In case you haven’t heard about it, there’s a movie coming out over Valentine’s Day weekend that’s being blasted by Christians (and most other religions and feminists and people who actually care about the writing quality of the books they read).
Most people objecting to Fifty Shades of Grey think it’s dangerous to associate twisted fantasies with love. And that’s true, but I think it’s also become a symbol for all the unanswered (sometimes unasked) questions our culture has about gender and sexuality.
It’s way bigger than just one movie. It’s Super Bowl commercials with scantily-clad women for props, sitcoms where all guys are idiots, and misapplication of the Bible’s take on gender roles. It’s trafficking and courtship debates and Disney princesses and pornography and bikinis and burqas and 100 million wives and moms who read a book about abuse and somehow came away thinking it was a romance.
People are confused. Some Christians, I think, are even confused.
When you look around you, it’s pretty clear that we don’t know what it means to be men and women anymore. You can offend almost anyone in about .05 seconds by bringing up something related to feminism, gender roles, or sexuality.
So it’s obviously not simple, and I will not attempt to address every aspect of this issue. But I’m going to try to say something mildly useful on the subject, anyway.
Our culture typically says that women should be treated differently in one of two ways: either they are smarter and more capable than men or they are objects to be used by men.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t like either of these options.
There are some more balanced folks who insist that women and men should be treated equally. To which I say, hooray! I am incredibly glad I live in a time when I have legal rights, when I can go to college, when I don’t have to write this blog under a man’s pseudonym, and when, in the church, I am treated in light of the truth that both men and women were made in the image of God. Equality is great.
But why not go a step further? Why don’t we let women be treated differently from men…but in a way that gives them more dignity, more respect, and more honor, while at the same time telling men they are capable of being dignified, respectful, and honorable? What could be more different from our Fifty Shades culture than that?
So here’s my radical protest idea:
Men, hold doors open for women. And women, give them permission to do so.
Okay, before I go on, let me just say that not every woman who doesn’t like guys holding open doors for her is a crazy, bra-burning feminist who reads erotica every night and is trying to put gender-neutral signs on all public restrooms.
Maybe someone is sensitive to this issue because she’s known men who actually have stated or implied that she isn’t capable of doing simple things without their help. Maybe she has known (or dated) too many guys who play the gentleman card as a cover for being manipulative, controlling jerks. Maybe she’s encountered prejudices that range from annoying to demeaning to outright harassment.
But here is what I would say to those women: this is about how we treat another person who is doing something to show respect. And I say, accept a kindness in the spirit that it was given. If a beaming hostess prepares a fishy-smelling dish she’s sure you’ll just love, eat what you can and hide the rest discreetly in a napkin. If a toothless kid gives you an ugly thank-you note studded with glued macaroni, it is beautiful and wow, look at all that color! If a guy holds open a door for you, assume it is a simple act of consideration and receive it with grace.
You might say, but what if the door wasn’t held open out of consideration? Well. That gets tricky. Are some of these guys smarmy ladies’ men who just want attention? Sure. Are some of these guys prejudiced chauvinists who think women are less valuable than men? Sure.
I can 100% guarantee you that some of the men holding open doors for you are selfish or manipulative or insincere or patronizing or hopelessly self-obsessed show-offs.
And some of the women walking through those doors are too. I have been all of those things. You probably have as well. The truth is, we all have mixed motives. We’re all unknowingly prejudiced against something. And we would all like others to assume the best about us and give us a chance to live up to that.
So take the offered seat. Accept the steadying hand. Surrender the heavy box. Say “thank you” and smile, not because you are a fragile woman who needs assistance, but because you are a gracious person who appreciates every shred of general human kindness you encounter, especially in a culture that doesn’t value respect very highly.
The same culture that says it’s all right for men to either be abusive or belittled. The culture that tells us women are eye candy or strong and independent or victimized or in control of their own sexuality even if it leaves them empty and searching for something to fill a void they can’t name.
They’re simple things, those little acts of “gentlemanly behavior.” But I think they matter, because they tell our culture—and remind us—that we do not have to accept any of those labels they want to attach to our identity as men or women.
I can’t speak as directly to the men, since I’m not one (except to say thank you to all of the gentlemen I know personally—seriously, you guys are the best).
But women, yes, let’s be strong. Let’s be strong enough to think of someone else before ourselves, to put aside baggage we might associate with certain actions and just be grateful for what they might mean—what they probably do mean—if done from the right motives. Let’s love people as best we can without thought to our own agenda.
Let’s walk through the door.
Agree? Disagree? (I have heard good, well-reasoned arguments against this from people I respect…so go ahead!)