Is it really so bad?

Hey all, I suppose this isn’t a place you would normally find me. I am a 21 year old college student. I am a political science major, sociology double major, and international studies focus. I am a member of a fraternity, and love my brothers. Most importantly for this post, I was raised in the south but moved north, and I am confused about some aspects of feminism. I was raised with the ideals of gentlemanly behavior and courtesy towards women. Not that they are weaker or less capable (because believe me, there are some STRONG southern women in my family who I would never want to cross) but that, as men, we should hold our behavior to a higher standard around women in order to present ourselves in the best light.

Mainly, this spurs from an encounter I had with a young woman who I was interested in. I met her at a party, and found her wildly beautiful, and got the guts to go talk to her. Needless to say, meeting someone at a college party is never the best first impression, so I asked her instead to go out with me the next night. Remember, we had never met before, and I didn’t know a thing about her. She agreed, and my story continues the next night. I texted her and asked if she would go to dinner with me, and she agreed. Everything was going well, until I picked her up. I pulled up in front of her dorm, and she walked towards the car. I did what I do for any important date, and I got out to open the door for her. She laughed and said ‘thanks, but I can handle it’ in what I thought was a light hearted manner. On the way to dinner she told me she was a woman’s studies major, and a feminist activist. I didn’t really know too much about feminism at the time, and went along with the conversation. When we got to the restaurant, I once again opened the door for her on the way in, only this time she said ‘seriously, I can handle it’ still with a smile on her face. I could tell she was peeved by my actions, and I was so confused. When ordering, the waiter walked up and looked at me, and I said ‘ladies first’ which comes naturally to me. I’ll tell you, if you could see the glare I got from my date, you would understand my confusion. She looked at me as if I had just insulted her on the highest level. At this point in the date it was clearly uncomfortable for both of us, and I tried to make small talk. It went alright for a bit, until she asked me why I came up to her to ask her out. I answered honestly, and said ‘well, I thought you were gorgeous, and if I missed my chance to ask you out I would have regretted it’. I thought that was a flattering answer, until I heard her reply. She asked ‘so, you only liked me for my looks?’. How am I supposed to answer that! Of course I only judged her by her looks at the time, I had never met her before. The whole purpose of the date was to learn more! Anyways, from that point on it was down hill. She said I was chauvinistic and treated women too delicately. At the end of the date, it was clear it would be our last one.

Anyways, my question to this community is…Am I really such a bad guy for believing in my values of treating women in a higher-class manner? I just don’t get it, it doesn’t seem like a big deal to me at all. I am all for equality and leaders who choose diplomacy over violence and human rights over economic gain. However, I just don’t agree that our culture needs to be so equal that my holding a door open for a lady is seen as an offense.

Sorry, if I anger anyone, it was not my intention.

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8 Comments

  1. Posted July 23, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    I think that your politeness was taken the wrong way here… I mean, I understand both points of view. The woman you were on the date with is quite strong in will, and was probably took your cordiality as a patriarchal stance. My suggestion? Next time, get to know the woman you ask out first, as to avoid asking her out based on appearances. Overall, I think that your chivalrous manners were just misunderstood. Again, next time, I’d advise you to get to know your date a bit more before actually dating, as to clear up any sort of issue over misunderstood politeness.

  2. Posted July 23, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the reply. I do think your advice would be best. It is at least good to have an open dialogue about it. Where it is or is not right to have the ‘ladies first’ mentality.

  3. Posted July 23, 2012 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

    It seems to me that your date isn’t very culturally sensitive. Even if she disagrees with you on whether gender specific manners are sexist, she should respect that for you, they are a sign of respect, or at least be willing to discuss it. Unfortunately, some feminists tend to be so on the lookout for inequality that they forget to consider other perspectives. The way she reacted to your saying you asked her out because you found her attractive also sounds like a knee jerk reaction from someone looking for offense. It might have been better to have stated explicitly that your reaction to being attracted to her was to want to get to know her, but she’s being silly if she thinks appearance isn’t a big part of first impressions.

    I also want to say that it’s pretty cool that your reaction to this whole situation was to investigate her beliefs and try to understand another perspective.

