Recently, as I walked into a store, I held the door open for a woman who was a few steps behind me.
“I can open a door myself,” the woman, who was likely in my generation, snapped at me. “I don’t need a man to open a door for me.”
I stood stunned for a moment before apologizing. I explained I’d been raised to hold doors open for people.
It made me think afterward, though, about the women in my life. My wife is a successful, independent woman. We’re raising our daughters to all be strong women too.
Am I undermining all that by showing some old-fashioned courtesy when I drop them near a door off when it rains? Am I setting equality back by offering to carry heavy bags? Do I strip away their feminine power by holding doors?
Luckily, my wife and I communicate well together, one of the many benefits of being intellectual and societal equals. So I asked her, point blank, if chivalry chipped away at women’s power.
The answer, also luckily, is no.
If a woman expected me, and every other man, to hold open a door or offer to carry heavy things, that’s different. In that case, there’s an expectation and demand that people help you, as if you couldn’t or wouldn’t do it yourself. There’s no equality in that.
Appreciation is the difference. If you appreciate it when someone does something nice for you, then you’re not ceding anything in this politically charged world. You’re just another human being, appreciating the kindness of another human being.
It’s equally important to remember that these kindnesses aren’t limited to one gender or the other. It’s not just for men to be nice. My wife can fill up the gas tank on my car just as easily as I can fill up the one of hers.
It’s just as true with strangers. If you can help, you probably should offer. It’s those niceties that society lost over the last quarter-century that people who would question if it’s OK to help.
I found our conversation valuable as I think about how to raise the young women in our household. They shouldn’t expect men to do things for them, but they can appreciate it when men choose to do nice things for them. Ultimately, that’s what I’m doing, choosing to do nice things for people. My daughters should be just as willing to do nice things for the people they see in life, too.
That can be their expectation in life. Meanwhile, as men come in and out of their lives, I’ll expect that those men to want to do those little niceties, and I won’t appreciate them if they’re too selfish to help others.