility.
    I wonder if the manner in which the civilary is done makes a difference.
    I’ve found that genuine friendliness without any expectation of anything in return is always rewarded with a smile and graciousness.
    Maybe ulterior motives are behind some chivarious efforts that are detected by the beneficiary?
    If you hold the door open, then leer at the woman’s derriere as she passes, it’s not a good thing. Women can always tell if a guy is staring her down. Could this be a reason why some women are leery about a strange guy holding the door open? Maybe he has a look on his face that sends the wrong vibe.
    Maybe the professors were subconsciously feuding over separate isssues? Could some political issue in the office be behind their efforts to jib and jab at each other? Were they secretly attracted to each other?
    Maybe it has nothing to do with the person giving a little to make the world a better place.
    Could the woman who uttered “sucker” just be a sociopathic personality?
    I say hold the door open proudly if you are doing it for the sheer pleasure of being a good person and making the world a better place!

  2. What a shame .. chivalry is one of the qualities I admire along with good manners.
    I do feel for your friend and can understand his anger.
    I also feel that some of the over zealous femminists carry some of the responsibility for this – in their desire to be treated the same as men.
    (Dons asbestos suit)

  3. Chris!
    I hold the door open for everyone if I get there first. Some people say “thank you” some walk through as if they’re royalty and some give you a hard time.
    It’s interesting I’ve never had a man complain but there have been a few women who wonder why I think they need me to open the door. I never have an answer. I just try to remember who was offended without wondering why.
    I wonder if this “door opening animosity” is more pronounced on the East Coast than in the Midwest or West Coast and more vocal on university campuses than in business workplaces?
    I never thought about women not liking men getting a free look, but it seems there are easier ways for a man to do that than just by holding open a door.
    😀
    I have a friend who claims the true test of a woman’s heart is when you unlock her side of the car and if she doesn’t reach over and unlock your door as you walk around the car then she’s selfish and you need to get rid of her because she thinks she’s “a princess who expects you to wait on her.”
    In addition to pregnant women, I also give up my seat to the disabled and the elderly — gender doesn’t matter in those cases. You know they are taking public transportation all day every day because it is their only mode of travel and I feel for the extra effort they have to expend just to get on a bus or navigate a train station.
    There’s trick to giving up your seat because if you aren’t careful the young kid behind you will sidle up the second you make a move and plop down in your seat instead. I always make eye contact with the person and wave them over. I then ask them out loud, so others around me can hear what I’m doing, if they want my seat — they always do — and then I get up slowly as they make their way over and I block all pockets of access to my seat with my body until the rightful person squeezes in and gets settled.

  4. Nicola!
    Thank you for your brave comment!
    :mrgreen:
    Why do you feel some women prefer to make an issue out of a man holding open a door? Do they personally feel insulted or do they see the action as paternalistic and part of the “whole” problem of males in society mistreating women?
    I know in colleges and universities women are empowered and made to feel strong and successful but after they graduate and hit the “real world” and find a capricious male-dominated society and female-only glass-ceilings they quickly realize the work world at large is not as forgiving and accommodating as their schooling experience led them to believe.

  5. Hi David,
    You’re right about “free looks.” A guy who’s going to look isn’t necessarily going to hold the door open for a woman.
    I was walking near the Thompson Center in Chicago a couple of weeks ago.
    I was about 20 paces behind a very attractive woman. Almost every young guy walking toward her made a point of stopping as she passed and staring at her behind as she walked by.
    If it was a cartoon, their eyes would have popped out as their jaws went slack and tongues fell out.
    I bet it’s more pronounced on the East Coast and college campuses than elsewhere.
    College campuses probably experience it the worst because students are “trying out” their new identities on their first experience away from home in an often politically charged atmosphere.
    I had a friend in college who always joked about guys who “visually harrassed” her — it was a play on all of the “war of the sexes” political stuff that goes on in college.
    The parody of various campus rules and regulations was that it wasn’t anything the guys did. Something about their looks that bothered and deeply offended her to the core of her being so much that the school should make some sort of conduct code to sweep the offenders away from the general student society.
    If I didn’t take a shower or just wore sweats and a T-shirt to class, she’d elbow me and accuse me of “visual harrassment” and threaten to report me to the student J-board.
    In the “Alpha City” of Chicago, things are less politically charged.
    I’ve never had a problem saying “hi” to a woman while walking in Chicago.
    I’ve even had women strike up conversations while riding in the elevator — something that is forbidden in NYC from what I hear! One woman even told me her story about how she came from Ethiopia 8 years ago to start a new life in the U.S. while we rode in a parking garage elevator.
    Once, a woman held the door open for me, then walked with me and chatted as she went to her office building.
    I think a lot depends on how you dress and what “vibes” you give off.

