The Vagenda

Can Feminists Expect Men To Hold Doors Open For Them?


As Caitlin Moran puts it, a foolproof way to determine if you are experiencing sexism is to ask yourself: “Is it polite, and is it happening to the men?”

A simple and decisive test, indeed, and one that I am a fan of. But my issue with politeness goes a bit further. And it goes like this: The F-word (feminism, of course) is brought up at the dinner table; a man at the table allies with you immediately; he, too, is a feminist. You grin and bond and, united, you face the rest of the table to show why this movement matters, why it’s vital to our society and societies around the world, and he opens his mouth and speaks about the issues as if he’s basically a woman himself. Except. Except.

“I believe in feminism, so I don’t see why I have to give up my seat on the tube.”

And this is where it ends. These so-called allies agree with the core principles of feminism, they support equal rights. But instead of using this a platform to discuss how, and more importantly, why our sex educations were different – why it’s seen as ambitious when they ask for a pay rise yet pushy when we do, for instance – the debate turns quickly into a rant about how they do not believe a women should be able to call herself a feminist and have the door held open for her. Apparently, we should choose between one or the other, manners or equality.

At university, a few moons ago, I was going out with a 6ft rugby-playing Robert Pattinson lookalike (lovely). On a late night walk home together from a party, I spotted a girl walking alone ahead of us and started to cross the road. I asked “Robert” if this was something he would usually do.

Robert Pattison Lookalike: Why should I cross the road?

Me: Because it’s late and dark and you are a man, which is unnerving when you are walking home by yourself as a woman.

RPLAL: But I would never ever harm a girl. I’m not one of those guys.

Me: But girls don’t know that. To them you are 6ft guy walking behind them. If it were me, I’d have my keys between my knuckles.

RPLAL: But why should I have to cross the road?

Me: It shows that you are aware. It’s a clear sign that you are not a threat.

RP: Could I not just speed up and overtake her?

Me: I’m going to go ahead and speak for all of us girls just the once, and say that quickening footsteps behind you on a dark street are not at all comforting.

This conversation has stayed with me. It’s a prime example of how manners, politeness, awareness and sexism can all come together in an unholy soup of wrongness.

“Why should I cross the road?” Simply, because it’s the decent thing to do. It’s a way of separating yourself from the men who are to be feared. It’s an understanding that you cannot tell what someone might be capable of by looking at them, allowing women to judge people by their actions, not what they are wearing or how they appear. Heck, us girls are asking for the exact same thing.

It is not perhaps a major battle in the fight for equality, but I have seen this aggravate people – usually men – numerous times. If they stand up for feminism, they shouldn’t have to physically stand up for us as well.

So, do manners take a back seat if we fight for equality? I do not believe that because I walk through the door before a man then it’s fine if I get paid less than him. If someone gives me their seat on the bus, then I don’t think that warrants them putting their hand up my skirt. I do believe in manners, but both ways. Of course I will give up my seat for an elderly gentleman, women carrying children or someone who looks like they really need it. I hold the door open for whoever is behind me. I say please and thank you.

My question is: why does this anger so many men? Is it a lack of understanding? As our generation try to redefine our stereotypical roles, do the men who pay attention feel they don’t know how to behave anymore? Even female friends I have broached the topic with get irate when they tell me that men hold doors open for them in the workplace – they feel this action puts them ‘back in their place’ in some way. My question is not so much about the action – but why does it fuel so much anger? What is it about these age-old manners that makes everyone jump to the defensive: is it impossible to be both progressive and polite?

In order for us to progress, we cannot just insert ourselves into a man’s world. We need to carve out a world in which the rules are different, while accepting where we’ve come from already.

My boyfriend holds open the door for me, but that doesn’t mean it’s his choice which ones I walk through. Shouldn’t that be the focus of the fight?

- Beth

P.S A social experiment, if you have the time

I work in a coffee shop that sits in the centre of London’s financial district. Almost all of our customers are people taking a break from the office. My new game to pass the time is this: When a man and a woman come into the shop together, I address the women first (stay with me, it gets slightly more fun.) Obviously I have no idea what their working relationship is; I don’t know who is more senior, if they have worked together for long, nothing. Therefore I play this game entirely on the basis that one is a man and one is a woman.

