manners: not dead, just evolved?

image of a man opening a car door for a woman, reads: real men still do this A Facebook friend posted this image last week and initially I looked at it as one of those “go viral” images with a message so simple that people feel compelled to share and like it. At the same time, I wondered if I was being trolled a little bit. With all the conversations going on about gender equality, do we really think that our current concept of chivalry–not the etymological definition–has that high a place in our culture?

It reminded me of an incident prior to one of my usual epic brunches. I’d decided to take the bus from near my place rather than walking halfway to the restaurant since the bus was only about five or so minutes away. Four minutes later, as I’m standing right next to the bus stop sign, a young woman walks up, keeping the respectable distance that most city dwellers seem to subscribe to, and I didn’t take much notice of it. Multiple buses service that stop, so she could have been waiting for another one.

As the bus pulls up, I glance through the windows to note that it isn’t crowded (ie: there will be seats enough for all) and approach the door. I hesitated because I saw the driver stand up to assist a rider in a wheelchair in getting off the bus, which would mean we’d all need to stand back while the fold-out ramp extended itself.

The young woman approached and stepped ahead of me, presumably to get on the bus first, so I said “Wait.” to let her know that we couldn’t get on just then. She looks inside the bus, realizes what’s happening and then looks to me saying, “Oh. I thought you were just being a gentleman.” Which, in my mind, sarcastically translated to, “Oh. Even though you were waiting here ahead of me and I’ve said not a single word to you, I assumed you would let me on the bus first because I’m a lady and you’re a dude.” And we both laughed it off, my chuckles probably a bit less sincere than hers. After the passenger had disembarked and the ramp folded itself back in, she looks to me and says with a laugh, “Oh, after you.” in a way that somehow made me feel as though I was the one who’d made some egregious error in manners, rather than her stepping in front of me when I was clearly first in line.

I believe in kindness, politeness, even friendly neighbor types of actions, but this weird chivalry idea that even though I’d been waiting longer, I should let any female ahead of me just because of XX vs XY? No thanks. I’ve always thought the modern concept of chivalry is, to put it lightly, fucked up. It seems easier to treat everyone kindly, open doors for anyone behind you, offer a seat to anyone who appears to need it, help anyone with their bags if they’re fumbling for their keys, etc. But the odd thing isn’t that I see men doing this for women on a daily basis, but more and more, I see women who appear to expect this behavior from men. Which, again, makes me think the whole system has gotten a bit fucked up.

The line between manners and misogyny seems to have gotten blurry.

Male co-workers will stand like stone statues in an elevator, waiting to let female ones off the car–and blocking everyone else from exiting, even when it’s clear the women aren’t exiting at that floor. Female co-workers will approach a double door, but if either door is opened, they’ll assume it’s being opened for them rather than reaching for the other door. On more than one occasion, I’ve bumped into someone who assumed I was opening a door for them–from the other side, mind you.

Of course, it’s not all people. Seems you have to say that nowadays before someone else says it in all caps. But like that guy who got nailed to a tree said, wouldn’t it be great to just be nice to people for a change? Or… alternatively, don’t be nice to people. Your choice. Which still feels like a better option than feeling locked into a seriously outdated set of social mores that don’t seem to be helping and instead just reinforcing the idea that women need to be helped and protected and men looked to as the suppliers of such.

In any case, “Good night, good luck, win awards.

Sorry about that last bit, I’ve been re-reading a lot of Douglas Adams lately and it’s starting to bleed through. Hopefully everyone had a great holiday weekend and no one made you feel like crap for not opening a door or giving up your seat. :mrgreen:

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3 Responses

  1. Kris says:

    Reminds me of a Bronx Tale, where the main character is told that if you do hold the car door open for a woman and she reaches across to unlock the driver’s side door, then she is a keeper. The lesson: everyone is silently judging every innocuous move you make.

  2. Lindsay says:

    Interesting. I generally subscribe to your proposed system; I grab the door for everyone and get out of the way. Often, however, I find that people expect me to get the door or be the “chivalrous” one because I’m *taller.*

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