  4. Posted July 23, 2012 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

    No, you’re not a “bad guy”. But I can certainly see her point of view – even if “chivalrous” gestures are meant well, they usually make me uncomfortable. It’s like I’m being told that my gender is more important than any other fact about me as an individual. (This is when it’s obvious that a polite gesture is part of a guy’s “how to interact with women” routine, as opposed to his “how to be polite to *people*” routine.) And that’s sort of the essence of sexism, which is why even “benevolent sexism” – this idea of treating women in a “higher-class manner” – usually makes us card-carrying feminists peeved. It also makes us suspicious that less “benevolent” sexism might also be lurking.

    That said, I also think there are some situations – fancy ballroom-gown wearing events come to mind – where the “ladies first” attitude has some clearly practical reasons, and I’ll be purely grateful for the politeness. If you are wearing a suit and I’m tripping over heels and a floor-length dress, please do open doors and push in my chair. (The debate about why I’m the one in the impractical dress is another story!) I will be infinitely less likely to suspect you of being a sexist prick in that situation than, say, if you are carrying a bunch of boxes and I’m totally unburdened, and you still feel the need to rush past me to hold open the door like you’re making some sort of point.

    But ultimately, if you want to be truly polite and respectful, it comes down to respecting the woman’s wishes that you’re interacting with. If she’s flattered by chivalrous gestures, then full steam ahead! But if she winces at them, it’s your reaction that really counts – if you insist that *she’s* the one with the problem for not liking it, that’s when you’re being a “bad guy”. But if you instead try to stop making such gestures (even if you’re still wrapping your head around why exactly it makes her uncomfortable), then hats off to you good sir!

    • Posted July 23, 2012 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

      (p.s. I also agree with the commenter above, that your reaction to the situation was pretty cool, so probably your date’s harshness is more of a commentary on her state of mind than your exact behavior.)

  5. Posted July 23, 2012 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

    I’m going to agree with Sark, here. Your date was certainly not very culturally sensitive, and her anger was way out of place. Even though the whole chivalry thing makes her uncomfortable (although in this case, it seems it just made her angry) it’s a point of polite conversation, not accusations and anger.

    I do think that there’s a time and a place for feminist rage, but that rime and place is certainly not a first date with a guy who’s clearly just mistaken/trying to be polite/of another culture/etc etc etc. I mean, heaven help her if she’s travelling to different countries at any time. Sure, you made mistakes and you’re learning. But if she’s going to be angry or upset at every infraction of feminist thought, she’s going to be living in a very small, angry world because of it.

  6. Posted July 24, 2012 at 3:12 am | Permalink

    Different people have a “feminist awakening” at different times in their lives and in different ways. Some people when they first begin to learn about it and question gender norms and all that — and this is likely in college, if someone is taking their first womens studies course or what have you — get all fiery and enthusiastic and ready to take on the patriarchy single-handed and can be a little overboard. Maybe something like this was going on with her?

    I don’t think you were the “bad guy” – hey, if nothing else it seems like you looked more into feminism online, found this site, and decided to ask about it to understand better, right? At most I’d say that the first time she told you she could handle the door herself it might have been better to have not held it a second time. Maybe it would have been better for her to find out where you were coming from in your beliefs about chivalry and had a more constructive discussion about it.

    Also, in my opinion? Finding someone gorgeous doesn’t equal “only liking the way they look”. Since she said yes to the date knowing no more about you than you did about her, what did she base her interest on then?

  7. Posted July 26, 2012 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    Am I really the only one here squicked out by a guy who writes a post on a feminist website in order to assure himself that his date was actually just some big meany who couldn’t see what a Nice Guy ™ he was?

    I don’t care where you’re from (for the record, I was raised mostly in the South by southern parents), if a woman says she can handle it then she can handle it. Instead, you insisted on trying to score points with her even after she tells you – twice! – that she’s more than capable of opening her own damn doors. Even if she wasn’t a Women’s Studies major, you should’ve gotten a clue that it was time to back the fuck off. You didn’t listen to her, she called you on it, and now it’s the feminists’ job to make you feel better?

    Please.

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