Ladies, First

I was involved in an interesting incident just the other day. I was perhaps a block from the White House in Washington, DC entering an office building, dressed in dressy casual day wear (slacks and a winter coat were visible, for the purposes of this story).

I believe that it’s nice to do nice things for people, so I frequently hold doors. This also satisfies my feminist side, which prefers to defy the status quo of (sarcasm alert) “I’m just a weak little woman, please kind sir, will you lift that heavy door for me?” So I noticed someone else walking toward the same door I was, a few seconds after myself, and I held the door for him.

He was perhaps in his mid-30s, African American, cleanly dressed in dressy casual wear (khakis, a jacket). I am 25, and look anywhere from 17 to 25, Eastern European ancestry, with long hair and a nice smile.

I held the door and waited behind it and smiled, as I commonly do.

“Ladies first,” he said, as I shook my head and smiled, expecting he’d walk through. He followed that statement with, “Oh, no, my parents would never stand for that!” I thought to myself, ‘what is he talking about? It’s just the two of us here. I’m being polite.’ I nodded and smiled, holding the door. He stood. I stood. He said “No, my parents raised me, they would never stand for that.”

By this point, I felt incredulous. I am standing behind the door, while he is standing in front of it refusing to enter because I’m female? And because his parents who are not present would mind? I’m sure my facial expression registered my confusion and some annoyance.

Suddenly, the situation changed. He reached over and grabbed my coat sleeve, pulling me. I yanked it back, in shock. I am not entirely sure whether I said “Don’t touch me.” or “Excuse me!” Two perfectly acceptable things to say in light of his absolutely unacceptable choice to grab a complete stranger, and right on the front steps of a law firm of all places. I announced “Ok!” with decision and turned around and walked away. My intention was to get out of arms reach while delivering the message that if he really wanted to enter the building, he was going to enter it without my help or acquiescence.

I find this situation to be a derivative of common reactions based on a phrase, “Ladies First” (hover over the link). The situation presents a rather extreme example of a culture that does not offer chivalry (which IS something women often appreciate), it rather forces chivalry.

For any men who wonder what the difference is, think of it this way: If you offer a woman sex, and she consents, then you’ve had sex. If you force a woman to have sex, then you’ve had rape.

If you offer a woman anything, and she refuses, it is her right to refuse and your right to accept her refusal. If you force a woman to do anything, she has a right to take you to court and win a lawsuit against you. So don’t force chivalry upon us. If you would like to open doors, pull chairs out, throw your coat on a puddle so she doesn’t mess up her shoes, feel free to offer. And if she opens the door for you, act natural and walk through it. If she pulls out her own chair, pull out your own chair. If she splashes in puddles and walks around your coat, and asks why you did it, you can say you’re clumsy or can explain about your old-school chivalrous-glamour ideals or some such. You are, after all, a dead-ringer for Frank Sinatra. But you can’t pick her up, walk her feet across your coat like she’s a barbie, and expect her not to hate you.

I’m feeling good about opening doors.


6 thoughts on “Ladies, First

  1. Yeah, wow, that’s really bizarre…he totally messed that up. If he was trying to be a gentleman, he failed miserably. It seems like so many times when you need some chivalry it’s not there (like not wanting to walk to your car by yourself at 3 am), but when they want to act chivalrous, by God, you better not stand in their way! Net result is they always get their way. Acting with gallantry when they want to, and ignoring it when they want to, saying “You’re fine, you’re American, liberated. You can handle it.” Hopefully that didn’t sound too bitter…

    • Great points! no, not bitter to someone who has experienced the same. Sorry that you have, too.

      It was so odd, and it rings in my memory that it’s happened before, although I’d never been grabbed before! Such a prevalent and problematic attitude, that ‘you’ll be safe, because I feel safe,’ ‘you want liberation and safety, and I don’t want to be bothered, so I’m going to make an excuse not to help you at all.’ Women are not socialized to feel safe, for one thing, and for another, we are often the easy target.

      Happily, I’m finding my ‘sisters’ (fellow women) Are always here for me, whether it’s gratifying, inconvenient, or downright painful… and while I don’t want to burden anyone, they tell me ‘no, because I know you’ll be there for me when my tough time comes.’ I really value that comradery and love.

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