The Vagenda

The Door Debate

My sisters and I are all feminists. We have flipped our middle fingers at the glass ceiling, we have stood up against slut-shaming and we have become apoplectically furious over rape conviction statistics. And yet, at the same time, we are very different feminists – I spent a full hour and a half arguing with one of them about the etiquette of door opening, and we still don’t fully see eye to eye about it. (We got some good washing up done though.)

It went like this:

Me: I don’t really like it when men hold doors open for me.

Sister: Why not? Should they be letting it swing shut in your face then walk away laughing?

Me: No! I mean, obviously, hold it open because it’s polite. I hold open doors for old ladies. That’s fine. But I mean –

Sister: So, when you walk through the door, they should be all like, “I’d do the same for an old lady, in fact I thought you were an old lady, that’s a cool thing to say about your face, I won’t take your vote.”

Me: Look, forget about the old ladies. How about –

Sister: Forget about old ladies? That’s not very feminist of you.

Me: Shut up! Old ladies are not relevant right now! That’s not anti-feminist, that’s just a fact! …Ok. How about I say that it annoys me if we are both going through a door at the same time and then he pulls open the door and goes, “Ladies first.”

Sister: Why would that annoy you?

Me: Because it’s sexist.

Sister: How is that sexist?

Me: Because it’s like he’s being all – gah. Because he’s like – you know. Because –

Sister: Because he’s going to check out your bum?

Me: Well, not necessarily. Though he’d be a fool not to. But. Because. Well. Essentially, ‘ladies first’ is part of the ingrained cultural reflex of limiting and domesticating woman. The kind of man who says ‘ladies first’ is also likely to make jokes about getting back in the kitchen and claims to prefer ‘girly’ girls and also, incidentally, will harass women, verbally and maybe even physically, who don’t fit into his very, very narrow categories of the ‘right’ sort of female.

Sister: I’m impressed that you took all that away from a man holding a door open for you.

Me: I see that you are resorting to sarcasm to combat my argument. Nevertheless, I will continue. The sort of man who says ‘ladies first’ also complains about feminism like this: “God, women! You want equal pay then you expect us to hold open doors for you and pay for dates! Fucking feminists and their erroneous sense of entitlement!”

Sister: It’s nice that he knows the word erroneous.

Me: He probably doesn’t. But, the fact is, I expect equal pay. I don’texpect doors to be held open for me –

Sister: Because you like the challenge of a door coming towards your nose.

Me: – just because I’m a woman. I expect it out of politeness, not some sort of antediluvian attitude towards my gender. Nor do I expect to be paid for.

Sister: I do.

Me: … what?

Sister: I expect doors to be held open for me because I am a woman.

Me: But that’s – sexist.

Sister: I don’t expect them to do it for all women, and I don’t expect it from all men. Just certain men, because they fancy me. Anyway, I like being celebrated because I’m a woman. So I expect equal pay, so what. I’m also very attractive.

Me: …er…

Sister: So you’d rather your boyfriend never held doors open for you?

Me: That’s – that’s not the point!

Obviously, once away from the penetrating glare and discombobulating air of total righteousness of my sister, I can see all the logical fallacies. What the hell’s my boyfriend got to do with her army of narrow-minded admirers, eh? He’s not doing it because I’m a woman, he’s doing it because I’m his girlfriend! A very different beast! You don’t hold doors open for womenbecause you’re mid-way through a conversation about whether Paul McCartney’s Kisses on the Bottom is supposed to be a concept album about analingus, and if you don’t hold the door open for her, you’ll miss all the grotesque arm and face movements she’d doing as she goes through. And my sister’s ‘because I’m a woman’ meant ‘because I like it when a very limited set of men are attracted to me and show it in easy-to-decipher ways’, not, ‘because I consider myself to be in a position of doorframe inferiority whenever I see bloke’. So there. (Incidentally, my other sister stayed resolutely out of this argument. “I’m a horse,” she said, utterly deadpan, whenever either of us appealed to her.)