  6. Chris —
    I agree that men who sneak a “second peek” at a woman who passes by are just being boors. What’s the use of the second look? It is a sort of visual fantasy fulfillment, I suppose.
    Your college friend sounds very sad — it’s as if she’s looking for the smallest behavior in others that she can use to turn against her.
    Those people are plentiful and dull and when they pull the system into their paranoia through formal channels it can take a while for the system to figure out the motive and the means of the complainant bit by that time innocent people are usually destroyed or hurt.
    You’re right about striking up conversations in NYC. You’re usually a bother if you try unless there is an outside event around you that “allows” a conversation to begin.
    Love the “Alpha City” link! That’s a new one!

  7. Hi David,
    My friend was always playing around as a joke aimed at some of the more “serious” students who liked to actually try to get various codes and rules passed through whatever campus board they could gain a foothold.
    This was around the time that every college seemed to want to pass “speech codes” that would be applied with strict liability without consideration of context.
    She was trying to show how silly she thought some people were being during that time.
    If you like the “Alpha City” link, you should see map “The World According to GaWC.”

  8. Hi Chris!
    Okay, I gotcha on your friend — though there are still people who love to play the system for their entertainment while destroying others in the process.
    The whole “speech code” thing scares me. Some campuses have “Free Speech Zones” where you can only “protest” in those designated areas. It’s a cruel way to do a free business of the mind.
    THe GaWC site is unique! These codes and categorizations remind me of the work I did with GIS computer mapping:
    http://dramaticmedicine.com/gis/

  9. I remember people complaining about “Free Speech Zones” during the 2004 conventions. See the picture of the DNC 2004 “Free Speech Zone” in Boston — it looks worse than the pens at Gitmo.
    You can protest to a concrete jersey barrier far, far away from anyone who can hear your protests.
    Marianade Dave raises an interesting point.
    I wonder if it’s a generational thing?
    Besides on college campuses, I’ve never heard women under 40 complain about people holding doors open, etc.
    In my experiences, it’s always been the women who were in school during the 1960s who are most prone to complain.

  10. Here’s a geeky, but interesting use of GIS:
    Amateur Radio Stations using APRS (Automated Position Reporting System) “heard” by the International Space Station.
    Another map shows usage throughout the US.
    As expected, you can see the “megalopolis” on the East Coast by the numbers of radios equipped with the tracking service.
    According to Bob Bruninga of the U.S. Naval Academy who developed the system:

    Notice that APRS is not a vehicle tracking system, thought that was added in the 1992 time frame when GPS began to be affordable for the common user. APRS is much more. APRS is to provide situational awareness to all operators of everything that is going on in his local area …

  11. Dave —
    Remember to keep in mind crime ratios to population counts. There are places in the USA that have a higher crime rate than Chicago or NYC based on how many people live in the city and how many crimes occur.
    The door issue could be an age thing. Women my age and a bit older are highly concerned about the Supreme Court and personal freedoms that were fought for and won during their lifetimes.
    Today’s generation takes those wins as immutable facts and they cannot image a reversal of their current choices would ever be peeled back or reversed.
    One political analyst recently said the best thing that could happen to the Democrat party is to have Roe v. Wade reversed by the Supreme Court because, the analyst said, “Republicans wouldn’t win anything for the next 20 years.” I think that idea right and the low national polling for the current administration points to a wearying of the “moral values” debate that encourages pandering and isolation over scientific inquiry and answering hard questions.

  12. It’s been said that women are confusing. You open the door for them and their insulted you don’t open the door for them and their insulted.
    Well how can we not be confusing?
    From infancy we are taught through faerie tales that men are supposed to be the knights in shining armor. At the same time we are taught that women are strong and are men’s equals not needing men to come to our rescue.

  13. Dealing with people can be a “no-win” situation at times, A S. That’s why I try not to get personally upset by it. I try to remain neutral and then stay away from ever finding myself in the same position again in the future with that person.
    We just have to be who we are — and make sure we always remain kind and gracious — that way we’ll know if there’s trouble, we didn’t start it!
    😀

  14. We just have to be who we are — and make sure we always remain kind and gracious — that way we’ll know if there’s trouble, we didn’t start it!
    That’s my philosophy also: Try not to keep score, always try to be empathetic, and think of how I would want to be treated.

  15. I was thinking of writing a longish response to this, having dated a feminist at university, received both positive and negative reactions to door-holding and now being with a Swede who is constantly surprised when I do something “chivalrous” as Swedish men don’t do that (I’m English).
    Then I thought of a better response:
    If all the women that read this blog resolve to make sure they hold the door for a guy at least once this week.
    If everybody’s doing it, it can’t be chauvenistic.

  16. Hi Mike!
    It’s nice to hear from you again!
    I like you idea! I also know women who enjoy having the door held for them and who would be insulted if we didn’t or if we expected them to do it for us.
    Sometimes… you just can’t win!