I reckon about 92% (yes, that’s right) of the time that I speak first to the woman directly, the man will interrupt me. It could be with his own order, her order, a question, anything. But the majority of the time, he will expect to speak first. Some men will then stop, some boulder on, some interrupt me again halfway through the woman’s order to ask about blueberry muffins, but the expectation is that they come first. Interesting, isn’t it? Not groundbreaking, but I have to say I was honestly surprised at how forceful and how deliberate I had to be for two women to discuss a coffee order before a man interjected. What this says about my original point, I’m not sure – but it feels like it must have some further reaching implications.

42 thoughts on “Can Feminists Expect Men To Hold Doors Open For Them?

  1. With regards to your social experiment, my boyfriend and I do something similar when it comes to asking for the bill in restaurants. I will make a point of asking for the bill and inevitably it will be put in front of him to pay. Interestingly though, the times when the bill is put in front of me (which is hardly ever), the server is always a woman. A similar experience happened a few weeks ago when we were buying groceries for dinner. I went ahead of my boyfriend as I was paying. After the guy behind checkout put through the groceries, he turns to my boyfriend and tells him the total, even though I stood with my card in hand ready to pay. I put the card into the reader, keyed in my code and the man handed the receipt back to my boyfriend. I guess it’s still a hard concept to grasp that women can actually pay for themselves (and their partners).

  2. As a male friend of mine once expressed it “I don’t hold the door open for you because you’re a lady, but because I’m a gentleman”.

  3. Crikey, that percentage in your game at the end was higher than I expected, even with an awareness of the patriarchy.
    I hold doors open for anyone (or have that awkward moment of how far behind me they need to be for me to let it go), and expect the same done for me, rather than them A, standing to attention while I walk through and curtsy, or B, realise I’m a feminist and shut the door in my face.

  4. I totally agree with what you wrote about doing ‘the decent thing’. I have never had any qualms about men holding doors open for me since I do exactly the same for them. It’s just good manners.

    However, 3 months into pregnancy, the line between ‘good manners’ and sexism has become somewhat blurred to me.

    A common situation I encounter: Someone at work notices me carrying something heavier than a piece of paper and attempts to take it out of my hands.
    Why I find it offensive: a) I am not struggling, b) There is an assumption of my fragility purely because I am pregnant, c) They do ask if I need help, rather they intercept me and invade my personal space, d) If I politely refuse their help there’s usually some comment that implies I am putting my baby at risk.

    The other day I was told by my boss that I couldn’t stay after work with everyone else to finish a project because of ‘my condition’. You see, I’m sure in her mind she was just ‘doing the decent thing’ but I felt I was being discriminated against.


  5. The argument in this article seems to conflate three separate things:

    1) Attitudes to women as such
    2) Beliefs about fairness
    3) Befliefs about decency

    I have no doubt that people sometimes confuse 1 and 2, and I have no doubt that we all disagree about 3. But it seems wrong to reduce all problems found in 2 or 3 to 1.

    Let’s start with fairness and attitudes to women. The idea of fairness may or may not have a gendered dimension. I may think, for example, that seats on trains or who gets to go through a door first should be allocated on a ‘first come, first served’ basis, regardless of who comes first. However, I might also feel obliged (by whatever conception of manners I hold) to prioritise certain groups (“baby on board” badge holders, older people, women). Because I have a rather unsophisticated conception of fairness, there’s obviously a conflict here. Hence, I may find it frustrating that feminism, based on a strong argument for fairness, doesn’t seem to excuse me from my mannered obligations.

    I don’t think you disagree with this, but I do think you misunderstand the problem by rooting it in attitudes to women as such (hence the need for your question). It’s a conflict between moral beliefs (not easy to sort out at the best of times), with the added pressure that most people want to avoid being seen as bigoted. This is a heady mix; we can only navigate society by having a conception of who we are and how to act. If we think this is unstable (because pulling in two directions), we’ll lose confidence, not know how to act, and get frustrated.

    So far, so unobjectionable. But now I want to take issue with your example about crossing the road because of the lone woman. As you say, this is an issue about decency, rather than fairness, as it doesn’t involve the distribution of anything. Here, I must admit, I found your argument to be a little strange. Putting aside the oddity that you were walking with said chap (something that would intuitively reduce whatever risk he poses, and thus negate the need to cross the road; the myth of the night-stalker is a lone male rather than a couple, after all), you seem to be suggesting that people should go out of their way to make it clear to others that they are not a threat. This seems bizarre to me; where on Earth does this obligation come from? Decency requires that we do not pose avoidable dangers to others, but it cannot require that we do more work to somehow signal this as well (unless, as on the road, the lack of a signal itself causes danger). It just seems counter-intuitive. As such, disagreement with you on this is nothing to do with feminism or sexism or anything else, it’s just a reasonable disagreement. To conflate it with attitudes to women is to load the concept of decency in such a strongly gendered way that you’d necessarily cross the bounds of fairness (because prioritising women’s concerns above all others), creating exactly the kind of inequality your article seems to be intent on disproving.

