It’s a simple common courtesy: two people walk toward a door, whoever gets there first holds the door open for the person. Truly one of the most mundane acts we perform as human beings and should have little effect on our ongoing existential crises.
Unless you’re a man, of course.
A study conducted by researchers at Purdue University found that holding a door open for men lowers their self-esteem and self-confidence, as compared to men who open doors for themselves. Yes, you read that correctly. If you hold the door open for man, chances are he feels less confident in himself. Holding a door open for a man could lead to a bout of self-loathing and despair, as he has been emasculated to the point he does not recognize himself as a man. Imagine that world. Imagine all the sad men having doors held open for them. Imagine the angst building up inside.
Imagine just how silly this whole thing is.
This isn’t the first study to show how fragile the male ego can be. Just last fall, in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, a study found that men’s self-esteem dropped when they found out that their wives or girlfriends performed a task well. Not that they did better than they did, but just that they performed well at all.
Guys: what the fuck is wrong with us?
Yes, yes, usual disclaimer (and an attempt to derail the conversation) “it’s not ALL men.” Whatever. It’s enough to be disconcerting. The idea that men’s egos are so tied up in the most trivial things, like opening doors, does not bode well for our project of deconstructing masculinity. Its tentacles are deep into our psyches and affecting us on levels that are truly not that serious.
I mean, when I think of a toxic masculinity, I’m thinking that we have to have a discussion about violence, or power, or violence used to exert power, or emotional intelligence, or something equally as damaging to the societal fabric. But apparently we have to start with telling men it’s OK for someone to open the door for them. It doesn’t make you “less of a man.”
What exactly constitutes “less of a man,” anyhow? Because the whole concept is truly confusing for me. Are “men” expected to go through life doing everything on their own, from opening doors to running governments, without ever once asking their fellow man or woman for a helping hand? What does taking on that large of a burden actually prove? That’s not a recipe for manhood, it’s directions on how to die by the time you’re 35.
Patriarchy doesn’t make sense. Beyond that, it’s dangerous. And it’s not dangerous because of what it does to men’s egos when they are faced with the slightest hint of “emasculation.” It’s dangerous because it somehow makes those moments important. It’s dangerous because the men whose self-esteem and self-confidence take a hit during these fleeting moments of “emasculation” don’t just bottle it up inside and allow themselves to whither away (dangerous in its own right, to be sure). No, it’s dangerous because those men, believing they are entitled to feeling masculine and powerful in a world that worships the masculine and powerful, often take out their frustration on the rest of society. They hurt those they deem weak. They find solace in performing a toxic masculinity in other areas of their lives. They further poison the well in order to find a sense of self in a dangerous system. Everyone else pays the price.
So yes, it is incredibly silly that there are men whose egos are bruised by the fact that someone opens the door for them. It’s silly that a man even gives the gesture that much thought. And yes, all of you “it’s not all men” people, it’s not all men. I heard you the first time. But if it’s not the door being held open, it’s having a partner perform well in a task. Or maybe it’s not being able to lift a heavy box. Or seeing someone else fix the kitchen sink. Who knows what other seemingly mundane tasks or filling up men’s heads with thoughts of their own worthlessness. That’s a problem. And unless we are about the work of interrogating, deconstructing, and redefining masculinity to say “hey, seriously, it’s OK,” those slights to the ego are going to continue adding up, and the ones most damaged when the hurt is finally expressed won’t be the guys having doors held open for them. It’ll be whoever is doing the holding.
Mychal Denzel Smith is a Knobler Fellow at The Nation Institute. You can open the door for him, seriously, it’s OK.