Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Opening Doors

Now, there is something that really bugs me. That really pisses me off. That, at times, has led to me flying off the handle. And that is having doors held open for me. Not all of the time, mind you. If I didn't get to the door first, I am grateful the person who did get to it first has seen fit to hold it open for me. The degrees of gratefulness are different depending upon how the person has held the door - I prefer it when the person is in the process of walking through and keeps it open for me to walk through after hir as opposed to the person physically holding the handle and urging me to walk in front of them. I could go into the reasons why and the anecdotal evidence I have that has women mostly doing the first and men mostly doing the second, but I understand that most people don't get as deep into door-holding politics as I do.

What I hate is when I get to the door at the same time or before someone else, and that person (who is most often of the male persuasion) insists on holding the door open for me. This creates a bad situation, even if it were in no other way but logistical. Now, we have to swap positions. Now, the time it would take for me to get through that door has lengthened. This has done absolutely nothing to help me, and in fact hinders my own process.

I also hate it because it is chivalry at its worst. It implies that the man holding the door open for me is performing, even if just in that moment, as my servant; and yet the true dynamics of the situation are far different. He still controls the situation, because he is insistent; he controls the situation by making me accept his brief servitude. His wants, desires, and impulses still take precedent over my own. I want to hold open the door for myself, and for him, because all equality measures aside, that is what makes the most sense. That is what is easier for me. And, truly, for him.

Part of why the door holding thing annoys me so much is because it is not my natural order of things. That, and the whole ease of access thing. Throughout my life, I've been able and allowed to hold open whatever door I've gotten to first, even if there is a guy trailing me. Because it is not the natural order of things, I tend to be sharp on when things have started to not go well for me. It gets under my skin in a way it probably wouldn't to someone who has had the experience of doors being held open for them throughout their life, for someone for whom the hindrance of having a door held open in such a fashion is merely life as it has always been and will always be. For that person, if they decide that the door-held-open thing is actually annoying or sexist or just inefficient, the warning bells may not go off as frequently still - because this is the life they have always led.

Why am I going on a huge ass rant about my issues with doors and the men who hold them? Well, it comes down to the idea of infantilizing women. No, seriously, it totally does. In one of the links I posted yesterday, this one, one of the arguments that came up in the comments is that rape statistics - and the way those rape statistics are measured - infantilize women. This is an argument I've heard before, and I'm sure I'll hear it again.

See, in my life, it is obvious that having a door held open for me when I got there first is a pain in the neck, and sexist to boot. If a guy refuses to walk through the door I'm holding open, how could it be anything but?

However, there are people for whom this realization won't come naturally, because it is what they live with. Which leads me directly to a post by Thomas, who, in reviewing C.J. Pascoe's Dude, You're a Fag, has demonstrates exactly what it is that makes cases of rape and/or sexual harassment and assault difficult for a lot of women to recognize in talking about this particular high school climate:
This is a culture where:
- boys’ physical abuse of girls who shut down and barely complain is normal;
- boys’ pursuit of sexual activity that girls do not want is normal;
- boys’ sense of entitlement to date women of their choice is normal;
- girls’ assertion and determined defense of bodily boundaries is not normal.
This is the world a lot of girls inhabit. This is the world we have to recognize as being the norm, as being as natural as having a guy insist on opening a door. Obviously, the situations are more disparate than the same, in terms of the overall affect. But we can't ignore the effect of growing up with the understanding that "boys will be boys" is a legitimate excuse for half of the behavior on the list. And how we - as girls, as a society - tacitly accept that. And how that acceptance leads to girls not having the words or the understanding of the situation at hand to say, "He raped me; he touched me where he shouldn't have; his verbal intonations have become sexual harassment". Because "boys will be boys" - and girls walk in jungles they shouldn't.

I had a boy sit at my lunch table when I was in 8th grade. He constantly sat next to me or across from me, and although he never touched me, he described scenes from porn movies he'd watched in detail, knowing I didn't want to hear it. He described his own masturbation habits. And the one day when he went "too far", when my already short fuse was shorter still, I threw my lunch tray at him. We were both hauled up to the principal's office, and I told her what had happened, how the only advice I had been given by teachers and lunch aides to this point was to move to another table. Which, by the way, didn't exactly work for me. That had been MY lunch table. It wasn't my fault some pervy kid had decided to sit there. It wasn't my responsibility to move from the table I'd been sitting for the past year and a half. And she told me, again, to move my seat if he bothered me, and that "boys will be boys".