And, of course, my sister had a point. Sometimesholding the door open is the nice thing to do, even if your genitals are different. It’s really not a big deal! It’s a door! Walk through it like a pro! If they’re objectifying you as you go, and you can read their mind and know that they’re hating on your revolution, then why not go home and donate some money to the Fawcett Society? But still… I’m not happy that someone out there will take their gesture at the exit to mean I want fifties manners with noughties salaries, like all those unreasonable hypocritical feminists. I want to sit them down and explain to them how I feel about going dutch.

“I’m a horse,” my other sister said for the umpteenth time, before adding, “Imagine the gender politics involved in revolving doors.”

The mind boggles.

In the end, I dealt with all this by turning it into a hilarious game, the way frightened children do. So I’m keeping scores, and I know when you’re being polite and when you’re thinking about asking me to make you a sandwich. I just know. Because, in my brain, this is what’s going on:

Enter: Room

There is a door.

>open door

A man is opening it for you.

>the fuck you want buddy.

“I see that you are carrying a lot of items! Please let me help you!”

>oh… ok. cool, thanks.

“You’re welcome! Have a socially relevant day!”

You are now in a room full of doors.

>hold door open for old lady

“Thank you missy! You are a good girl! Here, have this!”


>hot diggity damn. put in inventory and go through door marked ‘baker’

Someone is trying to get through the door at the same time!

>roundhouse kick to chin

You can’t do that here.

>tapdance on their toes

You can’t do that here.

>hold door open for them

“Oh no! I insist! Ladies first!”

>smash patriarchy with bare hands

You can’t do that here.


7 thoughts on “The Door Debate

  1. your sister sounds a scream :o) Can we have more please ? I think she makes a good point that being feminist is no block to enjoying sexuality and flirting so long as it’s open handed as opposed to oppressive…

    For my part I hold doors for either sex and have no responsibility for the thoughts imputed to me by my holdees :)

  2. My boss (man, but really not sexist at all, well not much) used to hold open all doors for any ladies when we were out at meetings. It used to drive me up the wall. Sometimes it was painfully physically awkward the way he would stop walking and usher me in front of him, through a lift door. And it reeked of outdated, controlling, simpering chauvinistic etiquette. I mean sometimes we’d be going into meetings where all the women round the table were top execs or heads of organisations, but they’d still be coaxed through the doors on the way there like some wide-eyed wallys who’d never been in an office. Puke.

    Out with it all I say. Every time some jurassic minded man comes to a grounding halt to let a lady through a door, every man around, every watchful little boy sees him and thinks “oh, women go first cos they’re sort of special or elevated or pedestal-sat-on”. And every woman who is ushered, celeb-like, through the door and past the gaze of said jurrasic man, thinks “oh, this is nice, i feel all special and gooey…i like it when men are nice to me. Oh! Here’s an issue of cosmo on how to get men to be nice to me more. Think I’ll get a subscription…”

  3. Can we not just hold open doors by way of politeness? Does it have to be like this? I was taught, as a matter of good manners, to hold open doors for everyone so long as it doesn’t make the whole process awkward. I don’t do it because I am trying to make a point about their status, I do it because I am putting someone else first – which I was taught was the point of good manners. I guess the trick is to hold open doors and NOT say “ladies first” – would that be ok?

  4. It’s always been a bugbear of mine that the handling of doors is held up as this huge sacrifice of feminism; “You want bodily autonomy but you still want me and my penis to open a door for you? Ridiculous!”

    I open doors for people because it’s polite. They don’t have to be old or have vaginas or penises or anything! Sometimes, I’ll hold a door open for a male and he’ll refuse to go through it (he’s probably afraid that I won’t be able to hold it open for the entire duration of his passing through it because of my tiny frail lady arms…) so we have a little “no, you first” dance before I eventually give in and go through the damned door. That’s just awkward.

    Equally, I would expect someone to hold a door open for me in the opposite situation, irrespective of gender, because if you don’t, you’re kind of an jerk.

