Feminism: Let Me Be A Gentleman Too

man opening the door for a woman mad men

As I walked out of the bathroom at work early one morning a colleague was arriving. As he had his bag, I held open the door for him. He thanked me and walked through. I said I was being a gentleman, to which he laughed and said thank you.

Then I panicked.

Did he think I was undermining his masculinity? Did he think I was having a jab at the fact that he didn’t open the door for me? Did he think I was being passive aggressive in commenting that I had been a gentleman by implying that he hadn’t been?

So I fumbled, I tripped over my words making some comment about how some men don’t let me be a gentleman. After some lame joke, I flumped into my chair and realised how ridiculous I was being – why can’t I be a gentleman too?

Often I will be walking with a man and I attempt to open the door for him as he is talking to someone or I am a step in front of him. He will then take the door from me and hold it open, insisting I go through the door before him. I have to admit, sometimes it grates on me a little bit but I let it slide, for older men they were taught to let a woman through the door first. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be being a gentleman.

The thing is, times have changed. And it’s time we realised women can be gentlemen too. Not just can be, should be. It bothers me, as a feminist, when I see women claiming to believe in equality, then expecting a man to pay for a meal at the end of the date, or open the door for them. I’m not talking about “it was nice that” or “it would be nice if” I mean hard core “a man should“. That, to me, isn’t feminism. If we’re going to expect true equality, and we’re going to win this war against women’s subjugation, it’s time we stopped putting expectations on a man’s behaviour due to their gender and start putting expectations on anyone’s behaviour.

We should all be polite and open the door for others. We should all offer to pay at the end of a meal. We should all offer a coat to someone when they are cold and we should all offer to help carry someone’s bags.

Gender should have nothing to do with it.

Do you feel like you can’t be a gentleman because you’re a woman? Do you have higher expectations of men’s behaviour than the behaviour of other women? 

  • Gary

    I recall Mum drilling into me the need to be the ‘gentleman’ and also stand when a woman enters a room and open a door for a woman. It got silly when I’d be at a friend’s place and when his Mum entered I’d always stand. Some people thought it was odd. As I’ve matured I’ve changed to open the door for everyone and if a door is opened for me I walk through and thank the person. Sometimes though I slip back and I’ll do as that man did and try to take the door from someone and hold it for them to pass. It’s much easier I think if we’re polite and courteous to everyone no matter who they are.

    • http://kikiandtea.com/ Tamsin Howse

      It’s interesting how much our parents drill into us, isn’t it? I’d consider it really odd if someone stood every time I entered the room.

  • Hayley Ashman

    When it comes to chivalry I think we need to see it as just being a polite person and remove gender. It’s OK to acknowledge it feels good when someone does something nice for us, like opening a door, but that feeling doesn’t need to be conditional on the person being a particular gender.

    I also worry that we over think these things. Want to buy me dinner? Sure, go right ahead, just don’t do it because you’re a dude and I’m not. That simple.

    • http://kikiandtea.com/ Tamsin Howse

      Spot on.

  • http://johnanthonyjames.com/ John James

    I hold the door open for both men and women – it’s not because “I’m a gentleman” – it’s because I’m polite and like being helpful…

    Yeah, it probably was wrong of you to say “I’m being a gentleman” – using that expression reinforces old gender stereotypes… you were just being polite – you didn’t need to justify yourself that way, especially in a way that attached politeness to maleness…

    But I think you realise that now. :)

    • http://kikiandtea.com/ Tamsin Howse

      If we consider “man” to refer to all mankind then “gentleman” should be able to apple equally to men and women, don’t you think?

      • http://johnanthonyjames.com/ John James

        Nope.

        • http://diceofdoom.com RupertG

          Why not? ‘Nope’ is hardly a well thought out rejoinder. It is the equivalent of farting in a room and leaving. I am sure you have a well thought out and reasoned argument. It’s just hard to assume what it might be at this point.

          • http://johnanthonyjames.com/ John James

            Equating “Gentleman” with “politeness” is both sexist, and a little classist too…

            T opened the door someone – that’s a nice thing to do – but for some reason she felt awkward about opening the door for a man, and said “I’m being a gentleman” and then felt awkward about that too… and I think she was right to feel awkward… there was nothing wrong with what she did, – but she didn’t need to justify her politeness in the context of something a “gentleman” would do…

            Feminism is about equality. It’s also about stripping away gender stereotypes. Equating “politeness” as a male quality by commenting “I’m being a gentleman” does the opposite – it reinforces a gender stereotype.

            It also reinforces a class division – the word “gentleman” has a classist edge to it as well… it divides men into two types – “Gentlemen” who are well-bred and polite, and the lower-classes…

            So, no – I don’t think it’s a good idea to apply the word “gentleman”as a term of politeness, regardless of gender – no woman needs to describe herself using an anachronistic male term – no one does.

            In an equal society we should all feel free to open doors for other people, regardless of gender – as I mentioned in my original comment, I do this all the time – I’m not being a “gentleman” – I’m just being nice.

          • http://diceofdoom.com RupertG

            You are essentially saying, though, that we can’t redefine terms and definition. What’s wrong with appropriating terms and adjusting what they mean? Our language is wonderfully flexible and adapts easily to change. Why not re-assign a whole history of the use of the word by saying that we now use the term to mean something else?

          • http://johnanthonyjames.com/ John James

            No, I don’t agree that’s what I’m saying… that’s just your interpretation, I think… but if you want to use the word “Gentleman” to denote polite behaviour, go for it…

            But for me, it’s a sexist and classist term. I’m not comfortable using a masculine word to describe any behaviour, and I’m even less comfortable applying it to women – it just feels wrong to me, and I think it goes against everything Feminism stands for…

            Words have power, and using a masculine term to denote politeness reinforces the patriarchal notion that good behaviour is somehow linked to maleness…

          • http://diceofdoom.com RupertG

            I believe words only have the power that we give them. By creating a list of words that we can and can’t use, we bestow those words with the very power we seek to withhold from them. By calling a word classist or sexist, do we not then make it so? That’s the real (and often hidden) danger in the PC movement.

          • http://johnanthonyjames.com/ John James

            We are clearly never going to agree on this one… I think we are cut from very different stones 😉

  • Dan

    I think the “gentleman” line was a humorous skewering of the established stereotype. Obviously you deployed it in the right company, because you got a laugh.

    Anyone who’s masculinity is threatened by the opening of a door has greater problems than taking possible offense at a clever one-liner. People often cling to traditional gender roles in circumstances where they lack confidence in their own identities, and the rituals, however old-fashioned and occasionally inappropriate, give them a clear role in an otherwise chaotic and overwhelming society.

    The best way to combat these sorts of attitudes is not to condemn people who hold them, as deep down they are probably just confused and afraid. Instead we need to show them that it’s possible to be strong enough to forge your own meaning outside those sorts of rigid traditional roles. Not easy.

    • http://kikiandtea.com/ Tamsin Howse

      Very interesting perspective! Yes, it got a laugh so it was fine, but I do worry, particularly with people of older generations who were taught to do things that way.

  • http://www.26yearsandcounting.com/ 26 Years & Counting

    I just prefer that whoever is nearest the door first becomes the gentleman. It’s easier that way!