There's this game I play. Or perhaps it's more of a test I give to unsuspecting males approaching doorways: I open the door for them.
I don't merely walk through first and hold the door behind me for a few seconds, so they have the chance to grab it. No, I open the door, step aside, smile, nod or wave them through and then enter behind them.
Sounds like a boring game, right? Well, it would have never turned into a game if it weren't for the strange reactions I began to get, responses I started collecting like seashells, as little moments of comic relief during a dull day.
The most common is the scrunched-up face of embarrassment, looking like I caught him picking his nose or skipping class. There was the man at the Saranac Building exiting the double doors as I entered. Stepping back, I held the door open for him. At the same time he quickened his steps and loudly exclaimed, "Damn it!" when he didn't reach the door before me, as if he had failed his vital duty of the day.
On my way into karate class, I held the door for my sensei as he walked up behind me. But he stopped. All he said was "No," as he took the door from me and motioned me forward, a reaction I didn't expect from a man steeped in Japanese culture where elders are shown courtesy above the young.
Then there's my dad — an outdoorsman, pastor and wildly conservative man. He knows my game. He tries to win his own game. Every time I get to the door first, he laughs and steals it from me. "That's not the way it's supposed to be," he says. "I'm supposed to open the door for you." He tells me a story of a pastor he read about who taught his daughter to wait at every door she came to until a man opened it for her. He says it beaming, like that's somehow the solution to making men treat women properly, like that's somehow progress.
Then there are the few men who do nothing. Maybe they utter a "thank you," but they walk through the door without hesitation or awkward fumbling. They're the ones who pass my test. They win the game.
Not intending to snub the courtesy of the men (they're usually the older men) who take the door from me, I realize that even after all the ground gained for women since the suffragists began marching, there's still progress to be made toward gender equality, even among the well-intentioned.
Women still struggle in public spaces. We may have the shame-a-catcaller videos and Emma Watson speeches to give us encouragement, but I still feel the need to mentally practice my self-defense techniques on innocent bystanders while walking at night between my Browne's Addition apartment and downtown. I still feel compelled to conjure my stone-cold-bitch face to deflect the occasional "Hey baby girl" from sidewalk crawlers and wanton marriage proposals hurled by creeps out of car windows.
Of course, the decency gap between those men and the men stealing my doors is vast, but what they might not realize is, they're both working against us, asserting their antiquated notion of gender-given duty over women.
Because the whole point of manners is simple: People should open doors for people.
So, men: When I open the door for you, what I'm trying to say is, "Welcome to this cool world where things aren't so complicated, where we're simply equal." You can smile, nod or say thank you, but most important, please just walk through. And I'll do the same. ♦