And here's the thing - I knew she was wrong. After all, I knew plenty of boys who weren't doing those things/saying those things. But did I fight it? Not so much.

And I have and have had the resources to properly articulate what was happening. I have two feminist parents. I have been well-versed in sexual matters since I first asked where babies came from at the age of 4. And yet, in many moments, throughout my life, I have lacked the ability to say, "This is what happened to me".

So when someone says the feminist movement is a rape crisis movement, or that it infantilizes women, I say this:

It doesn't. Some feminists may; some feminists do. But recognizing that we rarely give women the tools to properly label what has happened - and in some cases, is happening - to them is different from saying, "You will never know what the truth is, so I'm going to take your experience and make it into what I want the truth to be". It is also an acknowledgement that what we say and how we act can be eons apart. We can tell women they have the right to body autonomy - and then we read lists compiled about what guys in high schools get away with. How that assertion of body autonomy melts away in the face of "boys will be boys". How that doesn't necessarily change when we exit high school. How all the theoretical tools in the world (no means no; if anyone touches you in a place normally covered by your bathing suit, it is sexual assault and you should tell the nearest grown up; etc) come up short when you are constantly inundated with concrete evidence that those tools are as solid as a paper kite in a rain storm. That concrete evidence makes it all the harder to recognize when those tools are appropriate - when it was rape and not just sex you didn't want. When it is sexual assault and not simply boys being boys.


John said...

Miss, I'll have you know that I hold the door for people of any stripe. So I'm not going to be offended by this.

petpluto said...

Ah, but do you let anyone of any stripe hold the door open for you (this is asked kind of facetiously, cuz I'm pretty sure you've walked through doors I've held open)?

I know plenty of guys who will walk through a door another man is holding, but will refuse to walk through if I'm the one doing the holding.

mikhailbakunin said...

I hold doors for everyone, too. It's polite a social convention and it can't possibly inconvenience you that much. I've noticed that DC residents -- men and women -- are particularly keen on holding the door for each other.

Do you really know "plenty" of guys who refuse to let women hold the door for them? I honestly can't think of any guy who would be so ridiculous.

petpluto said...

I hold doors for everyone, too.

So do I; and if all you got out of this was that I hate people holding doors open for me, then you've missed the point.

It's polite a social convention and it can't possibly inconvenience you that much.

Sure, it is a "polite" social convention. That doesn't actually mean it is always polite. If I get to the door first and the guy behind me INSISTS on holding it open for me, to the point he won't walk through the door I've already opened it and am holding for HIM, then it isn't polite. It is, actually, a dipshit move and quite rude.

Secondly (and this isn't meant to be rude AT ALL), you don't get to decide what does and doesn't inconvenience me, because you aren't the one dealing with it. If it happens once, not that big an inconvenience. If it happens again and again and again, then, yeah, it turns into a pretty big annoyance and is inconvenient to boot.

Do you really know "plenty" of guys who refuse to let women hold the door for them? I honestly can't think of any guy who would be so ridiculous.

No, I make shit up to emphasize my point.

YES. I know "plenty", as in, more than a dozen, who do this. That dozen or so guys aren't one-timers. They are people I actually KNOW. Some are people I work with, some are people I have worked with, and some are people I consider myself to be on friendly terms with, and so occasionally hang out with them. These men run the gamut of ages and political leanings.

I can't help but get the feeling that because my experiences - experiences that diverge from yours sometimes PRECISELY because I'm a girl - are different than yours or because you don't hear a lot of the guys you know talking about their door opening etiquette - and that requires a level of self-knowledge a lot of people don't seem to have until you call them on it - then I'm being hyperbolic or not being truthful in some way or another. My experiences are going to be different than yours. I'm going to recognize different patterns of behavior, simply because they directly affect me. And I'm sure you can say the same thing.