Chivalry and dominance: a case study

I just witnessed two middle-aged geezers refusing to let a young attractive woman carry some cartons of beer. Did they hasten to take these burdens from her and carry them for her in a possibly misguided yet well-intentioned bout of chivalry?

No, they just told her where a cart was and argued forcefully every time she insisted she’d rather just carry her stuff than use the cart. They were so insistent that they created a situation in which it was impossible for her to refuse their instructions without being rude, so she went to get the cart. She then complained to me that now she had to haul her stuff conspicuously for a long distance in front of lots of people when she could’ve just carried the cartons a short distance. It took longer and made her task more annoying and embarrassing.

Those guys are most assuredly off somewhere now slapping themselves heartily on the back for being so gallant and saving the weak little female from having to carry something.

But behavior like this isn’t even about being chivalrous. This is about men making themselves feel better. They know they can’t get the time of day from this woman, so they’re forcing her to interact with them because it gets their motors going. And they may tell themselves they saved her trouble, but when adults tell you, “I’d rather do it this way”, they are speaking from experience and the only polite response is, “Oh, okay.” We’re not talking about a child who may genuinely need some instruction.

What they did was not an offer of help. It was an act of dominance, and it was repulsive and offensive. This is the sort of behavior that Nice Guys (TM) engage in, and then they get disgusted when women aren’t appreciative of being dominated in uncomfortable social situations.

Chivalry has a gendered past and is problematic, but if you remove the gendering it’s really just people trying to help each other. We are living in a century in which anyone might hold a door for anyone, or anyone might offer to help someone carry some stuff. Suggesting the cart (and then backing off when the suggestion was rejected) would have been perfectly acceptable. But forcing the cart on her against her wishes… well, you get the drift.


  1. says

    Wow. I think that it wouldn’t be any more rude of her to insist on doing it her way than it was for them to insist on her using the cart, but I wasn’t there. I know that sometimes it’s easier to go to some extra trouble just to avoid an argument.

  2. says

    They were so wrapped up in this little narcissistic exercise that she never could have gotten their attention without either screaming or using very foul language. She obviously wasn’t willing to go that far, possibly because random observers were present and those observers wouldn’t have known what the men were saying and only would have seen this “crazy” screaming and cursing lady. The “don’t want to make a scene” thing is something men rely on a lot, consciously or not, to force women to interact with them in social settings.

    There IS one way to handle things like this, which I stumbled onto in desperation as a child when a man was touching me inappropriately in public, hoping I’d endure it rather than make a scene. You raise your voice so everyone can hear and say calmly, “Stop [whatever he’s doing]” so you’re documenting it for people. In this case, she could have said something like, “Stop telling me to use the cart – I’d rather just carry it.” Then the witnesses know the men are harassing you, and they look at the men like maybe the men are the scum of the earth, and the men back down rather than test the witness’ willingness to step in and defend the attractive lady.

    But of course, even doing this breaks a lot of social rules that have been schooled into women since childhood. It’s not easy, and no one should have to go this far just to avoid someone dominating her. If I hadn’t discovered it as a child, when those social rules weren’t so well instilled yet (and also, I had a mother who taught me rudeness was a valid option if my rights were being infringed), I doubt I ever would have thought of it.

  3. Cheryl says

    You say in the opening sentence that the young woman was attractive. I wonder what their response would have been if she hadn’t been attractive.

    Jennifer, I had to laugh that they’d think it was making things easier for her to make her carry the cartons a distance to get a cart and then walk the cart back to the door and out to her car than for her to just carry the cartons out to the car. I’m just a woman, though, with a weak, inferior mind. Clearly, their superior male brains saw how that wasn’t actually more work for her. [/sarcasm] Even if it would have been a shorter walk/less effort for her to get a cart and then go to her car, she said she was fine carrying them. That’s the end of it right there. No further discussion, no argument. I, personally, haven’t ever had a problem with jerks like she ran into, but I’d like to think if I did, I have enough spine and strength to stand my ground rather than back down like the brainwashing says I should.

    On the subject of chivalry in the 21st century, what are your thoughts on guys who say they’ve gotten their head snapped off by women because they held the door open for them? My own experience and what I’ve heard from others is that holding the door is considered basic good manners for both genders, and I’ve never known of a female to get her pants in a twist because a guy held the door for her.

  4. says


    I doubted they would have noticed her if she hadn’t been attractive, which is why I included that detail.

    I think the thing about women attacking men for holding the door is an urban myth that originated as part of the backlash against second wave feminism. I have had a few older men get pissed if I held the door for them, though. 😉 Guess it makes them feel effeminate or something. I just do it if someone’s got a big burden and it’s easy enough for me to help.

  5. minuteye says


    I’ve never seen a woman get mad at a man holding the door open, although it may happen occasionally. I have had the unpleasant experience, however, of being physically picked up and pushed out of the way by a man so that he could hold the door for me, rather than just going through the door I was holding already. People are… yeah.

  6. Cheryl says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    IMHO, any guy who’s going to get his pants in a twist over a woman holding the door for him is a weak twit who’s insecure in his manhood. Last I knew, women holding the door for men wasn’t on God’s list of things that violate the natural order of things. 😉


    Wow. That’s…I’m having trouble finding the words. Pathetic. Over-the-top. A sign those men have issues. All of the above and more.

  7. sbg says

    I think they were trying to get themselves invited to the party they presumed she was having.

    In all seriousness, though, I’m having a hard time distilling the kind of obliviousness one has to possess to not get it when someone says they’re just fine, thanks, don’t need any help. If indeed she was struggling in some way, their offers would have likely been welcomed and they could have gone away all puffy-chested for a legitimate reason. No really does mean no, and these guys pushed her until she switched it to maybe just to get avoid more drama.

  8. Copper says

    On the subject of door-holding, every woman I’ve heard say anything about it says that they only get annoyed when the man holding the door is being more of an inconvenience than a help. Like, holding it when she’s at the other end of the corridor and forcing her to hurry up, or doing the thing where you have to duck to get in under his arm, or physically blocking the doorway as he’s holding it, or rushing so that he gets to the door before she does etc. When a man does things like that, it’s *not* a polite gesture; it’s a power display to remind her of where they both stand in the social order, and they hate being called out on it. It has a lot in common with what the men in the OP did IMO.

  9. says


    Wow, that’s a new low!


    The idea they were hoping for an invite crossed my mind, too.


    I’m so glad you mentioned the ducking-under-arm thing. I mentioned it happening to me once on my Livejournal or something years ago, and no one had ever heard of such a thing. If it ever happens again, I’m so gonna calmly say, “Thanks, but I don’t care to walk under your armpit.” Duh?

  10. says


    *nods* I’m inclined to think if anyone has ever gotten a sense of annoyance from a woman after holding a door open, it’s because he has actually done it in an annoying way. Some men actually do it in a resentful way, as if they don’t think they should be required to do this, but are blaming ME rather than the MEN who were running the world when it got decided that men should hold doors for women.

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