Thursday, October 9, 2014

Don't hold the door

Yesterday as I was walking out of the library, a guy held the door for me. Not that uncommon, especially in the South. But this was one of the times I just didn't get it. 

Some door-holding is common courtesy. We all do it, we all know the drill: you open the door, quickly look back to see if someone is there, and if they are within a reasonable distance (right behind you), you pass it off to them. If the person is too far away, sorry, you're on your own. But that last step is where it gets iffy.

This guy who held the library door had to wait a good five seconds for me. How inconvenient for him! Doesn't he have somewhere to be? Would he have held it if I were a guy?

Has anyone (likely a woman) ever had someone (likely a man) do the ultimate door-hold? This is my (least) favorite. You're walking towards a door, and a guy suddenly comes through the door from the opposite direction. You expect that he'll pass the door to you, or maybe hold it open while you pass through. But no - instead, he does this maneuver: he stands in the doorway, stretches one arm out to keep the door open, and nods or gestures to you to walk past him through the door. You (cringe, then) squeeze/shimmy past him, not touching the door at all.

What just happened?

In case anyone is wondering, I am perfectly capable of opening doors all by myself - and I think I can speak for every other able-bodied woman and girl over the age of, like, two: WE CAN DO IT.

Door-holding is something I hadn't thought much about before I came to North Carolina. In the North, it's just not a big deal. Now, when I go home, I notice that guys sometimes hold doors for me, but not nearly as much as here. I remember my sister saying after a semester at school in South Carolina that she hadn't opened a door for herself in months. Crazy!

From what I have heard since coming here, it is pretty common in the South for boys to be taught from a young age that it is very impolite to not open a door for a girl, and that they should act like "gentlemen" by opening doors, pulling out chairs, carrying bags, and jumping through hoops. Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating a liiittle, but you get my point.

Another thing I have noticed, after talking about door-holding with people born and raised in North Carolina, especially in more traditional households, is that some guys and girls can get a bit defensive about it! I can see how it would be frustrating for someone to tell you that the way your parents and society taught you to do something as insignificant as holding open a door is wrong. And honestly, I really do think that a lot of people who were taught this see door-holding simply as a favor, and mean no harm at all.

If a guy sees door-holding as a favor, though, it is implied that the girl owes him something. It can also imply that she shouldn't have to do any strenuous lifting or work. This concept only further perpetuates the strong man/delicate woman dichotomy, and gives both physical power and social authority to men.

One study by psychology researchers at Purdue found that, when men have the door held open for them by another man, they report feeling lower self-esteem and lower self-efficacy, while women do not report a change. Simply having the door open makes men feel emasculated: less effective, less confident, less manly. This very statement equates women with ineffectiveness and uncertainty. It is this idea that makes me uncomfortable with the "chivalrous" act of door-holding. Not any one act or any one man in particular, but the act as a whole.

We all try to be polite - and there's nothing wrong with not slamming the door in someone's face. But even if you're just trying to be polite by opening the door, think about the social implications. Does this act give any power to one person over another, even if implicitly? If so, it might be better to just pass the  door back.

Plus, you don't want to get yourself into this trap:


  1. I have had some door-holding situations at work lately. My male co-workers typically go out of their way to hold the door for me. I typically try to hold the door for other people as well (within reason) and I usually don't see it as a big deal, just a simple, nice thing to do.

    However, some of my male co-workers REFUSE to walk through a door if I am holding it open for them. They will just stand there, in front of the open door, and stare at me, motioning me through. Then I have to hand them the door, maneuver around them, and then go through first as they hold it for me.

    I also notice that if a door is propped open or held by someone else (usually a student), my male co-workers will refuse to walk through it in front of me, even if they reach the door first.

    What do I do? Stop trying to hold the door for them - just walk up to the door and wait for them to open it? Insist that they go through (I have tried this) and initiate an awkward door stand-off? Point out how ridiculous they are being and sound like a jerk?


    1. That sounds really confusing and hard to deal with! If you feel comfortable enough with it, it might definitely be worth it to say something to him. It really shouldn't be your fault, though, to tell him that that's not okay, but in this situation it seems like it will likely take you saying something. But it also seems tricky if you have already tried insisting that they walk through before you. Maybe it would be worth saying something like, "I won't be offended if you walk through first!" when you get into one of those situations.

      Good luck!!

  2. Since I was born and raised in southern California, I was ecstatic to experience some southern hospitality! So I appreciate it when a stranger holds open a door for me. Likewise, I don't mind holding the door for someone else because I like to think they appreciate the gesture as much as I do!
    I have to respectfully disagree that "women [are equated with] ineffectiveness and uncertainty" when someone holds open a door for them. I believe that women did not report a change in self-esteem/efficacy because they are not dictated by the same gender roles as men. Most likely, the men in the Purdue study felt emasculated because men have been taught from a young age to be independent and take care of themselves.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Megan. I'm not sure if I made that clear enough in my post, but I also agree that door-holding is nice! The issue for me is not the act itself - door-holding is actually very kind and helpful - it's the social implications behind gendered door-holding that make me uncomfortable.

  3. I know that most everyone who holds a door open for me is just trying to be polite. On the one hand, I don't want to give them negative feedback for being nice. But on the other hand, blindly continuing to participate in social conventions that reinforce stereotypes makes it less likely to change them. This reminds me very much of the well-intentioned reply I received from my health insurance company years ago when trying to understand my health benefits: "we treat pregnancy the same as any other illness, ma'am!"

    1. I also struggle with this! As I have said in previous comments, I strongly doubt that man thinks about these social implications when holding the door for a woman -- I certainly don't when I'm holding the door for someone! We are all just trying to be polite, and usually it is very much appreciated! But how can we address the larger issue when the actual, physical action is not harmful, and therefore does not seem worthy of being addressed?

      Also, what an interesting reply from your insurance company! This reminds me of a unit we did in my class, The Social Construction of Women's Bodies, a few weeks ago, that focused on the medicalization of women's bodies - treating women's health issues as medical problems that need to be fixed by health corporations. I didn't quite agree with everything we read, but that is a prime example!