One Simple Way to Protest Fifty Shades of Grey

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).

You could, of course, just burn the book. But then you'd have to buy it or steal it from the library. Not recommended.

You could, of course, just burn the book. But then you’d have to buy it or steal it from the library. Not recommended.

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.

And I would argue that courtesy is as much a mark of a lady as courage as well.

And I would argue that courtesy is as much a mark of a lady as courage as well. The question is…what does that look like?

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.

But please keep this handy guide in mind.

But please keep this handy guide in mind.

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!)

20 comments

  1. From a man who feels chivalry still has purpose today while at the same time respects equality for women, thanks for your words. As a father of twin teenage daughters, it is a challenge to teach this balance to my daughters in today’s world. You are an inspiration to our daughters and a blessing to us as parents.

  2. Love the handy guide. When I went to college in the south, those Southern gentlemen would hold doors for ladies up to like fifty feet away. I thought it was funny, but sweet. I would end up jogging to the door so the wouldn’t have to stand there all day 😉 Good post, btw.

  3. I agree with you 100 % and also with T.R. Knight’s comment above. We men need to recover the art of chivalry with unconditional respect to all women, beginning with our own wife and daughter(s). It helps both women and men stand taller. Thanks for pointing out one of the biggest vacuums in today’s culture.

  4. Amy,

    I’ve read and slept on your post, and then re-read it this morning before writing this response.

    I appreciate the way you acknowledge the benefits of the increasing equality the feminist movement has worked in the 20th and 21st centuries. I also like the way this piece advocates for more respect in a world where (as you so aptly point out) respect isn’t the norm. I’m all for that, and for assuming the best in others.

    But I’m one of those women who cringes a little when a man opens a door for me. Most of the time, I let them. But as someone who would identify as a Christian feminist, the way you talked about feminists gave me pause. I understand that within many Christian circles, feminism is the new f word; and thus, the term probably requires some scaffolding in order to help your audience understand how you are using this controversial term. However, to me, the way you discuss feminists makes it sounds like they’re people who should be excused for their sometimes-crazy behavior or lack of tolerance because they have issues. This seems unfair to the real and important ideals behind feminism. I agree with the sentiment that we should recognize all we don’t know about people’s pasts, and also believe there’s a lot more to say about feminists than that they may be hurt and/or disillusioned because of past experiences.

    In my understanding, feminism is concerned (among other things) with the visible and invisible ways in which the patriarchy has impacted society, which includes oppression and subjection of the Other (including but not limited to women). To me, feminism is about recognizing and respecting the inherent humanity and worth of every person; it’s not just about “women’s issues”; it’s about equality for everyone. I’m not sure exactly how you’re using the term feminism, but thought it might be helpful to attempt to clarify my current working definition of the term.

    Based on this definition, who opens the door for who is a gendered, societal construct. If a man happens to be in front of me and holds the door for me, that’s okay—I’m willing to assume that he’s showing respect. If I happen to be in front and hold the door, that’s okay too—I’m also showing respect for whoever’s behind me. What becomes problematic for me is when a man refuses to walk through the door I’ve opened (presumably because I’m a woman).

    To say that women should let men hold the door open for them because it’s a sign of respect, or to say that men should hold the door for women for the same reason, seems to be calling upon the same kind of reasoning that has been used to silence the Other for centuries, even millennia. To say that women are somehow more worthy than men of having the door held for them is to ascribe some kind of fundamental difference between men and women. Why should women be more worthy of door-holding and chair-moving—of any symbol of respect—than men, than any other human being? I agree with you that’s it’s a good and beautiful thing to respect each other and to show that respect, but don’t understand why that respect should be at all tied to one’s gender.

    Why, in other words, is holding the door an act of “gentlemanly behavior”? Why can’t holding the door be a symbol of respect, period?

    Now, if I’m misunderstanding your post, or attributing ideas to you that you didn’t intend, my sincere apologies—and I’d be most interested to better understand anything I’m currently interpreting differently than you intended, and/or to hear your thoughts on this (oops) rather lengthy response.

    1. Hi Diana,

      First of all, I really appreciate your thoughtfulness in the way you’re addressing this.

      I think one thing I should clarify is that I wasn’t actually trying to characterize feminists. In fact, my post for next week that I’m working on is about why I’d call *myself* a feminist, for a lot of the reasons you’re describing. When I referred to crazy feminists in one paragraph, what I was trying to do was to tell people that’s not what they should associate with true feminism. At all. I wanted to point out that carticaturing feminists shows a lack of grace and is totally inaccurate.

      Because I knew that this post was going to be, in some ways, preaching to the choir, I wanted to point out that many women have good reasons for cringing when guys hold open doors, and we shouldn’t be quick to assume we know what those are. (I actually had a longer explanation of this in a Stuffy Theological Footnote that I deleted because I thought I might be overdoing things—I probably should have kept it.)

      As for the actual Opening of Doors, I would say that we probably disagree, but maybe not for the reason you think. The reason I’m okay with saying, “Men should open doors” is because I think it’s important for people, especially Christians, to respect each other. And many women feel respected when they are served by having a door held for them. While many men feel respected when women let them open a door. It’s not going to hold true for everyone, but in general, I think this is true. I believe when God tells us to love others, it might mean knowing what actions would be most loving to other people.

      I didn’t get into this because I thought it might be confusing, but I think what it means for me to love my brothers is to let them serve me. I’ve struggled with wondering if this is a nod to the patriarchy or accepting an inequality created after the Fall…but have decided that even if it is, loving people is more important. And I don’t really think it is—I think there’s at least some part of men-like-to-open-doors that is the way God made men and women different, though there are many Christians I respect who would disagree with that.

