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When Did Opening a Door for a Woman Become Offensive?

man opens door for woman

As a child, I was taught to be polite, defer to others, and respect personal space. Polly and I taught our children to do the same. It has come to light recently in counseling that these things are so deeply ingrained in me, that they actually cause me harm, allowing family, friends, and strangers alike to take advantage of me. As someone who has a lot of health problems, I need to do a better job at self-care instead of always deferring to others. It’s okay to walk out the door of the gym first instead of holding the door so 20 physically fit people can exit before me. They can wait, my counselor told me, and, of course, she is right. That said, it hard for me to think this way. When I see someone behind me walking up to the same door as I am, I naturally open the door for them and allow them to go first. It’s just how I am. From letting people pull ahead of me in a parking lot line to allowing people to go ahead of me in the grocery checkout, I have always been polite and respectful.

Two weeks ago, I went to a basketball game at nearby Fairview High School. I walk with a cane, a halting, shuffling cut of a man who self-describes as a “slow-moving vehicle. As I walked towards the outer door, a mother and three teen girls came up behind me. As I started to open the door, I held it open, and said to the woman and girls behind me, “Ladies first.” I meant nothing other than being polite — no different from how I have behaved my entire adult life. (I would have said “gentlemen if they were men, young man, if a boy.)

The teen girls thanked me, my not Momma. Evidently, I had violated some sort of feminist rule. Instead of saying “thanks,” she glared at me. As we reached the inner door, I once again held it open for the girls and their mother, along with Polly and Bethany — who have watched me do this countless times over the years, both for men, women, and children. The girls, Polly, and Bethany said thanks and walked through the door. Not, Momma. She once again glared at me and instead of walking through the door I was holding, walked over to another door and entered there.

I said nothing. I have run into a few women over the years who don’t want a man doing anything for them. In their minds, walking through a door held open for them by a person with a penis is offensive. Evidently, letting a man hold a door for you and geting something for you off a shelf that is too high for you, is some sort of admission of weakness or giving into the patriarchy. Child, please.

Forget my sex. I am just a fellow human being who is generally polite and defers to others. Gender does not enter into the equation. I hold the door open for men, women, grandparents, and even children. When someone opens the door for me, especially if it is a child or teenager, I always thank them, letting them know that I appreciate their kindness.

Do you have a problem with people opening the door for you or performing other acts of kindness? If you are a woman, does it upset you if a man opens a door for you or helps you in some other way? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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  1. Avatar
    Rand Valentine

    One of the best Bible tracts I read long ago when I was a Christian asserted that the measure of our Christianity wasn’t how we acted, but how we reacted. It’s a good principle for any belief.

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    I think that little courtesy became a problem about the time my calling a girlfriend Babe or honey or sugar became a problem. To me an affectionate nickname was intimate and affectionate and in my teens it was well received. Not so in my mid thirties which was about the mid seventies. It seemed to me some women were looking for offense from men here none was offered. In other words looking to pick a fight. What’s behind that? Women’s lib? Maybe. I haven’t a clue. Perhaps before I die I’ll figure out what women want. I wonder, could it be better for a man’s peace of mind just not to trouble himself too much with what women want?

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      Colleen Carboni

      I’m a long time reader but never commented, but I think I can offer insight. I am a woman. I graciously thank anyone that holds a door for me. I will also hold a door for those behind me, regardless of who they are. It is a courtesy thing, not a gender thing. I think you saying ladies first made it a gender thing.
      You say you held the second door opened also. What did everyone do while you held the first door? Stand around helplessly until the old feeble man came to rescue them? I would be tempted to show irritation in that case. It would have been nice for the first one to reach the second door held it open for the group, returning the courtesy to the man who started the thoughtfulness. If I was the mother, that’s what I would have expected out of my daughters.

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    John S.

    I can’t say I have ever been confronted because I held the door open for a lady. Usually I get a thank you, sometimes on occasion the person may put their hand on the door, but I don’t necessarily see that as them taking offense.
    While I banter back and forth with my wife who is a lot more modern and liberal than me about the new way of things, I have learned to not take anything personally anymore. I don’t know where someone is coming from, I don’t know what they have experienced in the past that has caused them to act the way they do.
    All that said I like Dutchguy’s comment- looking for offense where none is offered. Certainly if the person is being an obvious jerk, they deserve the response they get. But someone who is just polite in their own way they should just get a simple acknowledgment of their good intention,

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    I am offering up a woman’s perspective here, particularly one of a certain age with the understanding that I don’t speak for all women.