    Why this passing of one room to another has come to stand for some giant benchmark of female sacrifice, I have no idea. Until my breasts stop granting me effortless access to a new room, I’ll continue to quip “Okay, brains before beauty” at them. Who knows, maybe my 1 second head start will give me access to the last available doughnut or some other surprise perk. I live in hope.

  5. Sorry for being late to the party, I only discovered this site today (and have wasted the best part of a morning here!)

    I think like most people, you’re getting confused about what holding a door open actually means. If you want to know why I’m so anal about the following the descriptions, it’s because I was taught this in school. We had whole assemblies telling us off for not doing it right (holding the door for adults, I mean). It was a girls school so there was no sexism involved, only the assumed inferiority of children to adults.

    What most people call holding door open is actually more aptly described as “not letting it swing shut in the face of the person behind you”. This is fine, this is polite and it is something that everyone should do. It’s just good manners.

    What holding a door open for someone actually means though, is getting to the door first, opening it, standing aside while the other person goes through, then going through yourself and closing the door after yourself (hopefully, still not letting it swing shut into the face of the person behind).

    Like you, I don’t like the latter.

    If I’m carrying something, then fine, that’s very helpful. In fact I’ve held doors open for many men over the years, because doors are hard to operate when your arms are full, regardless of your gender. I hold doors open for people if I think the door could prove an obstacle to them, for example if they are carrying bags in each hand, carrying something that requires both hands, or are pushing something in front of themselves, like a trolley, pram or pushchair, which makes the door hard to reach.

    And I will also be grateful when someone does the same for me under those circumstances.

    However, when I am unencumbered, holding the door, waiting for me to pass through and then following me, is initialising me. I am a grown ass woman, I can operate a door, thank you very much. To assume that it is flattering to open a door for me, when in reality it is implying that I cannot operate a door correctly, is just insulting.

    It’s not a huge insult, because I think that most men who do it believe it to be a mark of respect, and are probably unaware of what it implies.

    Just like a man who takes your hand when you both cross the road. He wants to keep you safe, to make sure that you don’t get left behind (after all, he probably does have a big, manly stride) or totter over on those ridiculously high but pretty heels you’re wearing, and get hit by a beastly car. In actual fact, he is telling you that you need his protection to cross that road, because you can’t be trusted to cross it alone. Just like when parents grasp their children’s hand before crossing.

    It’s almost a reflex for parents, just something that you do because you love your babies, and little people can’t be trusted around dangerous, heavy vehicles. I think with some men, it’s the same protective kind of reflex that makes them both take your hand when crossing a road, and open doors for you.

    Of course in a normal parent/child relationship, there comes an age when your child stops letting you take their hand. For a while, as the parent, you may insist that they take your hand but eventually, you let go. You know that you have to trust them to be autonomous, even if it still worries you.

    When a man still does these things for a grown woman, I feel as though it is because he hasn’t learned that we are autonomous, he still believes that we need protecting because we are incapable of looking out for ourselves.

    That’s why it’s insulting to me, and why I would mistrust anyone who consistently held doors open for me.

  6. While earring my psychology degree I did a study on door-opening behavior. I looked at four social dyads, the first listed in the combination being the “opener:” women for women (WW), women for men (WM), men for men (MM), and men for women (MW). That part of the study comprised the observational aspect, while the second consisted of interviewing a selection of women and men who were representative of the population being observed (college-age women and men of various majors, to simplify the demographics quite a bit). My partner and I concluded that very little difference in frequency occurred among the dyads; however, the real point of the study was analyzing motivation for the behavior as it pertained to- this is the important part, now- benevolent versus hostile sexism. We all know what a hostile sexist is. A benevolent sexist doesn’t necessarily dislike women- he may think of women as weaker, in need of special treatment like assistance, etc. He doesn’t realize that he is upholding outmoded, patriarchal views of gender relations. If you’re interested, please consider learning more about these terms and finding studies that examine this phenomenon further. If anyone is interested in the entirety of my study in particular I suppose you could comment on this post or something.

  7. I can’t wait to meet you. I will really enjoy shutting a door in your face. more so if you have your hands full at the time. maybe then you will learn to accept the concept of being polite.