COMMITMENTS : Are Women Cutting Off the Respect They’re Seeking?
Should a man open a door for a woman? Should he hold her arm while crossing the street? Should he pay for dinner, or a movie, if he asks her out on a date?
On the surface, these may not seem like probing questions, but the underlying issue is how men and women relate to one another.
Etiquette has always been interesting because it is the outward manifestation of a culture’s values, customs and mores. When a man holds open a door for a woman, or takes her arm while crossing the street, or pays for her dinner on a date, he is exercising a sense of protectiveness or chivalry, a series of learned behaviors rooted in an earlier time when women were seen as the weaker sex.
Some women object to this behavior today because it speaks to them of inequality.
I think they’re wrong. I think when we give up these manifestations of protectiveness from men and nurturing behaviors from women we are destroying some of the fabric of the ambience between the sexes. We are certainly equal, but we are not the same, and what a boring world it would be if we were.
To be protective of someone does not necessarily imply that one does not think the person is capable of taking care of herself. It can be just a manifestation of respect and caring.
I had thought the controversy over these issues had disappeared along with the zealousness of the feminist movement of the early 1970s. I thought that women today were comfortable having men open doors for them, so long as they were not patronizing them in the process.
So I was quite surprised one day a couple of months ago when a male colleague held a door open for me and then said, “I hope you don’t mind that.” At first, I thought he was joking, but then I realized he was truly uncertain about how I would interpret such a gesture.
I was amazed. He was just being nice, kind, considerate. Could I have opened the door for myself? Of course. Would I have held open the door for him? Certainly. But I couldn’t see how his opening a door for me could be interpreted as a slight.
I mentioned this to a couple of women colleagues, and was equally amazed by their response. Both of them thought that opening doors and helping women across the street were old-fashioned, patronizing ways to treat them.
Their reaction saddened me. It’s those small niceties that can make a day. But my colleagues disagreed. Their position was, women can do these things for themselves. It’s just a put-down when men do them for women.
A few days later, while I was still trying to reconcile their feelings with mine, another woman, single and in her 30s (a decade younger than I) was matter-of-factly explaining to me how she had offered to pay for dinner on her third date with a new male friend.
I guess I’ve been out of the singles action for too long. It would never occur to me pay for a date someone had invited me on. I would certainly reciprocate by buying theater tickets or dinner and asking him out, but I wouldn’t offer to pay for a date he’d arranged. But I realized, after asking other twenty- and thirtysomethings, that who pays on a date is a big issue.
Some women thought that if they let a fellow buy them dinner, it obligated them to him. I’ve been bought a fair amount of dinners in my life, and the price of dinner never made me feel obligated. Other women believed that part of being truly equal to men means paying their own way.
Can romance last in this environment?
I have my doubts. I think we need to look at what is essential to women’s independence and equality. I don’t think opening doors or paying for dinner is essential. More important, when we excise these niceties from our lives, I fear we’re losing so much more than we could possibly be gaining.