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Hold the door!
April 3, 2006 5:02 PM   Subscribe

Social-convention filter: Why do I feel obliged to hold the door open for women but they do not for me?

Maybe this is just a Seattle thing, but I was always taught to hold the door open for women (for men too, I suppose) and people are generally appreciative of it. However, when someone is right behind me and I don't see them and I let the door go and they have to open it themselves, I get different reactions from men and women. Men just grab the door, open it themselves and move on. Women often cluck their tongues or roll their eyes at me like I might just be the biggest asshole in the world. In addition to this, I'd say like 25% of the time women hold doors open for me, instead leaving me to my own devices.
What do people have to say about this phenomenon? I would assume it just something that's been socialized into our society, but is it this way across cultures and nations? Or am I just reading too much into other people's reactions?
posted by Slimemonster to Society & Culture (39 answers total)
 
I've lived in Seattle, Albany, and Boston for at least three years each and the situation is exactly how you describe.

It's a holdover from pre-feminist days, and a pretty innocuous one. If anything had to remain with us, I'd much rather it was holding entrance doors than circling around the car to open the passenger door or tucking in a date's chair at the dinner table, etc.
posted by Ryvar at 5:18 PM on April 3, 2006


I'm a woman, and I hold the door open for anyone behind me within a reasonable short distance. I feel it's rude, regardless of gender, not to do this.

As a corollary, if you notice someone holding the door open for you, step lively (don't dawdle) and say thank you.

:)
posted by tlong at 5:21 PM on April 3, 2006


Oh (to make this related to your question), I notice the behavior you describe where I am in NYC.
posted by tlong at 5:23 PM on April 3, 2006


Maybe 10 years ago there was a gender bias to this, but not anymore. The basic rule is: Don't let the door slam in someone's face.
posted by krisjohn at 5:29 PM on April 3, 2006


By holding the door, do you mean just stretching your arm out behind you to keep the door open a few seconds more? Or do you mean opening the door and standing with the door while the other person passes you before you go through the door yourself?
posted by lpctstr; at 5:30 PM on April 3, 2006


I'm a woman, and I'm with tlong. I hold the door for anyone behind me in a reasonable distance, where reasonable depends on person's level of fitness (if it's an old granny I'll be patient) and amount of baggage (if someone's toting three armloads of groceries). Generally I find that's the standard behavior around here (Boston suburbs). Most of the time, people will hold doors--sometimes they'll go out of their way to do so (ie, I'm still halfway across the parking lot and they're holding the door for me--which always annoys me, frankly, cause there's just no need).

I'll only ever glare at someone for failing to hold a door for me if I'm right behind them and they let it slam in my face, or if my arms are really full. I certainly don't expect people to hold doors for me because I have boobs.
posted by fuzzbean at 5:38 PM on April 3, 2006


I'm so used to people holding the door for whoever is behind them here (Atlantic Canada) that I actually got clocked in the head by a door closing in my face that I wasn't expecting when someone was standing next to an open door using a payphone. (turns out she was 'from away'. *shrug*)
posted by Space Coyote at 5:46 PM on April 3, 2006


Ditto tlong and fuzzbean. I don't expect special treatment for having boobs, but do enjoy common courtesy. Although I do admit to having too-frequent "how far back is too far back?" moments at the gym. I'm way too polite for all y'all, and that seems like a sign of weakness in Boston...
posted by airgirl at 5:49 PM on April 3, 2006


Some years ago, I was a college teacher, and one day, going into a classroom building, I held the door open for a female student and told her to go ahead. She turned and thanked me and said "You are a gentleman." I began to enter and there, behind me, another female student. I held the door from the inside and she said " Don't be so patronizing. I can open the dorr for myself." Win some. Lose some. Best advice: already given. Hold it open for anyone. If they do not thank you, try to pull it so it snags them. The open door policy also slams shut.
posted by Postroad at 5:52 PM on April 3, 2006


Whereas I tend to go out of my way to hold the door open for people, I can't stand it when someone holds the door open for me and I have to "step lively" or run. Now when I hold the door for people and they feel the need to quick-step it over, I make sure to tell them that's there's no rush. But that's just me. As for the original post, yeah, I agree that women seem to get a bit more agitated about this kind of thing than men.
posted by Cochise at 5:56 PM on April 3, 2006


I think there's still a bit of a gender bias. I (a woman) would probably not ever open the door for a stranger, let him or her pass through the door first, and then follow them through (only exception I can think of would be if they're carrying something heavy or pushing a stroller). But I've had guys do that for me and it doesn't seem odd, just generally chivalrous. I do, however, hold the door open once I go through for people who are coming up behind me (and think that anyone who doesn't, regardless of gender, is being rude).

