Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Ignorance or Education

Naturally, I have been noticing lately the sex of the people for whom I open doors. On my way to the second class session with Molly, she opened the first door to Buckman, while I opened the second. I also opened the third, as I had simply hopped up the stairs more quickly. My initial response to the door-opening question was similar to probably most other males in the class, that I open doors for everyone. I would roundly deny Prof. Johnson’s claim that I would be more likely to hold a door open for a student or faculty member than a groundskeeper or cleaning person. This is not a testament to some zealous door-opening campaign, but more evidence of an ingrained practice I deem “nice.” Sometimes doors actually are more difficult to open, such as those to Frazier-Jelke or the front doors to Palmer. I have watched women struggle with these doors. However, I recognize that these examples are outliers to the general rule of door-opening constituting a bar to the metaphorical birdcage.

Just as my environmental ethics class is causing me to pause at the possibility of ordering a meat dish, this class has already caused pause in my daily activities, such as door-opening. The list of bars is extensive, and I have been disgusted for some time at how women are conceived in the minds of most men. I can trace this line of thinking primarily to a break consciously made with the ideals of my father, the conservative, sexist, racist, draconian ex-husband of my mother, generally a pig of a man. He’s one of those vulgar “I’m God’s gift to women” sorts of men who talks with his mouth full, constantly. The point is that we can generally predict never finding him in a feminist philosophy class. Personally, I took this class on practical grounds, to complete my major in philosophy and to counteract the sour taste of feminism that popular culture transmits to young people, portraying them as bitches, snobby and boisterous. It seems obvious to me that notice must be given to the conditions of oppression, but it seems to be a fairly liberal group who takes feminist considerations to heart. But what are we to do about those who do not consider them valid or who actively ignore them?

I’m concerned with the outrage in Audre Lorde’s presentation to the Second Sex Conference in New York, 1979. Near the close of her paper she states that the call for women to “stretch across the gap of male ignorance and to educate men as to our existence and our needs” is the primary tool which oppressing males use to “keep the oppressed occupied with the master’s concerns,” (51). She likewise condemns the call for black women to educate white women about their differences as “a tragic repetition of racist patriarchal thought,” (51). While I would probably have shared her dismay over the small number of black or lesbian commentators at the conference, her final statements unsettled me. Is it the task of the few males who take feminist considerations seriously to sort of proselytize fellow males? Such a suggestion seems to be the only alternative, though ultimately ineffective. Perhaps Lorde’s frustration is double as her paper is doing exactly what she considers a “diversion of energies,” educating the white feminist scholars at the conference on the importance of difference as it relates to creative capacity. The more diverse voices in a room, the broader array of experience explored, the more knowledgeable one becomes on an issue. Thus, her apology for recognition of difference represents to me a reworking of the lesson of perspectivism.


  1. I also started paying attention to how i held doors and why. Usually i will hold the door for anyone, and most people will hold the door for me (besides from pretentious-looking professors, which seems odd) but i spent some time thinking about it. I originally mostly held doors for women because my mother said I should. It was being a gentlemen, it was being chivalrous, it was being all those wonderful things that a man should do to a woman. But somewhere along the line i decided that such a courtesy should be extended towards everyone. Maybe it was because I noticed that women weren't so weak as to not be able to open a door for themselves, and so my gesture was empty. Or maybe it was from having a female open the F-J door for me (which I swear i still struggle on sometimes.) Either way, through my own unconscious analysis or empirical observation i came to open doors for everyone, no matter who they are. I think shows an interesting move of how operating under a tradition can be overcome by empirical knowledge and reason.

  2. I still don't see a man opening the door for a woman as part of the metaphorical birdcage. It may have been that way in the beginning, but now a days, people hold the door opening because it's a polite thing to do. I hold the door open for people all the time. If someone is behind me i hold the freaking door no matter if the person is a student or someone from physical plant. Besides, I don't see any women thanking men for letting the door slam in their faces.


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