  17. Hey, I also open the door and hold it if there is someone close behind me, or walking with me, regardless of gender. If it is a guy, he usually reached over my head, holds the door and indicates I should go ahead of him. If a man is ahead of me, he almost always holds the door.
    If so, I thank him and go ahead. The way I see it – and I do consider myself a feminist – if someone is trying to do something nice for you, you are gracious, whether it is something you want or not. It is just rude to do otherwise.
    As far as talking to men, I used to say hi to everyone. One of the men decided to stalk me and physically threatened me because I didn’t want to date him. I ended up having to notify my company and the police. Others have followed me to work, or stopped by my office too frequently to talk inappropriately when I am working alone in the office at night, etc.! So, now I am sure all the men think I am a very stuck-up person, but I cannot deal with that anymore. I don’t talk to any man I don’t know, unless he says hello first, and then I say hello back and no more.
    In two years of riding the train, two men have offered me their seats. I carry a big laptop bag with computer and lots of files, and I also carry a backpack with my lunch, shoes, sometimes clothes if it is hot out and I am commuting in a T-shirt. So, I am guessing that they felt bad for me standing there. I thanked them and told them that I thought it was really nice of them, but that I was fine. I didn’t take the seat either time. There was no reason I deserved a seat over them. I have given up my seat to elderly, to pregnant women, and to young children. No able-bodied people!
    David, a boyfriend told me the same thing about unlocking the car door – after I had reached over and unlocked his door for him. I have always done that, because I feel it is a reciprocity. He is polite and gallant and opens my door, so I am polite and considerate and unlock his.

  18. David! “Sneaking” is not what I would call that. They are being sooo obvious. So many men do that! I don’t mind if a guy wants to check me out, but please! Be subtle and don’t treat me like I’m a hooker if I’m not dressed like one. Ugh!

  19. Hi Antoinette —
    You sound like trouble!
    :mrgreen:
    You’re just so sweet and delightful and human and fun and strong and tough and you confirmed all of that in your comment! Hey… I’d follow you around all day to be a part of your exquisite energy!
    😀
    You might enjoy this article about Men and Kindness:
    http://urbansemiotic.com/2006/01/10/men-and-kindness/
    As well, for some reason, your comment inspired a memory of this article dealing with Daughters and Sexuality:
    http://urbansemiotic.com/2005/12/26/daughters-and-sexuality/

  20. Okay, now I’m through following you Antoinette!
    Are you trying to have it both ways?
    What difference does it make if men leer at you or sneak a peek at you? Isn’t their intent the same in both cases? Or is it you don’t mind the attention if they’re subtle about it?

  21. The car-lock is a good test to see how much your date is “into” you.
    Key fobs are reducing the usefulness of this test, however…
    Is it rude to click the key fob and hop in, or should the man open the door for the woman before entering the car?

  22. Yeah, hard to explain typing away here. If a man thinks I’m attractive then sure, I don’t mind admitting that it does make me feel pretty. But leering (whistling, catcalling) is disgusting, like I am an object with no feelings, just there for someone else’s pleasure. Did I explain that better?

  23. Hi David,
    States can be chivarous to each other also.
    Don’t let it be said that Indiana never gave anything to New Jersey.
    From the Indy Star:

    WASHINGTON — The Army’s plan to destroy deadly VX nerve agent in western Indiana and truck the byproduct to New Jersey for disposal adequately addresses public health concerns, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.
    The CDC said it found the Army’s plan “sufficient to address critical issues” such as potential human poisoning, possible treatment and transportation of the neutralized VX byproduct. The report added that the Environmental Protection Agency had concluded the plan had addressed ecological concerns.
    Still, New Jersey Reps. Robert Andrews and Frank LoBiondo, who oppose the plan, said the CDC report did not definitively say it was sound.

  24. Chris!
    Yeah, technology is making it harder to test our women with electronic key fobs and such! Harr!
    :mrgreen:
    I guess we’ll have to start taking notes on each other: I opened the door for her; she didn’t for me. She made me lunch; I forgot to do the dishes. She kissed me; I hugged her back.

  25. Dear Antoinette —
    Are you blaming your computer or your typing skills for your last comment? If you are blaming your computer, that is SO un-sexy!
    :mrgreen:
    I suppose you’re making sense, but you changed the context from the doorway to the corner catcall. That sort of open mocking of women is a boorish behavior infuriates me — I can’t imagine what it must feel like for a woman to put up with that harassment.
    So let me change the parameters on you for clarification. Let’s say you meet a man on a train. You are single and unattached. He non-leeringly looks at you but he is obviously checking you out.
    Do you make eye contact with him? If so, what is your purpose in reciprocating that energy?
    Do you just pretend he isn’t checking you out? If so, what is your purpose in not reciprocating that energy?
    If he were super-cute, would you offer him your seat?

