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.
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:
There is a 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!”
You have received A VOUCHER FOR DISCOUNTED BREAD.
>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.