Men opening doors for women = sexism?

There is a concept in feminist thought known as “the birdcage.” Oppression, according to feminist philosopher Marilyn Frye, is like a birdcage. If you concentrate on just one wire, you don’t see the whole cage, or your own imprisonment within the cage.  In my Gender Women’s Studies class, we discussed whether or not a man opening a door for a woman is sexist. Those who spoke in class unanimously agreed that it is sexist, and feminist should reject that particular social practice.

 After I left my GWSS class the other day, I couldn’t stop thinking about that particular “wire” in the “birdcage.” Do I really think that a man opening a door for a woman is one of these wires? The conclusion I continued to reach was a decided “no.”

As a woman, I know that I am capable of opening my own door. I am under no illusion that I need a man to open a door for me. If I am on a date and my date opens the door for me, I certainly do not feel that I am being oppressed. Nor do I feel offended that he was clearly socialized in an oppressive (towards women) society. Often, it is the man’s parents who have taught him to open doors for women he takes out, and they teach it to him as a formal sign of respect. Because my date’s intention in opening the door is not sexist–rather, it is grounded in respect for women–I do not have a problem with it in the least. In fact, I would rather that anyone I date always open the door for me. Furthermore, in our culture, we teach others that opening doors for people in general is polite. Assuming a man is only opening a door for a woman because she is a woman is oftentimes untrue, and thus, it is not sexist.

Ultimately, being upset about men opening doors is the kind of thing that gives femists a bad name. There are much bigger fish to fry, and, pursuant to Frye’s “birdcage” analogy, we need to stop concentrating on one “wire” when we really need to step back, look at the whole birdcage, and  find the door out.

Published in: on March 6, 2010 at 4:47 pm  Comments (2)  
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