When I tell people I am a feminist, they often bring up doors. Doors: the physical pieces of wood and glass that provide entrance to a room or building or a transportation vehicle. The dialogue often goes something like this: I say, “I am a feminist.” They respond, “Well do you mind if I open the door for you?” or “Oh, well, I don’t mind if men open doors for me.” Ninety years after women get the right to vote, and feminism boils down to doors.
Now, I understand there is more to it than that. What people are getting at are questions surrounding being a gentleman or being respectful. I think people often assume that I do not want a person or a man opening doors for me.
People also often use another word: chivalry. I see the connection that feminism may want to take down chivalry. Chivalry can be seen a way of doting on women or making them feel like delicate objects, being protected by a male figure.
However, in researching the word, I found a very basic definition for chivalry: “courtesy towards women.” Courtesy is generally something I get behind. I say “please” and “thank you.” I even have been known to hold a door open for someone behind me. In fact, I think we all should do our best to be polite to one another.
So yes, please open the door. After all the doors that have been closed for women over the years (education, voting, political representation… the list goes on), it actually would be nice for someone to open a few more. But dare I ask for something even more polite, or even more courageous?
Feminism and chivalry actually have something in common. Wikipedia says the following about chivalry: “Medieval writers often used the word ‘chivalry,’ but its definition was never consistent between authors, and its meaning would change on a basis that determines where you are, and even over time.”
Well, that reminds me of my own knowledge of the word of feminism. Feminism is a word that is not constant or static. In fact, three different waves of feminism and countless people of various backgrounds and ideas really shook up any type of grounded meaning for the word. It has changed and continues to change based on place, person and time period.
So here comes the real act of opening the door. When people define themselves as Christian, Republican or Democrat, or even feminist, open your own door. Take a moment to ask what that really means to them and how they define a word with such an immense and complex history before you write them off as another door-opening hater. It is just bad manners.
Jen Kane ‘11