    First, this woman’s response was unnecessary. Even if bothered, she could have just walked through the door and gone on with life. We also donr know how her day or week went – maybe she had just been harassed at the gas station and was just done. FYI women get harassed so often that it just builds up, and sometimes we blow up.

    Second, given your description, I presume she’s somewhere around my age or younger (I’m 54). Unlike my mom’s generation I grew up with the messaging and expectation that I could do and be whatever I wanted, that my sex was no longer the limiter that it was for my mother. Running into male pushback on that has always felt like a WTF experience that I blow off or blow through. I’ve grown accustomed to confronting men when harassed in public. Let’s just say that I run into at least “benevolent sexism” pretty frequently from older men. Benevolent seismic is behavior that assumes that I am weaker or somehow needing protection or special treatment due to my sex. It isn’t the overt objectification or openly demeaning version that we know of, it’s more subtle, based on the subtle concepts that women should be pedestalized or protected.

    Opening a door for another human being is just courtesy. I do it for other people, period. I appreciate it when others do it.

    Bruce, I would like to mention that perhaps this woman got upset when you said, “Ladies first”. It can be a trigger for some of us as it can be taken as benevolent seismic- that we deserve to go first because we’re “ladies” or that you’re respecting us because we’re “ladies”. Saying “after you” or something non-gendered like that may be a better choice. (That said, I don’t like being called a lady, but that’s a personal thing for me).

    I understand that it can be confusing for men who say they don’t know what to say or how to act anymore. My rule of thumb is if you would say or do the same thing to a man in that situation.

    I’ve had similar conversations with my father-in-law, husband, and son. The only one who has problems is my father-in-law because he has all this ingrained messaging about women needing protection, extra respect, are weaker, should be treated differently, etc. My husband and son grew up with girls in their honors classes, playing sports, in their school band, in college classes, at work, etc. I suppose another difference is that my father-in-law grew up in Catholic schools all the way through college, and my husband and son were barely in religious circles.

    Bruce, I don’t think you did anything wrong. The woman reacted inappropriately. But I hope my take on it is helpful to you and your readers, and I would be interested what others think.

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    While Bruce is a progressive / liberal, I’ve noticed that he’s not afraid to call out either side of the aisle. Example: he’s unabashedly anti-Trump, but he doesn’t shy away from noting any clay feet Biden or other democrats may have, and I find this refreshingly fair and honest.

    While I myself am a liberal, I am becoming ashamed at the intolerance my fellow liberals have for anyone who has different world view than they have. While conservatives are usually stuck in their mythological caveman mentality, most of them at least listen when faced with liberal concepts.

    Make no mistake. Their views are old fashioned and toxic but the let’s-talk-this-over approach that one used to see between liberals and conservatives no longer exists, and I am ashamed when my liberal brothers and sisters scream at the other side. It’s one thing to call out conservatives in a gentle tone, but how will we ever convince our conservative brothers and sisters if we always scream at them about their patriarchal, bigoted, racist, misogamist behaviors? A common ground must be found, otherwise will will tear each other to pieces.

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    Elaine W

    Bruce, you never know. I read some awful stuff on Reddit. Men younger than you do not necessarily have the purest motives. Rather than framing it as feminism, one might wonder if some kindly-looking old guy who looked like Santa Claus took advantage of the mom’s trust once, in years gone by. Now she just assumes the worst automatically. Nothing personal. Sad world we live in, and it’s not likely to get better.

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    MJ Lisbeth

    I think I was rebuked once or twice when I was in college (during the late 70s) for holding a door open for a woman. I attribute that to the fact that it was still early in the modern feminist movement, and some women were more militant about their newfound liberation than they are now.

    In those days, I was living as male. When I began my gender affirmation (what is often called “transition,”) I was advised not to hold doors and to expect doors to be held for me. Both pieces of advice seemed absurd to me. If someone is struggling to get through a door, why shouldn’t I help them? And why should I expect a door to be held for me unless I’m incapable of holding it for myself?