  6. -As Caitlin Moran puts it, a foolproof way to determine if you are experiencing sexism is to ask yourself: “Is it polite, and is it happening to the men?”- This to me is the crux of it, and should not go too much further…
    A heavily pregnant female may need a seat on the tube more than a man, but then again, so does a man using crutches: fairness and need. A healthy female passenger on the other hand does not, the implication is that she is weak. No man would offer another perfectly healthy man a seat unless there was some other social hierarchy at play, such as a man and his father or boss.
    The etiquette of holding doors open is something i have had to tell my own male friends, if they get to the door first it is polite to hold it open, as it would be if the woman arrived at the door first, however to run ahead in order to do so is not polite, that is implying that the woman is weak, they would not do this for male friends. It is surprising how many males will walk ahead simply to get to a door first, when asked my male friends will admit to it, and say that it is because I am female. It isn’t an issue to be rude about however, I just politely tell them that it bothers me and why and that it probably bothers others too, without being accusatory, this is what is learnt from an early age. If they get to the door first by chance that is fine.
    On your point about a man (or group of males) walking behind a woman on the street, there isn’t a need to cross the road, but simply not to walk too close, and if the person intends to pass then to do so when the street is well lit. This would be polite to a male walking alone also, as the threat of being mugged or attacked can play on the minds of males too. Additionally, a group of females can seem just as threatening on a dark street.

    So again, as Caitlin Moran puts it, a foolproof way to determine if you are experiencing sexism is to ask yourself: “Is it polite, and is it happening to the men?”
    And for men…. Would I do this/ say this if she were a man?

  7. To add to the point about what should be the focus of the fight. If woman are forever seen as weak creatures who need seats, can’t open doors,and should generally get specialized treatment due to their terrible weaknesses, how are we ever going to be taken seriously?

  8. Preach. I was out with a male friend, and we were discussing feminism. As if to illustrate the point I had been making, I asked the waiter for the bill. He gave it to my friend. I took it off him, and paid in cash. When the waiter brought the change back, he gave it to my friend – who at least had the courtesy to be gobsmacked by the inevitability of it all.

  9. The miserable truth of the matter is that although I play rugby, and can run quite fast for quite a long way, I still get antsy walking home at night. And even if I’m not exhibiting my tension in a way that another night pedestrian might be able to see, I am often scared.

    You ask ‘where on Earth does this obligation come from?’. I would say a) it’s not an obligation, but a kindness, and b) if this kindness comes from anywhere, it comes from a genuine understanding of what the other person is feeling. To be fair, I think the word ‘decency’ was poorly chosen, as this isn’t anything to do with an accepted standard of morality and/or respectability. It has a lot to do with empathy though, which to my mind should be the same reason any gives up a seat on the train to someone carrying a huge bag/pregnant/elderly/very young/disabled/wearing shoes that look like torture instruments. It can be difficult to tell, but if I suspect someone is offering me an empty chair because of a some kind of ‘moral belief’ when they’d really rather sit (often only visible because they look a bit put out) then I’ll offer it to them right back. They probably have tired feet, and have been running around all day. As a woman also happily give up my chair to someone if they seem vulnerable (elderly/pregnant/young/disabled/wearing shoes that look like torture implements). Etiquette is a game we all play, and it works best if you sit when you need to sit and stand when you don’t.

  10. Kindness does indeed entail giving people what you think they need (but don’t have). I’m not sure that many men would ever think that a woman on her own needs them to cross the road, though. I’d not once thought of the idea until I read the post above; I suspect that’s the same for most men.

    And anyway, I foresee a problem. What is a man to do if there’s a lone woman on the other side of the road too? Zigzag between them?

  11. I’ve tried several permutations over the years of your social experiment. In my experience there is a presiding junior / senior dynamic at play: in stores , where I know beforehand who is senior, when I address the junior first, the senior will usually interupt. In my experience this seems to be gender independent: female seniors interupting their male juniors as frequently as vice versa.

