Over time, I’ve discussed the topic of holding open a door with a few of my male friends. Some more old school dudes from my anecdotal non-research tell me that they do not wish for me to make a point of opening and holding doors for them. Some of them even dislike it, just a little, if, when they open a door, I reach for another door and go in alongside them, or if I beckon them forward through the door ahead of me. They really feel more comfortable if they get to reach for the door and I go in ahead of them.
I joke about how they’re using me as a guinea pig. What if there are mad terrorists in the building and you’re sending me in to take the brunt of the oncoming attack?
This came up again when I heard about some recently published research, said research leading to the conclusion that having a man hold a door open to let another man enter first can lower the second man’s self-esteem and self-confidence.
Real men do their own doors.
The study was conducted by Purdue University psychologists Megan McCarty and Janice Kelly, who write for the journal Social Influence. Their study builds on studies from the 80s, regarding “Threat to Self Esteem Model of Reactions”, which concludes that receiving help can have both positive and negative outcomes. In the McCarty-Kelly study, the conclusion is that unexpected help of a chivalrous nature can have negative consequences, self-esteem-wise.
I don’t think that’s especially startling, although it’s good to have actual numbers now to quote if you find yourself noting that men feel emasculated when treated the way they expect to treat the little ladies.
I have a tendency to regard this as silly. I grew up as a feminist, albeit not a rabid one. I was entering my formative years regarding my sexual identity and feelings of self-esteem when Title IX was coming to life. It isn’t that I dislike it when a man holds a door for me — that is an act of courtesy, after all. It’s just that I would like to return the favor, and don’t feel men should be uncomfortable with that.
The study started by establishing a baseline regarding the likelihood “in the wild”, as it were, for men to experience having doors held for them, and the manner in which it was held (the door-holder opened the door for the recipient, then followed the recipient in — aka “chivalrous”, versus the door-holder preceding the recipient into the building, then holding the door open for the recipient — aka “general”.) There were two preliminary studies used to establish expectations as to type of door holding, the gender of the helper, and the gender of the helped. These established that men are significantly less likely to experience being helped with “chivalrous” door holding, whereas women are accustomed to it.
The heart of the study was then conducted, using a building with two side-by-side doors leading into it, some semi-randomly assigned participants who were either male or female, and male research assistants who engaged in one of two behaviors: hold open the door for the participant in the chivalrous fashion, or enter the building simultaneously by using the other door (no door-holding). The participants were then approached by female research assistants who asked them to fill out a survey regarding their self-esteem.
Males, overall, reported lower self-esteem than females, irrespective of the door-holding experience. But the self-esteem of the males for whom the door was held was significantly lower relative to no-door-held, as well as relative to females. The difference in females between door-held and no-door-held was statistically small, but was slightly higher.
The generalized conclusion is that men feel it demeans them to be treated the way they would treat a woman, and women feel better, slightly, about being treated with that courtesy.
I have a couple of beefs about the study, one being that there was no baseline established regarding self-esteem for people who didn’t even go through doors. Another is in using females to conduct the survey. The impact of a man being asked how he feels by a woman versus being asked by a man might change the results in some fashion. Finally, it would be interesting to conduct a similar study having females act as door holders.
In a world where there is equal treatment irrespective of gender, a man would not distinguish between whether he would treat a woman chivalrously. Don’t hold the door for me because I am a woman. Hold it for me because I am approaching the door and you are a polite, considerate human being. I try to be a polite, considerate human being as well and I welcome opportunities to demonstrate this.