Friday Feminist – Marilyn Frye (2)

Cross posted on The Hand Mirror

… the male door opening ritual. This ritual, which is remarkably widespread across classes and races, puzzles many people, some of whom do and some of who do not find it offensive. Look at the scene of two people approaching a door. The male steps slightly ahead and opens the door. The male holds the door open while the female glides through. Then the male goes through. The door closes after them. “Now how’, one innocently asks, “can those crazy womenslibbers say that is oppressive? The guy removed a barrier to the lady’s smooth and unruffled progress” But each repetition of this ritual has a place in a pattern, in fact in several patterns. One has to shift the level of one’s perception to see the whole picture.

The door-opening pretends to be a helpful service, but the helpfulness is false. This can be seen by nothing [as much as] that it will be done whether or not it makes any practical sense. Infirm men and men burdened with packages will open doors for able-bodied women who are free of physical burdens. Men will impose themselves awkwardly and jostle everyone in order to get to the door first. The act is not determined by convenience or grace. Furthermore, these very numerous acts of unneeded of even noisome “help” occur in counterpoint to a pattern of men not being helpful in many practical ways in which women might welcome help. What women experience is a world in which gallant princes charming commonly make a fuss about being helpful and providing small services when help and services are of little or no use, but in which there are rarely ingenious and adroit princes at hand when substantial assistance is really wanted in either mundane affairs or in situations of threat, assault or terror. There is no help with the (his) laundry; not help with typing a report at 4.00am,; no help in mediating disputes among relatives or children. There is nothing but advice that women should stay indoors after dark, be chaperoned by a man, or when it comes down to it, “lie back and enjoy it.”

The gallant gestures have no practical meaning. Their meaning is symbolic. The door-opening and similar services provided are services which really are needed by people who are for one reason or another incapacitated – unwell, burdened with parcels, etc. So the message is that women are incapable. The detachment of the acts from the concrete realities of what women need and do not need is a vehicle for the message that women’s actual needs and interests are unimportant or irrelevant. Finally, these gestures imitate the behaviour of servants towards masters and thus mock women, who are in most respects the servants and caretakers of men. The message of the false helpfulness of male gallantry is female dependence, the invisibility or insignificance of women, and contempt for women.

Marilyn Frye, “Oppression,” in The Politics of Reality, 1983

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One response to “Friday Feminist – Marilyn Frye (2)

  1. That’s a great quote. Encapsulates that whole dynamic perfectly.

    Bookmarked.