  12. I don’t understand why you put the Caitlin Moran quote when you seem to disagree with it. I agree with Sam on the whole. I agree with the men who say “I believe in feminism, so I don’t see why I have to give up my seat on the tube.” I don’t understand why you want them to. As for having the door held open for you, well you shouldn’t expect it just because you are a woman. Everyone should hold the door open for everyone.
    “If they stand up for feminism, they shouldn’t have to physically stand up for us as well.” Of course they shouldn’t, not if they wouldn’t do it for men. Even the most old fashioned men probably don’t physically stand up for women these days. Why do you want them to?
    “So, do manners take a back seat if we fight for equality?” Of course not but manners go both ways and are applied to everyone. You seem to be wanting special treatment for women.
    “I do not believe that because I walk through the door before a man then it’s fine if I get paid less than him.” But why should a man hold the door open for you to walk through before him just because you are female? “If someone gives me their seat on the bus, then I don’t think that warrants them putting their hand up my skirt.” Why should a man give you his seat on the bus just because you are a woman?
    It’s not about walking through the door before a man meaning that it’s fine to get paid less than him. It is about equality in all areas of life. You sound like someone who wants equality only when it benefits women but not when it takes away the special treatment that women get.
    You say you “believe in manners, but both ways” and go on to mention who you will give up your seat for, i.e. “an elderly gentleman, women carrying children or someone who looks like they really need it.” So why expect men to give up their seat for young, not pregnant,, not carrying children women? Why won’t you give up your seat for a man carrying children?
    I can understand why it angers men and I am with them on this. It angers them and myself because you are saying that men and women should be treated equally except in these types of situations where women should get special treatment. Why should a tired man give up his seat to a woman (who might actually be much less tired) just because she is a woman? Also, many men have had very negative reactions from women when they’ve held the door open for them etc, such as women accusing them of patronising them or viewing them as weak. When I was at university a male friend said to me one evening in the student bar “I won’t give up my seat for you, women want equality” I replied “That’s fine. I wouldn’t want you to give it up for me.”

  13. “In order for us to progress, we cannot just insert ourselves into a man’s world. We need to carve out a world in which the rules are different, while accepting where we’ve come from already.” What do you mean a world where the rules are different? Is that equality but special treatment for women in some areas? As for your boyfriend opening the door for you – is this something he does because you are a woman or is it something he does for everyone? Do you ever do it for him?

  14. “At university, a few moons ago, I was going out with a 6ft rugby-playing Robert Pattinson lookalike (lovely).”
    “….allowing women to judge people by their actions, not what they are wearing or how they appear. Heck, us girls are asking for the exact same thing.”
    Oh but you just write about your ex boyfriend in terms of his appearance.

  15. Etiquette and manners have noting to do with being a feminist, pro feminist or even anti feminist. I agree with the Caitlin Moran quote (that’d be a first for me I suspect lol). If a man is giving up his seat for you because of some sort of obligation he might not show it in his face but if he wouldn’t do it for a man then yes it is sexist, but I believe it is sexist towards men, in that they are not receiving the same favour. I don’t think that most men who do this even think that weakness is a factor, rather that it is the done thing to offer a woman your seat.
    With regards to someone wearing what looks like torture instruments on their feet, compassion and kindness may lead one to offer their seat to them but I can’t help thinking that the person, let’s be honest, the woman, choose to wear such a contraption and we should not have to give favours to compensate for women’s bad choices. This may sound harsh but it’s often through unpleasant experiences that we learn to make better choices.

  16. Good points Sam. If feminism is for equality of the sexes then why should a man have to give up a seat for a woman? I do not expect this and I politely refuse. Of course you should not have to choose between manners and equality, but it doesn’t seem that anybody is. It is not bad manners when a man stays sitting down whilst a woman is standing on the bus/tube, given that he would not stand up for a man in the same situation. I suspect the men who get angry and the women who get irate do so because of the expectation of having to give specialized treatment to women. The men who say that women who are feminists shouldn’t expect the door to be held open for them, are surely implying that these women shouldn’t expect special treatment. Beth, you won’t give up your seat to a man unless he is elderly so surely if it goes both ways, a man shouldn’t have to do the same for you (as you’re young), unless you are pregnant of course. Progressive and polite means open the door for whoever is there, don’t especially open the door for a woman. Do you open the door for your boyfriend too?

