I just finished reading CBE’s post about women helping men and it brought back memories of a conversation I overheard (in my defense they were speaking very loud) at an ETS convention. The theology students were talking about holding doors. Apparently, in the male evangelical world a true man cannot walk through a door held by a woman for any reason. What? Is it just me, or is this a little extreme?
Here in New Mexico everyone holds the door for everyone. The rule seems to be that if another person is anywhere near the door it is polite to wait for them rather than let it shut. When we are a small group (1-3 people) we walk through and say, ‘thank-you.’ When our whole family is together, we say, ‘Let me get that for you,’ and hold it for us and anyone behind us. If it is a child holding the door (and many times it is) they receive more praise for doing such an honorable thing. It’s a little thing, but it gets us all through doors without being awkward.
Occasionally there is a gap between us and the next person that is not big enough to allow the door to close and still be polite, but the person is far enough away that the person exiting would need to wait a few seconds to hold the door for them. In this case the person coming speeds up a little to get to the door, and says, ‘Thanks so much,’ or something like that. No one taught anyone to do this. We just learn by example.
So why is this so difficult? It is difficult because some people in the Christian world have taken chivalry to a ridiculous level and made it a source of pride and test of manhood (neither of which are Biblical attitudes). We have taken what should be a servant’s heart, and a loving gesture, and turned it into an opportunity to get our feelings hurt if someone less than us does it in return. This is not love. This is all about you.
So what do I teach my boys? I teach them that holding the door, the chair, helping the girl with her coat are good manners. Why? Because they are gestures that, in our society, tell a person that they are important to you. The more of them you do, the more you say you care. They are not a badge that says, ‘I am a ‘man.’ That is useless puffery. They are things people do, especially male people, to communicate that other people have value. While a stranger may hold the door for me at a restaurant, if they opened my car door, or pulled out my chair I would think they were weird. Small gestures are for strangers. The more we pile these gestures together the more we say. ‘I love and respect you.’ It is a societal convention, and the girl allowing the boy to do these things says, ‘Thank-you, I appreciate your affection.’ A girl who is not that interested in the boy will not wait and will do more of the little things herself. It is part of our mating ritual.
Now we can change how we do our little romantic dance, but couples who do this frequently need to discuss which portions of the ‘rituals’ (such as the man paying for the date) are to be followed and why. The discussion needs to occur because like it or not, our society has ‘norms’ and these are them. It is okay to change the dynamic, but we need to realize that it is there. Hence the need for a discussion. It is when these cultural norms become something they should not, whether it is a test of manhood, or a woman assuming that the man’s intentions are to oppress rather than one of the few ways he has to show he likes her early on, that we get into trouble. When our pride rears up, these things turn from niceties, to something I would rather not be a part of.
The other day I went with my son to the auto parts store. He had to return some routers (heavy brake things). He had four heavy boxes in his arms so when we got to the door I went ahead and opened it for him. He thought nothing of walking through with, not only a girl holding the door, but his sainted mother! (Okay, maybe not so sainted, but still.) Should I have watched him struggle, demanding he hold the door for me? Should he have put the boxes down, then tried to dead-lift them off a flat surface to save his honor? Of course not. Mom holding the door for almost adult son in this situation was the right thing to do. And since he has not made door holding a thing that potentially offends his honor and pride he had no trouble with the gesture. (I doubt he even remembers it…)