  26. I read your “Men and Kindness” article a few weeks ago, and boy do I wish I had read it years ago! It sure would have saved me a lot of trouble.
    Well, I had not seen “Daughters and Sexuality” before … hmmm… why would my comment remind you of that? It must be the “destruction of the mother-daughter-family triad” that reminds you of me.
    Ah, yes, brings back memories. I was not allowed to wear makeup, not allowed to date at all. And I got to change the baby and take care of the baby while my mother put on her best clothes and was the belle of the ball. We fought constantly over food: my mother ate like a sparrow and insisted I finish everything she decided I should eat.

  27. I don’t understand this. As a woman, I wouldn’t expect a male stranger to give up his seat on a bus or subway for me, an able bodied adult woman. I wouldn’t be offended if one did nor do I think less of a man who doesn’t. I guess to me it’s more about formalities than gender. As a person who grew up in the northeast, formality among strangers is very important, and a male stranger or any stranger at all giving up a seat on the subway for me or opening a door for me (as opposed to just holding it open if they’ve already walked through it), would throw me off kilter. I wouldn’t be offended, but it would still feel odd. It would feel familiar, maybe because that’s what I would expect a friend or a date to do, not some random stranger. Or maybe I’m just weird.

  28. Antoinette —
    When I think of how fun and smart you are — at least in your comments here – heh! — I am instantly then reminded of your mother and how she forced you to raise her children as your own and it infuriates me for you.
    It’s a wonderment how the you here came out of the you back then.
    The child abuse you suffered is incomprehensible and I just wished someone sane from the outside had the temerity to step in and save you from the prison of your childhood.

  29. Kate!
    Wow! What a great comment! Thanks for the insight and the honesty!
    I like your “formality among strangers” turn of phrase and that has been my experience on the East Coast. You make a really interesting argument.

  30. Thanks, David. It’s actually something I’ve thought a lot about since moving to the south (NC), where formality among strangers is nonexistant. Not saying that’s bad, just different, and hard to get used to! 😉

  31. Hey Kate!
    I had the reverse appeal. I was born in the Midwest where everyone is your “friend” and entitled to all your secrets by default — I didn’t fit in there well growing up — and then I moved East and I fell in love with the formality of strangers.
    It’s a much easier way to move around in the world and not be bothered.
    However, as you know, when there are critical events like fires or 9/11 or other tragedies — no other town in the world comes together tighter or with greater power, intellect and muscle than New York City.

  32. I don’t think being chivalrous depends on gender or acquaintance.
    Chivalry doesn’t ask for anything else more than politeness and courtesy in general. I experienced complete strangers holding doors open for me; I did it too, for others – regardless of gender – not a big deal. Sometimes I have seen people racing to the door to open it for me – that’s so artificial and silly!
    The same goes for offering a spot to someone else in public transport.
    Those who express ingratitude are the ones who love to make a big hoopla out of nothing…or they have a system problem.
    I do agree “Midwest” is overtly friendly sometimes, but there is warmth in it and secret can always be guarded…no one can be entitled to it until I let them!

  33. Hi Katha!
    Here is the Oxford definition of “chivalry” and it is a gender-specific definition:

    the medieval knightly system with its religious, moral, and social code.
    historical knights, noblemen, and horsemen collectively : “I fought against the cream of French chivalry.”
    the combination of qualities expected of an ideal knight, esp. courage, honor, courtesy, justice, and a readiness to help the weak.
    courteous behavior, esp. that of a man toward women : “their relations with women were models of chivalry and restraint.”

  34. Thank for acknowledging it!
    Again, “feminist” has already become synonymous with “male chauvinist” – both are extremes!
    When someone holds the door open for me, I enjoy the privilege but don’t take it for granted – I return the favor back whenever I can. Some accepts it gracefully, some gives a confused “deer in the headlight” kind of look – and I love it! 😀

  35. No, my message did not get through when your ISP went down. I was answering your question yesterday:
    I do not make eye contact. I turn 3 shades of red and look down at my book. I am quite shy with people I do not know. And no, he does not get my seat unless he has a broken leg or heat stroke. But, if there is a door at the station, I will hold it for him; if he says hi, I will say hi back.

  36. Hey Antoinette —
    I didn’t want this response to taint my previous response, so that’s why I’m separating my responses to your comments.
    I am so happy to know your upbringing has not publicly warped you. There are many who, if they were in your position, would be bitter and complaining and publicly furious.
    It’s best to let the rest of us deal your outrage. That saves you the energy of memory and when the fury replicates outside of you and among us — even though that wasn’t your intent in sharing your story — it drives the rest of us to be more vigilant and purposeful in exposing that kind of hidden, culturally sponsored, child abuse.