  17. So if all decent men crossed the road instead of walking past a girl at night, then women would be right to freak out every time a man walked past them at night? While I see your point I’m not sure that’s the sort of world we want to be working towards.

    Should I cross the road if a man that is smaller than me is walking in front, seeing as men are more likely to be victims of violent crime?

    Sorry to pick on these points as I agree with a lot of the sentiment of what you’re saying. I strongly agree with what others have commented on regarding paying the bill (waiting staff often hand the bill to the man, even if it should be clear the woman is paying).

    Regarding your behaviour experiment – to what extent do you feel men are encouraged by women to play a dominant role in our society? What have you observed about the responses of the women in these situations? Do they tend to laugh along and ascribe value to the man’s interjection, encouraging this behaviour in future, or do they tend to push back and get annoyed that they have been rudely interrupted?

  18. I would agree with Sam about the door-opening. I think there is, as with so many of these issues, a gut feeling about this that can’t be described/ defended well. We have all been in situations where having a door opened was patronising, and where it was normal even if on principle you try to avoid/ counter it. There is something in the way people “run ahead” or make a show of opening a door that lets you know their attitude to you.

  19. To be honest, the idea of a man having to cross the road in order not to scare me has never occurred to me and strikes me as odd. This goes way beyond being polite or well-mannered, in my opinion

  20. Lots of interesting points.

    I like it when anybody holds a door open for me, but especially when it’s a woman. More women should hold doors open for each other – in every sense.

  21. Paul, when you say, “Hence, I may find it frustrating that feminism, based on a strong argument for fairness, doesn’t seem to excuse me from my mannered obligations” you are wrong.

    You seem to be conflating two things here: feminism and sexist old-time chivalry. Let me explain it to you. Feminism promotes the principle that you don’t treat women any differently than men. So no, no feminist anywhere ever said “That guy should give me his seat/open my door BECAUSE I’m a woman.” That action would be sexism.

    Feminism isn’t about common courtesies, however. Your “mannered obligations” (what a weird phrase) exist independently of the sex of the person you are treating nicely. If a woman is walking towards a door, don’t slam it in her face. If a very old woman is on a bus, do offer her a seat. Repeat for men.

    What is contradictory or in any way “frustrating” about being expected to be both polite and not sexist?

  22. It’s good of you to explain this to Paul, but no one is both well-intentioned and this obtuse.

    I’d agree that the obligation comes from empathy. People are telling Paul women walking alone at night on a deserted street get scared when a strange man is behind them, and there’s a quick fix he can use to improve the world! Why does he object? Why come up with the zig zag comment?

  23. To be honest, if I noticed a bloke crossing the road to avoid me, my first assumption would be that he was scared of me for some reason.

    I don’t like this implication that all women are walking around terrified all the time. I take reasonable precautions and then go wherever i want. If you are scared, I’m not sure you have any reason to feel more fear than men do. Men get mugged and beaten up on the streets just as women do.

  24. My heavily pregnant wife as I recall was quite capable of running 10 miles daily right up to the day she gave birth, and she did just that, and was also capable of standing on the tube for ten minutes or however long it was between stops. She’d have been delighted to be offered a seat however pregnant or not.

  25. I agree that anyone should hold open a door for someone behind them and I don’t get offended by a man holding it open for me if I just happen to be behind him. It’s simply polite and actually I get really annoyed by people who don’t hold a door open (male or female). If I’m in a group of people walking towards a door, sometimes I’ll hold the door open (even if most of the other people are men) and sometimes I’ll hold back and let one of the others hold it open.

    The walking-down-the-road scenario, if I feel uncomfortable with someone behind me I will cross the road myself (because then I have the control – if they cross the road too then that alerts me to the possibility that I’m in danger), or sometimes (depending on when and where I am) I might slow down to allow them to pass me, but be ready to attack if needed. I prefer to take control of the situation myself than rely on others (and let’s face it – sweeping generalisation alert – most men wouldn’t even think the affect they might be having on a lone woman). Thankfully, I’ve always got home without incident.

    Seats on trains – I’ll give mine up for anyone (male or female) who looks like they could benefit from a seat, and I always ask them first because that’s polite rather than just assuming.

    Paying the bill – it’s nearly always me as I get cashback on my credit card. More often than not, the bill is given to my husband, probably around 60/40, but these days I do find more people are asking who’s paying the bill or notice that I’m sitting there with my credit card in hand.