I feel that standing there holding the door open is one of those things that guys are somehow taught to do that women aren't, for the most part. I remember once asking my brother where men learn to do things like open car doors and hold doors and that sort of thing, because one day it suddenly seemed like all the polite men started doing those things for me out of thin air.

But women who cluck at you for being rude? Are being rude. My mother also used to get really pissed off at women who would sail through a door my brother was holding open for them without ever saying thanks, and I've seen that happen a lot.
posted by occhiblu at 5:58 PM on April 3, 2006


... I hold the door open for anyone behind me within a reasonable short distance. I feel it's rude, regardless of gender, not to do this.

That's right. There's really no more to it than that. Feeling you should hold a door for women but not men is - undeniably - a sexist feeling to have. We're often taught sexism but we can, and should, reject it. Like so much other bullshit we're taught.
posted by Decani at 5:59 PM on April 3, 2006


I was raised in Chicago, and live in L.A. now. I hold the door for anyone (man, woman or child) approaching, and hope people will do the same for me and my boobs. When someone lets a door shut in my face, I am equally offended whether it was a man or a woman.
posted by clh at 6:12 PM on April 3, 2006


I'm female and hold the door open for anyone behind me. I think it's sheer courtesy, and most people round here (Melbourne, Australia) seem to do it regardless of gender. In the mornings, getting into my workplace, there's quite a chain of door-holding going on.

However, in my experience, if someone just walks through the door while I'm holding it open, without themselves grabbing the door or saying "thank you", they tend to be female (and usually much younger than me). I get bloody sick of holding the door open for girls who trip blithely through as if I'm their doorman and leave me holding the door for the person behind them as well. They're breaking the chain, dammit!

I only do the other thing - holding the door open and stepping back to allow the other person to enter first - if the other person is elderly or seem otherwise less capable than me (if they're on crutches, for example). And if someone does that for me, I just smile and say thank you. General courtesy makes the world go round.
posted by andraste at 6:19 PM on April 3, 2006


I think there's still a bit of a gender bias. I (a woman) would probably not ever open the door for a stranger, let him or her pass through the door first,...But I've had guys do that for me and it doesn't seem odd, just generally chivalrous.

I am (very minorly) annoyed by "chivalry", as when a guy goes particularly out of his way to do something for a woman, and specifically won't relent (eg, you're too far away/ have to put your coat on/etc & say no thanks), or accept the same from you. I sometimes hold doors for people, just because I got there first and had to pull it open, so am standing on the side now, and offer those behind me passage through - but sometimes a guy will come over and 'take on' the door-holding operation and motion for me to go through, because door-holding is apparently a man's job.

In general I don't care whether someone holds a door or not, though. I don't think it's rude not to. It's just a sort of extra excuse to have a tiny social interaction in the course of random events, like smiling at someone in the elevator. I would really not take it too seriously; if people are really glaring at you for not doing it, I would say either that's their problem, or they're just having a bad day, or they thought they 'deserved' door-assistance (eg, as above, carrying stuff/etc)
posted by mdn at 6:26 PM on April 3, 2006


(female, 19, the northeast)

If someone goes through the door before me, and gives it an extra bump as they pass so it doesn't close in my face, that's common courtesy. If they see me but don't do that, I think they're kind of a jerk. I might do a little tsk if I were having a bad day already.

If someone ahead of me approaches the door, stops, opens the door from the outside, and holds it open for me to pass through before them, that's going way above and beyond. I appreciate that very much. I know it's sexist, but I have no problem accepting what someone else offers. To me, it also means that they're recognizing me as a woman -- and I like that because I don't usually find myself very feminine or attractive. I know that's a lame reason, but I still like the gesture. I never expect this, and when it happens, I always make eye contact and smile a very genuine "Thank you!"

I always bump the door for the person behind me. Again, I think it's common courtesy -- who wants a door to slam in his face?

I would hold the door without going through first if, say, it was someone who wouldn't be able to handle the door alone (elderly, arms full of packages, on crutches, etc.). I also do it for my mother, almost always; when my brother and I were little, my dad taught us both to do that every time. I think that was so he'd get out of the duty -- after all, we kids would scamper ahead. . . .
posted by booksandlibretti at 6:45 PM on April 3, 2006


I'm a woman and I hold the door open for both genders. Sometimes I notice that when I hold the door for a man, he looks very uncomfortable and even pained at the reversal. If there's another door, he'll race ahead to open it for me. Part of me likes shaking up his gender roles, but I also feel concerned that I'm causing him cognitive dissonance.

