Friday, November 11, 2005

Clarification Needed

While walking to class recently, I happened upon a male professor I know and we engaged in conversation. So far everything's normal, right? This professor and I were going into the same building, and therefore needed to walk through the same doors. Professor X reached the outer door to the building before I did and opened the door for me, leaving me in the vestibule and able to open the second door. As I reached for the handle of the second door, Professor X yelled at me to wait. Startled by the sudden change in volume, and assuming some danger awaited me or another at the opening of the door, I let the handle go. At which point, Professor X reached past me, opened the door for me, and using much more civil tones and his inside voice, stated "I can't change the way I was raised." Now, I like a good irony as much as anybody, however I'm a bit confuzzled by this experience. Aren't feminists supposed to be the ones out in the world yelling at people over door issues? Also, having been born without a dangling participle, I did not get The Gentleman's Handbook and would like to know the rules regarding shouting at random women. Any ideas on this?


Dr. Virago said...

It's an older gentleman thing. Once you get down to the younger boomers, you see less of this. Funny story: when I worked in a law firm in NYC in the early 90s I encountered this behavior for the first time. Prior to that my world had been filled by equality loving GenXers (although we didn't have that name yet) who opened the door for whomever was behind them. Anyway, in the law firm elevator lobby, the men of early boomer age and above would always let the women enter and exit the elevators first (kinda equivalent to the door-opening thing). Well, as you might surmise, this causes logistical problems as those who get on the elevator first are then at the back. So let's say a bunch of men and women get on at the 20th floor and go down to the first floor. The men would let us on first and then, at the bottom, they'd shift awkwardly and scrunch up against the walls of the car just to let us off first as well. Since I was so befuddled by this, sometimes I didn't act quickly enough and the doors would close before I was out of the car. *This* is why this is all so silly. That, and causing older men to shout at women so that they may do their "polite" duty.

Another, briefer story: when I met Berube the other night he opened doors for me. It was actually kind of charming coming from him (I have no worries about his gender politics) -- epsecially since it didn't involve shouting or getting nipped by elevator doors. It's all about context.

HeoCwaeth said...

Dr. Virago,

Thanks for the comment. :-) I agree that context is key in these situations, and my own concerns about the gender politics of this particular man may have played into my response to the door weirdness. (Although [almost] always gentle and polite, he flies more red flags for me than Moscow in the 80's. I don't know exactly why that is.)
As it stands, it seems more important to him to open the door than it is for me, so he has my blessings for all future doorman activities.

HeoCwaeth said...

One more thing:

If I'm honest, my own traditional role issues were playing their part in my confusion as well. This man is 1)a professor, 2)someone for whom I work, and 3)twenty or so years my senior. It was weird to have someone who 'outranks me' in our current academic context pulling rank so that he could be deferential. If that makes sense.

Ancrene Wiseass said...

It does make sense, Heo, and it is weird.

I'm of two minds: It could just be a moment in which anxiety / social training push through to the surface in a particularly awkward way. In that sense, one could maybe even read his behavior as rather charming.

On the other hand, it could be an incident that's really less about being polite than it is about establishing a hierarchy. He's going out of his way to remind both of you that he's a man and you aren't. And not just "pulling rank in order to be deferential," but even pulling rank in order to be deferential in a way that points out that he can pull rank on you on the basis of gender, too.

My guess is that, if you feel like you're seeing red flags, you're probably right.