    I think politeness is the key to all these things, avoiding assumptions

  26. I think people should hold the door open for me, because i hold it open for people. It isn’t being a gentleman, it’s courtesy and nice =)
    I’ve also given up my seat for people on the tram and bus, one chap looked like he would fall asleep standing up.

    My brother facebooked about an experience, saying, “Can i ask a simple Question what is it with some women now days, i believe in the code of Conduct of Chivalrous Acts, And Some women see it as flirting,, HELLO.. are you serious u cant see when a guy is being Good to you. U think there is some Alternative reason why he is being this way, and yes i mean SEXUAL…Some days it makes you feel you just don,t want to go out anymore.:S”
    This same guy posts things such as “bitches be like…” and “this video contains random boobs” things involving ladies butts and boobs.
    Not sure i’ll ever get through to him.

  27. I do that with my dad. Even when he’s paying, I ask to be the one to put the card + PIN in, just because I think it’s interesting to see whether or not they’ll hand the card reader directly to him or look uncertain/ask who’s paying. I think it’s because he’s an older man, too, out with a younger woman. It’s fascinating.

  28. That’s exactly what bugs me when men hold the door. They act like it’s about me, but actually it’s about them, and showing what a bloody gent he is – and I’m supposed to thank him for It

  29. I like this article. I think it’s really interesting how we blur the lines between being a gentleman and doing an act that lessens the woman in some way/makes her uncomfortable. I personally love it when men open doors for me. That said, I would feel odd if a man gave up his seat on the bus or tube for me. It’s happened a couple of times and it makes me squirm because I fear that he either thinks I’m pregnant when I’m not (do I need to hit the treadmill more often?) or just makes me feel guilty because I am young and strong and have 2 working legs, and can handle a journey on my feet.

  30. Bah, sorry, but come on. I get irritated when I hold a door open for someone and they walk through without a word or even a passing glance. It’s just plain rude. I do the passive aggressive ‘you’re welcome’. I’m not doing it and expecting a thank you because it’s all about me – it’s just being a polite person and expecting that to be reciprocated in some small way.

    Cath J’s friend’s comment (which I love) is essentially saying ‘I have manners’. If an old lady was to get upset with me because I offered her my seat, I would be most inclined to say ‘I’m not offering my seat because you look incapable, I was just taught that it’s polite’. Same thing, no?

  31. I’m not pregnant and I get this all the time! I work in the construction industry and whenever the time comes to change the water barrel in the cooler or take a box of paper to the printer, immediately a middle aged man pops up and tries to take it off me despite repeatedly being told “No I’m fine thanks, its really not that heavy”

    I have actually been stood in my works kitchen wrestling the warehouse guy for the right to carry a barrel 5ft from the cupboard to the cooler, then got called RUDE for not letting him carry it – I thought rude was when a woman says she’s fine and can manage, the guy goes ahead and tries to yank the heavy object out of her arms anyway!

  32. Gosh, in the face of disagreement neither the suggestion that one just doesn’t get it nor the implication that one simply has bad intentions are uncommon. But to be tarred with both brushes? That’s an achievement.

    I agree that being polite and not being sexist are very different things. This is precisely why I made the distinction between them above. Thus, were I to have said that one really *should* feel frustration when they point in different ways, I would be not only wrong-headed, but I’d have contradicted my own point. Happily, however, I agree with you (and hence don’t need the rather condescending ‘lesson’ you have so kindly stooped to give me); the requirements of gender equality are different and separate to the requirements of politeness.

    However, to stop at that point, as you unhelpfully do, is to not only ignore practically everything I said (bar the points you could use to manufacture ire), but to miss the point of the OP’s question. She asks why some men get confused by what seems to be a very straightforward distinction (it is this confusion you assume away by way of your ignorance/motivation assumptions), and I have tried to provide an answer. In short, I think people may make well-intentioned mistakes when they conflate feminism with simple fairness – an easy mistake to make when, like 99% of the population, you never read feminist literature – and seek to pursue socially acceptable standards of decency, which usually entail some kind of exception to simple standards of fairness. Now it may be the case that their understandings of these standards of decency are themselves sexist (perhaps someone thinks that gender is itself an exception). But that doesn’t necessarily make these individuals sexist themselves, unless of course they are aware of the unjustifiable bias in their beliefs. If not, they’re simply ignorant of the facts or ideas that you or I or someone else thinks they should know. My answer to the OP’s question, then, is that the confusion she identifies probably arises because a few/some/many men aren’t aware either of their somewhat simplistic understanding of feminism nor of the unjustifiable biases in their understandings of social decency.