Sometimes I hesitate before opening a door or holding a door for a man because it seems to cause them pain. But I do it anyway because it's rude not to. And I don't want to reinforce gender norms.

Sorry that so many women are so rude. That's not ok.
posted by aliksd at 7:20 PM on April 3, 2006


I get bloody sick of holding the door open for girls who trip blithely through as if I'm their doorman and leave me holding the door for the person behind them as well. They're breaking the chain, dammit!

but sometimes a guy will come over and 'take on' the door-holding operation and motion for me to go through, because door-holding is apparently a man's job.


Wow, I think some people think about this too much! I never "hold" the door for strangers, I only bump it, but I hold it for friends, male or female. Also, I don't get upset when people take the door from me, or don't take the door from me, or whatever. I guess in my generation ("probably younger than you") this whole door thing doesn't mean much.
posted by muddgirl at 7:22 PM on April 3, 2006


It's changing times. Back in the day any woman would think you're a gentleman and wouldn't think twice of this common courtesy. Now, half the time you will get negative reactions because women have arms and can open doors by themselves. (In fact, I wasn't aware how big a cultural phenomenon this was until I started college and had to learn how to deal with men who did this, all the time, since I live in the quasi-South.)

Personally, it's annoying because I don't like holding up a line or blocking an entrance because a guy's being chivalrous. Dude, it's more polite not to block the flow of traffic than it is to hold open a door for me, and it actually makes me feel bad that someone, a perfect stranger, is paying me undue attention in public. It also throws me off because when I'm going somewhere I have the destination in mind, and having to deal with a person in a social interaction jogs me out of my mindspace. (It's the same thing when the person next to me starts a conversation on the bus. I'm in travel mode, and I don't expect having to deal with another person.)

if I'm with a male friend/colleague and he does this, I try to make sure I open the door for him as often. I think that's being polite and friendly. With strangers in public, if I get any indication from a guy that he's about to stand aside and let me pass on the bus or open the door for me, I just go with it, because otherwise it'd take twice as long to motion him ahead, and generally the guy has no idea why I want him to go ahead, and then he stands there urging me along, and boom, I'm late for work!

I think, as a general rule, for guys who feel like you, that holding the doors for a woman is polite and mandatory, make sure you are not causing a disturbance in doing so.

And you'll find a lot of women who like these types of gendered behavior, makes them feel feminine... and other stuff (I'm not that type of gal, so I have no idea). But, a lot of times when guys complain about these types of social pressures, for the guy to pay for the date, opening the car door, etc. it's really the guy who's enforcing these actions, most younger women don't really care...most.
posted by lychee at 7:48 PM on April 3, 2006


(16, female, Texas)
I always hold the door open for people. Generally I'll give a bump for anyone, but I'm more likely to hold the door open for people older than me. I always hold the door open for my parents and family. I don't mind old style gentlemen behavior, and I always smile at anyone who does it for me. I figure they want to do it and I don't mind being treated nicely, so I just return the favor to someone (of any gender) and I feel like I'm holding up my end.
posted by MadamM at 8:03 PM on April 3, 2006


I've only once had a woman say to me specifically that I should hold the door for her because she was a woman (this is in Sydney, Australia). But she was Polish and rather old-fashioned. I think I said "you do know you've got the vote now, right?" and she gave me such a look...
posted by AmbroseChapel at 8:24 PM on April 3, 2006



Similar to other posters here, I will hold the door for someone immediately behind me, and the gender of the person walking behind is not relevent. A very elderly person, someone carrying many packages or a large box, or trying to move small children through a door, I will go out of my way to pause, hold the door open, and wait for that person to walk through. I am a female and I think it is the polite thing to do. If a male holds the door open for me, I think it's polite, say thanks, and that's it.

One small difference I have noted, however, is that some male acquaintances who insist on always holding the door open for me will not allow me to reciprocate (i.e., if I hold the door open and wait, they will stop and not walk through the door; or grab onto the door and hold it open for me). That particular aspect makes me wonder about a particular cultural and gender aspect, but other than that, that is the only difference I have noted.
posted by Wolfster at 8:27 PM on April 3, 2006


I politely open the door for whomever is nearby regardless of age/race/sex. It is just the polite thing to do. Sometimes it is easier to open the door and let them go through. Other times it makes more sense to pause a moment to hold the door for them as they walk through behind me.

Does this make me some sort of freak? Down in these-here-parts it is considered a simple, common courtesy (as is the "Thank You" I usually receive for doing so).

