Courtesy & Doors

I was loafing in the library, in celebration of it being the Sunday before a three day work week, and I came upon a note by a friend that mentioned in passing codes of chivalry and courtly love. So then I spent perhaps half an hour looking at what the internet has to say on the matter. Two things caught my attention: first, how both men and women are rather put off by the extent to which the more modern feminists have often worked to destroy courtesy between the sexes, and, second, that the opening of doors has become strangely symbolic of said courtesy. Well, I’ve noticed this before, but was just now struck by how odd it is. Of course, it is very impolite to let a door close in someone’s face. It is, I take it, even more rude for a man to let a door close on a woman he is accompanying. It also makes sense that a man might gain some points for politeness for opening doors that he didn’t have to – like to let the woman out of a car, or if they’re walking next to each other, or if she’s more than a couple of feet behind him. It makes sense that it would be more polite for a woman to thank the man for opening said door, than to take it for granted that he ought to and therefore will. What seems rather odd and out of place is how all the various ways doors might get opened, and the various reactions the recipients of said courtesy, is looked at as some kind of microcosm of the relations of the sexes. Participate in a discussion of “chivalry,” and whether us moderns still try to keep a bit of it, and, without fail – especially if this is an online discussion – doors will be used as some kind of measure. I don’t especially see why. It’s rude to let a door close on someone regardless of sex, though I still haven’t figured out the general expectation for a woman holding a door for a man whose hands aren’t full. I tend to go with: whatever seems less awkward at the time. But – why should this particular minor social convention carry so much symbolic weight, and tend to attach itself to “chivalry,” which, in intention, is more or less completely different? It makes slightly more sense to examine the expectation that is a man and woman go out to a restaurant or event together, the man can always offer to pay for the woman, and is often expected to, the woman can usually accept, though she may pay for herself instead, and is sometimes expected to, even if the man offers; but the woman is nearly never expected to pay for the man, barring rather unusual circumstances. Or at least that’s as close as I’ve been able to figure things. The arrangement does at least say something about our expectations touching the roles of men and women in society and relationships.

I’m a fan of both courtesy (though I’m not particularly good at it) and ceremony interwoven with life (one of the things I love about monasteries), and tend to look on the fixation on a very limited range of minor social conventions as evidence that we have very little of either left, and what we do have is more personal than social. In my current situation it almost doesn’t matter – I’m always playing a teacher or employee or coworker, or outsider, or youngest person in the room, and never, so far as I can recall, that of just a woman. The rule seems to be for us to stand on ceremony and pull rank as little as possible, and when someone does so, it tends to be greeted with mild rebellion and stress. It’s making me wish that the whole situation were spelled out rather more clearly – I can see why in the past girls actually took classes on etiquette, but from what I can remember that doesn’t quite cover questions like: am I expected to invite people to my house for gatherings, and, if so, and if I have no close friends, must I invite everybody, or only some people, and if so, who? How do I go about becoming part of a small community in which I am decidedly an outsider? What kinds of events might I be allowed to attend? Should I come exactly on time, or ten minutes early (and be the first person there), or late like everyone else? If a small group of children decide to invite themselves over to my house, should I let them? And if I do let them, how am I expected to entertain them? Should l  make them something to eat? Never before had I entertained the possibility – let alone likelihood – of the children of people I don’t know inviting themselves over to my house. Should I teach them that this is not something that’s socially acceptable for them to do? But if I do want to invite some over, how do I decide who, and have them do what?

But those questions aren’t really relevant to my topic, since they have nothing to do with the relations of the sexes – just my own wonderings gushing in, as is usual in my posts.


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