    Now another point you seem to question is the nature of an obligation. I may have a moral obligation, or I may have a special obligation. Some special obligations arise through circumstances, others are relative to the individuals we interact with. Rather than the somewhat cumbersome term ‘agent-relative’ obligations here, I thought I’d use the more colloquial idea of ‘manners’ or ‘mannered obligations’ because it’s more intuitive (and because outside of the classroom we understand agent-relative obligations to be the requirements of decency). I’m not sure what’s strange about that. But anyway, this distinction is at the centre of my point on the question of crossing the road. It’s certainly not a moral obligation to do so, but it doesn’t look to be an obligation of manners or decency either, since there is no reasonable conception of decency which suggests that one goes out of one’s way to demonstrate that one is not a threat (any such requirement is nullified by the much stronger moral obligation to actually avoid *being* a threat). The point about crossing the road therefore collapses into the simple and rather inert idea that when any person feels threatened, it would be good if the person creating the putative threat were to notice and change their behaviour. If they do notice and don’t change their behaviour, then we’re talking about a very different, much bigger problem. If they don’t notice – perhaps because it just wouldn’t occur to them that just by walking home they are threatening – then I’m with Ness: why not just cross the road oneself?

  33. “you seem to be suggesting that people should go out of their way to make it clear to others that they are not a threat.”

    Yep. Literally out of their way, yes, but in practice it’s only a few seconds out of their way to cross a road…

    “This seems bizarre to me; where on Earth does this obligation come from? Decency requires that we do not pose avoidable dangers to others, but it cannot require that we do more work to somehow signal this as well (unless, as on the road, the lack of a signal itself causes danger).”

    Well, you nailed it on decency. To my mind, decency isn’t going “this is the bare minimum I should have to do in this situation” it’s “what is the decent thing to do in this situation.”

    As she said above, no you aren’t causing a danger. But if someone else doesn’t know that, and it’s not exactly a big deal to cross the road, you could do it to set her mind at ease. It obviously isn’t required or mandatory; but it would be considerate and decent.

    “It just seems counter-intuitive. As such, disagreement with you on this is nothing to do with feminism or sexism or anything else, it’s just a reasonable disagreement.”

    Well, as you pointed out, couples are less of a perceived threat, but she actually asked him if it was something he’d usually do. I.e when she wasn’t there.

    The reason “I shouldn’t have to cross the road if I don’t want to” has to do with feminism, is that in general, if the sexes are reversed, a lone woman at night is less likely to be seen as posing a threat to a lone man.

    (…Probably because lone men are attacked considerably less at night by lone women, I would’ve thought).

    It’s kind of understandable, then, for a man not to understand what the woman is worried about or considering there – because he doesn’t have to. Not only does he know he isn’t a threat, but he himself wouldn’t feel threatened in that situation. It’s not something he has to deal with. (which is kind of how sexism and feminism comes in here; it’s an experience that in general differs by gender – which is WHY the man doesn’t understand to begin with)

    It’s less understandable, when somebody points out that the woman may be feeling threatened, and you could easily alleviate that fear or doubt with a small action, to then say “but why should I?”

  34. As a 6’4 burly looking man I always cross the road when i find myself walking behind a woman at night. In a way its more for my sake than their’s because, being a gentle soul, I get offended by the furtive looks backwards! I also hold the doors for everyone at work. We have a lot of key-carded doors so its really annoying if someone doesn’t do it because it takes time to scan your card wait for the door to unlock and then go through etc etc. In spite of this I have occasionally in the got odd looks from women who I’ve held the door for as if I’ve done them some great disservice, when really I just don’t want to be rude. So now I never make eye contact when I hold the door, I just stare at the floor or the middle distance. Its sad.

  35. I like to open doors because it’s an opportunity to do something nice. I especially do it for women because it’s nice *and* traditional. Some traditions (like slavery, anti-semitism) suck, but others, like learning latin, refraining from cussing (unless you’re a sailor or in the army) I like. They don’t harm anyone – unless, that is, the other person has some mental machinery that converts “he opened a door for me” into “he’s demeaning me and all women, implying that I am incapable and weak; what a chauvinist pig”.