No. Really. After you.
posted by HyperBlue at 9:39 PM on April 3, 2006


I hold the door open for a guy to grab if he's right behind me. For a female right behind me I'll open the door and let her in first. If she's coming out when I'm coming in I'll hold the door open and enter after she's gone through.

Not one time have I gotten a bad reaction, maybe because it's the south. If ever someone did say "I've got arms" I'd have a good laugh, but it wouldn't change what I do.

If anything had to remain with us, I'd much rather it was holding entrance doors than circling around the car to open the passenger door or tucking in a date's chair at the dinner table, etc.

All three of those things are still with plenty of 'us'.
posted by justgary at 10:00 PM on April 3, 2006


I hold doors open for anybody who's close behind me. I thank people who hold doors for me, but the one time I didn't (I was engrossed in a conversation with a friend as we sailed through among a crowd of other people), the holder (female) called us bitches or something. I felt bad.

One small difference I have noted, however, is that some male acquaintances who insist on always holding the door open for me will not allow me to reciprocate

yeah, me too. My husband's father drilled it into him that this was how men should behave - hold doors and pull chairs out from tables for women, and always wait until the woman's taken a bite of her meal before tucking in himself, etc., regardless of whether the woman's already holding the door open for him, already pulling her chair out herself, or doesn't intend to eat for half an hour.

Our courtship and 1st year of marriage was peppered with amusing standoffs (though I gave in when other people were being inconvenienced by the two of us in mid-hold or whatever, saying "You first, dammit!"). A year and a half into our marriage, he finally let his childhood training go.

These things remind me of nineteenth-century beliefs that women (mostly middle-class, white women, of course) had to be treated like glass or they would shatter. Hell with that. I won't evangelize to door-holding guys I don't know, though. Courtesy's important.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 10:27 PM on April 3, 2006


The feminism/gender-dynamic angle of this used to seem huge to me when I was in high school (partly because I was in the South and so it happened much more often) but I've really just come to a point where it seems like holding a door is something most of us expect everyone to do (as evidenced by this thread), so it seems silly to make a huge deal about guys holding a door slightly differently than we expect them too, if that makes any sense. I also think it's ridiculous for women to stand by a door until a man happens along (which some of my friends in high school actually did) or to get their noses out of joint for guys not acting like doormen all the time.

But we're all holding the door for each other, there are much larger issues for women's equality, why bite the heads off guys for a minor issue when they're trying to be nice?
posted by occhiblu at 10:41 PM on April 3, 2006


I tend to give doors a delaying bump for anyone, and occasionally will actively stop and hold a door to let people through. This will generally be for women I suppose, but I don't always do it.

If I am passing through a doorway and meet someone travelling in the opposite direction I will nearly always (if they're close enough anyway) hold the door and motion for them to pass through first. I resent it when people don't thank me, but I won't make any "tsk" noise or anything.

It's just the way I was brought up I suppose.

Although I draw the line at walking around a car to open the passenger door except for any elderly people I'm driving around. Holding a door open doesn't inconvenience me in any way really, walking around a car while someone waits for me to open it is just ridiculous.
posted by knapah at 4:01 AM on April 4, 2006


People in Montreal have an alarming propensity to walk through doors opened for them without breaking stride or thanking the person who just held it open for them. What is that about?

Anyway, I generally hold the door open for women who are too old for me to date. I just realized that.
posted by jon_kill at 6:56 AM on April 4, 2006


I can't stand it when someone holds the door open for me and I have to "step lively" or run.

Thanks for posting this. I'm on the other side of the fence, so it's a needed bonk-on-the-head to hear an opinion like this.

Still, I have a hard time changing my attitude: I hold doors open for everyone, male or female. That's the way I was raised. But I'm also one of those always-in-a-hurry New Yorkers. And it irritates me when I hold a door open for someone and they walk at a snail's pace, forcing me to stand there for a long time and wait for them. I recognize that this is somewhat irrational. They didn't force me to hold the door for them. But when someone holds the door open for me, I do step it up, because otherwise I feel rude. And it irks me that others don't do that for me.

I hide this feeling, so the net result is me holding the door for people all day and feeling angry and frustrated. I'm pretty sure I hide that really well, so other people just feel like I'm a polite guy who is holding the door and waiting for them.
posted by grumblebee at 6:56 AM on April 4, 2006


You feel obliged because traditional etiquette demands that men hold doors for women. Some women get pissy for the same reason. It also demands that you stand when they stand, pull out their chairs, and promenade between them and the street to protect them. Many of those traditional customs are falling to the wayside with the increased equality amongst genders, of course, but that's a recent development in the grand scheme of things, and there's still a lot of tradition left in those acts.

