When I first started dating my boyfriend a year ago, I quickly realized his two older sisters had trained him well. He opened doors for me, offered me his jacket if it was cold, and offered to carry my bag if it was heavy. Of course, he meant well in all of these gestures, and I appreciated his generosity.
However, at some point I started wondering: why should he be cold so I can be just a little warmer? Why should he always have to hold open the door for me? Why should he carry a bag filled with all my
Of course, I'd never turn away a guy for acting like a gentleman, and I am a real sucker for romance, but something about all this didn't sit quite right with me. Why should the guy in a heterosexual relationship be encouraged to offer whatever he can to his girlfriend or wife without the same exact treatment in return?
We see it in movies all the time; girls are always falling for the knight in shining armor, the guy who goes out of his way to be a gentleman. And things like this do translate into real life-- men are praised for being "that guy" from the romance film.
But all of this logic seems a bit ancient to me. Perhaps it was okay for men to go out of their way to assist women when women were viewed as lesser parts of society. Don't get me wrong; I would never refuse a door held open to me by a man on the grounds that I could open the door by myself, just in the same way that I wouldn't refuse a door held open to be by another woman. But society used to support the idea that women "needed" assistance from men. I, however, don't feel incapable of holding open a door for myself, and most importantly, I don't want men to think we're incapable.
Yes, this seems extreme, and chances are that men don't think women are incapable of opening the door themselves, but some men might, deep down, think women don't deserve equal workplace rights, and maybe little gender roles like this one are a part of the overall problem.
Little things add up, and in a time when potential leaders of our country think it's okay for men to make oppressive decisions about women, maybe it's time that something changes in the culture of our society. To borrow a metaphor from feminist Marilyn Frye (see picture above), think of it as a bird cage with many wires keeping the bird inside. If you look at just one wire, i.e. men going out of their way to hold open doors for women, your focus is too specific and you will fail not only to see the issue with that one wire, but also with the greater problem at hand. Frye then explains that it is not until you step back and look at the whole cage, with all of the wires culminating, that you realize how trapped the bird (or woman) is. What do you think? In today's culture, knowing women are completely competent and equal members of society, is there still room for gentlemen and gender roles in heterosexual relationships? If not, what is the solution?