    In the same way, preemptively crossing the street sounds considerate, but I don’t think it is. I think it’s manipulative on several levels. First, it gives credence to paranoia about rape when, statistically, the odds of getting raped by a stranger on the street (let alone a man who’s *with another woman*) is astronomically low. The cost/benefit of paranoia in this case is clearly “don’t worry about it”. Second, buying into this behavior all of a sudden makes every man consider himself as a potential rapist. Forget about everything else about your identity – all of a sudden you’re just a strong human with a dick and no qualms about forcing it into anything that moves. Gee, that really makes me feel good.

    Maybe even more than the manipulation, it’s hypocritical – there are an infinite number of behaviors that some people makes them feel unsafe, rape is just one. Does that mean I should refrain from doing everything? Perhaps someone feels unsafe walking along the sidewalk when there’s a car in the nearest lane – perhaps I should change lanes just in case? (Which actually brings to mind a third reason “rape conscious walking” is a bad idea: statistically, a man is more likely to get killed in the street than the woman is going to get raped.)

    Life is risk, and everyone needs to understand rationally what those risks really are, and those who have an irrational understanding of risk (and how to deal with it) are the ones with a problem, not the rest of us.

  36. Cool, glad there is some reason here.

    I’d add that it would be a deeply unpleasant state to walk around thinking all women are afraid of you. Of all feminist positions, this is one I think is actually truly evil, because it encourages men to think of themselves as monsters in the eyes of women, and it encourages women to think of men as monsters, and themselves in far more danger, from far more sources, than is rational. It sows fear and mistrust between the genders, and it doesn’t even make (statistical) sense.

  37. My only qualms with the experiment is the idea that you would be discriminating against me. I assume that half the time that they walk in together, the man gets to the counter first, in which case I would expect to be addressed first and would be slightly miffed if I wasn’t (not that I’d say anything besides a nice greeting!). If the only people you’re discriminating against is the man, the only people you’ll register as getting annoyed are them and it feels a little unfair.

    I do agree with the politeness issues, and love your question “Is it polite, and is it happening to the men?”. I just don’t think a lot of people are polite to everyone. I reckon most men are only polite to women because they are women and that’s how we were brought up. I don’t know many guys that would hold a door open for another man, unless they were talking. In which case, if they were being equal, that would mean no longer giving up your seat to a woman, just because she’s a woman. I think we’re blurring the lines between being polite to a woman and being nice to someone who visibly needs it.

    Although I’m overly polite, never walk through a door first and am always first to give up my seat, I’m always more inclined to be polite to a woman than a man, for instance let every woman in a setting sit first before I consider my own seating arrangement. This is not equal and it’s because of the way I was brought up. Maybe I shouldn’t be like this, because it’s all based on the fact I’m a man and they’re not.

    In all honesty, we should just all be more polite!

  38. Should Black men cross the road when White women grab their purses? I usually don’t because, I don’t feel like catering to their obvious racism.

  39. it is a bit harsh, only because often women have limited options with footwear. I’ll give you some examples:
    - many restaurants require their waitresses to wear stiletto heals
    - many nightclubs include it in their dress codes
    - even if it’s not required, if you work in an office and want to uphold an image of professionalism and respectability, that usually entails wearing atrociously uncomfortable shoes

    I agree that probably 50-75% of the time it’s probably her choice and not a good one. But not always. I’ve never given my seat to someone because they were wearing heels before, but it’s something to think about.

  40. The funny thing is I’ve had men literally *refuse* to walk through a door that I was holding open for them. One guy called it ”confusing”. (Mate, it’s a door. I am holding it open so that you can walk through it. I don’t know which part of this whole interaction managed to ”confuse” you.) Meaning that I’m left standing around with a door in my hand feeling a bit ungainly and awkward, because apparently going through a door being held by a woman means you’ll be cursed or something.

  41. As a man I struggle with this everyday.I walk almost 5 miles a day and used to do it every night until I started noticing that women are taught to fear me.I would cross the street,change directions or in some cases sit on a bench until they women get out of the way.I have since changed to walking only in the morning now and even then I go out of my way to avoid women. I feel like a monster or a rapist for no good reason.It affects my life alot and I even notice that on a bus or in a waiting room or airport that often the only seat left vacant is often the one next to me. This in my opinion is one of the most evil tricks that feminism has taught women is that ALL men are a risk. This is gender bias and a way to cause division between the genders.