The first time a young man opened the door for me I nearly fell over, I was so shocked. And pleased.
As a young black girl growing up in rural Canada I faced a lot of prejudice and outright racism, the kind that might make national headlines these days. I never had a boyfriend in high school. No boys liked me. Maybe I just wasn’t that interesting or that attractive, but most young women typically experience some interest from a boy at one time or another. I knew no such thing. I was the only black person in school, in town and one of only three or four across the whole region.
It’s hard to talk about in detail in a column with limited space, but I’ve been working on my memoirs and maybe someday soon you’ll be happy to read about my experiences with racism and grace throughout my life. All I’m trying to say today is that as a young woman in Canada, no boy that I can remember ever stopped to open a door for me. I was just this “other” in a sea of people who didn’t really ever have to come into contact with “others.” For the most part, this is how boys treated me.
I’m explaining all this to say that I just wasn’t the kind of girl boys opened doors for at that time. Don’t pity me. Don’t be shocked. It just is what it is.
So imagine my utter disbelief when on my very first day of classes at a small, private college in Northwestern Iowa I was walking into the student building and a young man in front of me pulled the door open and then waited for me to go in. He did it like it was second nature. I know this is going to sound so stupid (even at 44 years of age I’m still embarrassed to admit this) but my first thought was, “Does he like me??? That was so nice! He must like me!”
I figured out quickly enough that he was just being polite. That evening I went back to my dorm and excitedly shared the experience with my roommate. My proudly feminist roommate immediately declared me silly, saying she hates it when guys open doors for her as if she can’t do it herself. I was taken aback for the second time that day. To me, it felt…sweet. I’d never been treated with such delicacy before. Boys had typically been my tormenters during my school days. I found the gesture polite and winsome.
Over 25 years later I still love to see a man open a door for me. My husband rarely lets my hand rest on the door handle for long. Why we see this as an act of chivalry or kindness I have no idea, but I like it and I make no apologies for it.
My niece and my son are close in age (16) and wonderful friends. We once were out together and he barged in front of her to reach the door first. I demanded he come back and hold the door while she and I walked in ahead of him, admonishing him to imagine what his father would have done in that situation had he been with us at the time. His response was a smarmy, “I’m a male feminist! Equal rights! Girls don’t get special treatment!”
I immediately turned to my niece (after giving him the Mom Glare™ and making him open the door anyway) and told her, “Pay attention. You see what modern feminism does? It robs us of everything cool about being women!”
You see, I love that men in polite society feel compelled to show women a bit of extra respect. I’ve never met a man who honestly believes a woman can’t hold her own door. That’s not even the point. The point is that when modern feminists say womanhood deserves reverence, they are absolutely right. For some strange reason they have come to equate being treated the same as a man as “reverence” and I think that’s just silly. Treat me like a woman! Opening a door for a lady isn’t a commentary on her weakness, it’s a small gesture that says “I value your gender, please go before me.”
If you teach this to your boys when they’re young it will follow them through their lives and into their relationships with others - at work, school, and in romance. When our boys learn to value women in the smallest of gestures they will value women with larger gestures as they age and mature.
This ridiculous feminist notion of “toxic masculinity” doesn’t even need to be a discussion if you allow boys to value femininity -to revere it, even- without shame.
The boys who hold open the doors of buildings for girls will grow to be men who hold open the doors of opportunity for women.