guest post by Sarah K.
Sometimes, men can take the role of “gentleman” very seriously. They hearken back to the medieval word “chivalry,” which only sort of made its way to the 21st century. In 2014, it’s less about Knights and honor and more about “how to treat a lady.” (I’m thinking “like a human” should be good enough for most men, but that’s just a personal opinion.)
Oftentimes, I find that pushing gentlemanly actions too far demonstrates more disrespect for women than consideration. (Translation into medieval terms: you tried to act like a Knight, but you came across as a dictating Lord instead…One with a stupid hat.)
A true story to demonstrate my point:
My roommate and I drove to the institute building to participate in an afternoon potluck in between conference sessions. When we arrived, there was a 15 minute wait for the food, so we sat down near the back of the room. By the time the blessing on the food was made, we had started a friendly conversation with a new friend. The friend happened to be male, but that wouldn’t have been an important enough detail to mention had the following scenario not occurred:
Everyone stood up and formed a long line, which would slowly make its way to a round table full of various dishes. Let me describe this line to you in terms of gender: Mixed. Mixed from front to back. If you walked into the room and observed this line, you wouldn’t think there was anything unusual about it.
My roommate and I were with our new acquaintance somewhere in the middle of the line. As we laughed and shared stories about different kinds of dogs we grew up with, I couldn’t help but notice a young man just in front of us staring intently at my roommate as if he was bothered by something. I checked her hair and outfit. Nothing offended me! I looked back to the man, who was now looking at me. As soon as we established eye contact, he stepped forward and addressed the two of us, actually cutting my roommate off mid-sentence.
“Ladies, please go ahead,” he said, with a smile that seemed more dutiful than sincere. My roommate and I were both taken aback at the sudden interruption of our conversation. We both smiled and one of us politely said something along the lines of “No thank you, we’re okay.” He then stepped even more forward, widened his eyes, and insisted.
“Please!” he said, his smile actually fading into frustration. A woman in front of him, who had accepted his offer before us, lightly offered, “It’s okay, they’re independent women!” I was glad that she attempted to make the situation less awkward, but I’m not sure anyone was equipped to do that.
I remember feeling like a lot of attention was being drawn to us, and I didn’t understand what was being accomplished by moving ahead in line – besides saving this man’s hurt ego. My roommate and I ultimately obliged and then continued to the food in uncomfortable silence.
We ended up eating by ourselves and leaving early. I can’t speak for my roommate, who tends to take things in stride while I take things more personally, but my feeling welcome at that event expired the second that young man disregarded my desire to stay where I was in line.
Those men further up the line? The ones participating in civil conversations with women both in front and behind them? How were they not being gentlemen? This effort to define what it means to be a gentleman is almost as old fashioned as all the garbage about “how to be a lady” women had to endure for so long.
Before I continue, let me emphasize that I know this is not the kind of scenario you’ll see very often. It’s a unique situation, but not one that is, in my opinion, unrelated to similar stories that happen on a smaller scale.
For example, we’ve all heard people gripe and complain about the “door” situation (a man opens a door for a woman). I know some women consider that gesture alone to be demeaning. I won’t judge them, nor will I go into that school of thought. Instead, I’m going to talk about THIS scenario:
Let’s treat it like a test item:
1.) A man opens a door for a woman. She thanks him, walks through, and then opens the next door for him. What should he do?
1. Refuse to walk through
2. Thank the woman and walk through.
Why? WHY do some men think that the first answer is more considerate of women? It’s disregarding their efforts. To grab the already opened door and usher the woman inside – you are not saving her any energy or trouble. So what’s the point?
I know most people who would choose answer A are doing so because they truly believe it is the gentlemanly thing to do, but this is 2014. People change. I truly believe most young women would feel much more comfortable with the second answer. At the very least, I can’t think of a single young woman who would be offended by it.
There are other acceptable answers you could come up with besides the one I provided. For example, you could race past the girl to the next door! If you win, by all means, hold it open. That’s romantic. That’s cute. But if she races with you and wins, let her open the darn door! It’s still cute. It could be cuter if you make a silly remark about losing (as long as it isn’t “I can’t believe I lost to a girl”).
The world is changing! I say, what’s the use in fretting about our modern interpretation of an ancient code that mandates how one gender is to treat another? Why not evolve the idea further and apply it to everyone? Just don’t take it too far, or you won’t ever get to the food.
Sarah is a feminist, musician, writer, Mormon, die-hard Doctor Who fan, and graduate of Utah State University (Go Aggies!)