For what it's worth, I personally hold doors for people of both genders whenever its appropriate, but when in social situations (dates or such), am charmed and not offended when a man is willing to do so for me. I am somewhat piqued if they do it grandiosely and obviously because I'm a woman in a business setting, however, where traditional gender roles don't play a part. I realize that sends all kinds of complicated messages to men, but etiquette and gender roles are tricky sorts of things these days.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:08 AM on April 4, 2006


I was born and raised in Richmond, VA, and though my experience living in Washington, DC (and now Tokyo) has affected my behavior a bit, I still generally hold the door, especially for older women, as a gesture of politeness. (Call it being a Southern gentleman, if you want.) In Richmond, many people over the age of 20 tend to act this way; in and around DC, there are a lot of transplants from other parts of the country (especially the Northeast) and I notice doors aren't held as much.

Mind you this seems to be a Western phenomenon; in Japan, this custom does not exist. Likewise, giving up one's seat to an elderly person is still rather foreign, though signs posted in trains are slowly changing this. Still, I am always met with surprised but appreciative looks from people when I hold the door for them. Japanese men would *never* do such a thing.
posted by armage at 7:33 AM on April 4, 2006


I hold the door for whomever is behind me, if they're close. As someone else described, I'll hold it longer based on apparent mobility (very old/very young/hands very full). I make a point to always say "thanks" when someone does it for me.

When I have my hands full of my kid and other stuff and someone (man or woman) looks right at me then doesn't hold the door I feel mildly miffed, and I might without realizing it 'tsk' or roll myeyes or something similar. I'm not proud of this, because I'm always proud of being indepenedent. But that simple gesture makes a huge difference to me when I'm trying to wrangle a three year old and all the groceries (or whatever). I've learned from this that when I see a person with small children, to go farther out of my way to hold the door.
posted by raedyn at 7:54 AM on April 4, 2006


I am a female and also hold the door open for anyone who is coming behind me, but I do expect a least a little nod of acknowledgement.

It seems that a lot of women are so used to having the door held for them they think its like magic it just happens! So my new favorite trick, is when going through a set of double doors if they act like they are passing through magic doors the first time (don't even glance up or break their conversation with their friends) I let the second set of doors swing right into their fat face. :)
posted by stormygrey at 8:17 AM on April 4, 2006


I'm a female, and will at least bump or hold the door for someone behind me--more likely I'll stand outside holding the door, or if I'm in a group of people rush up to get it.

I think it's cute when my male friends do it for me--half of it's appreciation for the courtesy, half of it's an "Aww, how quaint" feeling.
posted by schroedinger at 8:28 AM on April 4, 2006


I hold the door open for people I know, and sometimes people I don't know. More often for people I don't know, I'll hold it for a woman/older person, and bump it back open for men.

If I hold it for someone (man or woman, young or old) and they don't thank me, I usually say "you're welcome" in a louder than normal voice to make sure they hear.
posted by inigo2 at 9:34 AM on April 4, 2006


(Brit female) I hold the door for whoever is close behind and when other people do the same for me I don't notice whether they're male or female.

What does cause a ripple of irritation is when (usually older) men who are behind me refuse to let me hold the door for them and insist on grabbing the door off me (or dashing ahead in a panic) and gesturing me through. As well as getting in the way, it makes me feel at some subconscious level like a small girl who they think would never make it through the door without their help

"Watch out, she's heading for the doorframe, somebody help her..."
"Why hold on a minute, little missy, let me help you through there, you'll never make it alone, though bless your plucky little heart for trying."


However, after several years of doing little dances where we each try and persuade the other to go through first, I've realised it's easier just to say thank you and carry on, even though I never do it without a faint inner growl or rolling of the eyes. Which I'd never really noticed til you asked this question, Slimemonster!
posted by penguin pie at 9:45 AM on April 4, 2006


Synopsis of a sociological study based on 769 female-male pairs (college age): more men than women held doors if they were on a date (unsurprising), but more women held the door in everyday situations.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 10:07 AM on April 4, 2006


So college-aged men are more likely to do it specifically to impress, while college-aged women are more likely to be considerate in general? Colour me surprised.
posted by raedyn at 10:20 AM on April 4, 2006


Yet another woman who holds the door for anyone (maybe Mefites are politer than the norm?) fairly close behind me and will wait quite a while for an elderly person or someone with a load (groceries, stroller, etc.).

However, I've noticed that having anyone hold a door (for me, anyway) is becoming a scarcity.
posted by deborah at 1:43 PM on April 4, 2006


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