It’s 10:30 a.m. on a Wednesday and that strange hush has descended on campus when all 4,000 of Union’s students have been swallowed up by massive academic buildings whose peaceful outer facade belies the notion that their insides are echoing with the sounds of lectures, discussions and the frantic scrawling of notes.
I walk the deserted paths outside, and, as I near the PAC, I feel a sinking feeling in my stomach as I perceive, far off in the distance, the barely-distinguishable figure of a southern gentleman–patiently holding the door. The time that elapses between spying the chivalrous man and actually passing through the door feels more like 30 hours than 30 seconds. I awkwardly look at him, he looks away, I look away, I look back, he looks down, etc., until finally the whole ordeal is over and I shuffle through the door with a muffled “thank you” to which he responds with a curt nod.
This daily experience, far from making me feel accommodated, served, or like I am the recipient of a thoughtful gesture, has become one of the most uncomfortable parts of my routine here at Union. I sheepishly admit that I have, on more than one occasion, altered my path and taken a side door into a building just to avoid the excruciating moment of awkward tension during which I trip over my own feet trying to rush through a doorway so as not to make the gentlemanly holder-of-the-door hold the door too long.
In an age where the stark line that has traditionally separated male and female roles is increasingly eroding, our generation struggles with where to draw the line when it comes to harmless (even thoughtful and kind) vestiges of the patriarchy that are still viewed as being an integral part of Southern protocol and behavior, such as holding the door for women or pulling out their seats.
Besides the fact that such behaviors find their origins in outdated traditions of thought that truly do view women as the weaker and inferior gender, on a practical level, there is nothing accommodating or thoughtful or chivalrous about putting another human in a situation where they feel forced to trip over their own feet in an effort to get to the door as quickly as possible. Opening the door myself is a task which pales in comparison to the task of navigating where to look during the eternal fragment of time that elapses while I approach a held door, or how to say thank you in a way that doesn’t betray the discomfort I am feeling in the moment.
On a deeper level though, it seems inappropriate to continue to selectively practice behavior which stems from a culture where things like holding the door for women served, for men and women both, as a solidifier and daily reminder of the rigid divide between gender roles- a divide which was primarily created and enforced by males and which catered to a male agenda. If our generation is going to move past the pervasive male-dominated traditions that have historically found their ways into almost every culture, and which are only recently being undone, it seems counterproductive to cling to traditions which seem “nice” or “harmless” but which are still under-girded by a plethora of beliefs and values which the majority of millennials no longer claim to uphold.
With that being said, I really do appreciate it when anyone walking in front of me holds the door an extra two seconds so that I can walk through without feeling like I just got a door slammed in my face. But gentlemen, next time you are walking a significant distance in front of a lady and you are considering holding the door for her out of politeness or because you feel that it is expected of you, ask yourself this quick question: would it be weird if I held a door this long for a dude? If the answer is yes, do the most polite and thoughtful thing you can for the individual behind you: just keep walking.