    During my first year of working as a woman, my department chair was on her way out of the office. As she approached the glass door, I held it. She stopped to talk to the department secretary and motioned for me to let go of the door. I did. Then she finished her conversation with the secretary and resumed walking toward the door. I opened it. As she passed through, she chuckled. “MJ, you’re such a gentleman.”

  8. Avatar

    In highschool, I had a friend who hated having boys and men open doors for her. I thought it was silly, especially when there were more important issues to worry about. And, I was annoyed when she and the boys blocked the door, arguing, when I needed to go through. Looking back, I chalk it up to newly discovered feminism+high school immaturity.
    I was taught to hold doors for people, regardless of gender. I’ve had a few rude people drop heavy doors on me, so I know how it feels. Usually, the person behind me says thanks and takes the door for themselves or holds it for the next person. I’ll hold it longer if the person needs it. If the door has a push button, I use that, both for myself and others.
    You did nothing wrong, Bruce.

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    Brian Vanderlip

    I tend towards ObChicks observation regarding your “ladies first”. It’s archaic, somewhat as you like to be! Also, the statement made by Obs, “Opening a door for another human being is just courtesy. I do it for other people, period. I appreciate it when others do it.” Yep, me too.
    Further, who the heck knows what’s in another person’s thoughts as they ‘glare’. She might be thinking, “lookit how his crotch bulges, grrr” or “lookit his pretty little no-bum, yummy!”
    Or, “Jesus Christ, he’s fat and can’t fuckin shave!”
    “Holy muther! Is that a freakin’ booger on the guy’s schnahzz?” Or. “Gawd, I love to ride that buffalo to town!” Or “Damnit, this is the last time I’m wearing this underwear! It’s damn itchy!”
    Any and all of these perceptions/deflections are YOUR fault, you prick. You do everything WRONG. Typical preacher.
    -love, bri

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    Like MJ I have a unique perspective here.

    As femme leaning androgynous non binary person, I live in a world where different people perceive me differently. I am treated as male, female, or something in between by different people in a single day. At this point in life, I don’t care and just leave it to others to figure out how they want to perceive me. I accept that I present a certain amount of confusion to people.

    For a long time this didn’t matter. Now, with the anti trans rhetoric at the highest that it has been in recent memory, this perception issue creates a dangerous situation for me.

    Men often hold doors for me. Because of how I look,
    most of the time it is just a passing encounter where all is well. But in the last year or 2 I have encountered men who have a complete persona change if they realize they held a door open for “that”, instead of that woman they saw coming to the door. You can literally see their face change and see their body tense up. Some glare, or mutter to themselves. Their reactions are scary and put me very much on alert for what may or may not happen.

    Now, to avoid these situations, if someone holds a door for me, I simply hurry through a door, not looking at them or saying a word. Or, if it is a double door, I use the other door, and ignore them as if they don’t exist.

    I am sure this is perceived as rude or ungrateful, when in fact it is just my way of avoiding the situations than can cause a potentially dangerous reaction

  11. Avatar
    ... Zoe ~

    My thoughts are it has nothing to do with you. She may have come into the moment triggered, therefore in many ways dissociated from the moment and trapped in another place in time. Yet, no way of knowing.

    While at a craft show, about to purchase an item, I waited in line. I heard the vendor thank the woman in front of me and he referred to her a Mam. She immediately went off on him. Don’t call me Mam. He looked so embarrassed. So, in typical Zoe fashion (always reading the room) I piped up with: I have no problem with Mam. I’ve earned the title. She wasn’t impressed with me but I spoke up because I saw how upset he was. He meant no harm.

    While at a Wal-Mart years ago, during a Fibro flare, I was limping along slowly and looking rather infirmed. A woman on her way out of the store literally started giving me hell for not having a handicapped tag, because someone like me certainly qualified and needed it. She told me I shouldn’t be walking from so far away.

    Little did she know that I parked far away from the door to get some exercise. I thought it would be good for me. I could have been so frustrated and tried to explain myself. I just smiled and said, yes, probably soon.

    Bruce, if you had held the door for me I would have said: Oh my God, thank you! 🙂

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