      So, basically, I don’t think women are more worthy of having doors opened for them. I think that’s the way they typically receive love and respect. Just like men aren’t more capable of being honorable…just that they feel honored when we let them open doors. Thoughts on this?

      Again, thank you for asking these questions. I was actually wondering why everyone was agreeing with me without asking any of those things. I figured I could just ask those questions myself in next week’s blog post if no one else did.

  5. Thanks so much for your gracious and considerate response.

    1. I’m a fan of Stuffy Theological Footnotes (especially when they have such fantastic titles). But that is because I am 100% nerd.

    2. I had not thought of allowing someone else to serve me as a way to love that other person in the context of conversations like these. But I can totally see where you’re coming from there, and will have to ponder that further.

    3. I understanding that typifying and stereotyping exist for a reason, and I know a lot of people would agree with you that the Opening of Doors has become a way for men to show respect and women to receive it. I’m still uncomfortable with that typifying, though, because (as I mentioned earlier) I’m not convinced there’s a fundamental difference between genders. Of course people will have certain assumptions about me based on external factors / data, but I like to push back against those a bit, which is part of my personality and also maybe a way to push back against some of those generalizing and/or oppressive forces.

    4. I think I’m less concerned about the actual door-holding issue than with the possibility for the theology of “allowing someone to do something you might not like, out of love for the other person” being carried to an extreme and abused (either literally or figuratively). I’m not saying that’s true in ALL cases, at all, just that it’s a potential danger here, especially with this kind of argument.

    5. I’m excited to read your next post!

    1. Great thoughts, Diana. All of that completely makes sense to me.

      On 4…I’ll talk about this in the next post, but I am *super* biased toward self-sacrifice, which probably influences how I think about this. And I know I’m biased. It is a thing.

      Now I’m excited about finishing the next post…I wasn’t 100% sure there would be enough interest in it, but I think it’ll be good for discussion-starting.

  6. What I don’t fully understand is why people have to make such an ordeal about all this stuff. Beyond things like feminism; that’s just the topic at hand. Why does it matter so much, these public appearances and the like?

    The way I see it, I know my worth because God set it. It’s done and over with, no one is going to change that. If the rest of the world doesn’t agree, what on earth do I care? Am I REALLY going to listen to what a bunch of broken human beings think over the creator of the universe? It just doesn’t make sense to me at all.

    I also think that we have such a problem in our society with perceived weakness. Like somehow accepting help means we’re lesser. News flash human race, we ALL need help. That’s the entire reason we’ve been given grace. We can’t do this on our own. Why is that something to be ashamed of? It is what it is, there’s nothing wrong with being helped (or even being weak), and if we all started playing on the same team instead of against each other, what could be accomplished? Instead we fight among ourselves, telling others “You can’t determine my worth!” instead of SHOWING them that they can’t by simply moving on and doing the good works we’re called to do.

    I guess it just doesn’t line up to me when you consider the price God paid for each and every person on this planet. When HE sets your worth, what can possibly take even an ounce of it away?

    I once fought people over this stuff, allowing them to determine my worth with their opinions and words and even actions. Allowing it by being affected by it. No more. I know my worth now, and no one on this planet is capable of removing the price that’s been paid for me. Let them think what they want, it changes nothing. And I wish them all the best.

    1. Thanks, JK Riki! These are great thoughts. I especially appreciate the way you bring it back to our worth in God.

      I would say, though, that in some ways God at least knew that the way we broken human being treat each other matters and affects how we live. That’s why he tacked on the second most important commandment instead of just leaving it with “Love the Lord your God.” That’s why these issues are actually issues, I think–not because we should put human opinion above God’s, but because we live in a world with other people.

      That said, it’s true that no one should consider themselves worthy because of what they do for others or less worthy because they feel weaker and need help, man or woman.

      1. Oh I totally agree. I think it’s just that the “love your neighbor as yourself” command is extraordinarily personal, you know? It isn’t “Go tell your neighbor to love you as you love them as you love yourself.” 🙂 I think we often want so desperately to be loved that we try to force that love by saying “You’re doing it wrong” to others instead of focusing internally. The goal, to me, is to hone myself in the ways of those commandments and know that another person’s honing is between them and God.

        There is, of course, the gentle correcting and rebuking we’re called to do in love with our brothers and sisters in Christ specifically: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” In today’s world, though, we don’t often approach someone between us and them alone. Things are public, stages are set. And I think it’s vital we look at that final line, too. If we try (privately) and it doesn’t change the person, we’re not called to force the issue or publicly call them out. We are supposed to move on.

        It’s very difficult to do, mind you! I’m certainly not claiming this is an easy thing. Walking away and letting things be is difficult, especially when that person hurts you with their opinion. However I’m always brought back to the verse “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” In fact, all of Matthew 7 is a great reminder to us of how loving our neighbor really doesn’t come with the perk of judging our neighbor. 🙂

        I’ve personally found such a peace in knowing God loves me in spite of what anyone else may say about me. I spent SO LONG absorbed in what other people thought, and politics, and the mud of this world. It stopped me from being close with God because I was so busy judging others and ignoring the personal “planks” that really needed my full attention.

        Anyway, just my thoughts on it. I certainly understand the feeling of pain when someone judges you (especially unfairly). I think once you know, truly know, your worth to God all those other opinions kind of melt away because you see how insignificant they are by comparison. And when they are gone, only peace remains.

        Easy to say, so hard to do. Thanks for letting me share and join in the discussion. 🙂

  7. Thank you for writing this. (I’m actually reading your posts and stuff in the absence of a book series you started and have not yet finished, lol) Seriously though, I really appreciated this post. Especially since in your series, Amarias Adventures, you have many different kinds of women who encompass all of the different kind of women you were talking about. Rae possibly being the mildly crazy feminist to one of the previous youth guard’s wife in the third book who was fairly domestic and quiet.

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