A kind, simple gesture irked me, and, at first, I couldn’t articulate why.
I thought back to the last time this happened to me, when I spent a year deep in South Carolina, where cultural tradition meant a man would spot a woman from 20 feet away and hold the door open for as long as it took her to make it there; if he didn’t, it was because his momma didn’t teach him right.
History repeated itself; he opened the door for me and I embarrassedly squeaked out, “I can open the car door by myself, you really don’t need to do that.”
I think my reaction left us both feeling emasculated: he for having this action he’d long associated with “gentlemen-like” lady treatment scorned; me for feeling like I lost a little sense of pride birthed from my ornery aversion to traditional gender roles each time I submitted and let him open the door.
And I am not a bra-burning, self-righteous feminist cliche who embraces cargo pants, can’t take a sexist joke or two and sneers at the idea of stay-at-home mothers.
I, as a woman, live alone. I heave my own groceries up flights of stairs, I pull out my tool kit when something is broken and I’ll choose a strong beer in my pajama pants with my buddies over a high heeled martini night every time.
And all that really means is that I embrace the 21st century narrative of femininity; namely, I think it should be whatever the hell I want it to be.
And, to me, that’s a beautiful thing.
I like being stubborn.
I distinctly remember a moment on the playground in fifth grade in which a friend whispered coyly to me the same three words I’d heard for the last several years: “Brian likes you.”
And I liked him, too, of course, as I had since the time he pulled me in on the walk home from kindergarten and kissed me — the same instance in which I ran to his mom and tattled on him.
Each time I heard rumor of Brian’s affections, I reacted with a calculated, false sense of disgust and confidence; my rhetoric would always rely upon something along the lines of, “I don’t need any boys, and I don’t like him.”
For years, I found there to be something paralytically exposing about openly admitting my affections for a male on the guarantee that, at one time, those mutual affections would methodically deflate, as do the saccharine-filled balloons that define essentially every adolescent experimentation with relationships.
Then I grew up, swapping out my feigned repulsion for every male who glanced my way with a dogged, intrinsic determination to be a “different” kind of girl — the kind who probably insists on covering both of our meals a little too often, the kind who is probably a little too willing to show up to his house in pajamas and a Pebbles-esque ponytail and the kind who is probably a little more eager than normal to chug a beer on command out of spite, just to keep up with the guys and prove I can.
And yet, there are some corners of relationship Hannah to which that ’tude hasn’t yet stretched, and I’m trying to figure out if that makes me a little bit of a hypocrite.
The last time Pete gave me a bouquet of flowers, my eyes bugged and stayed permanently googley for the next 48 hours. I sometimes experience weird pangs of irrational, girlish jealousy and, yes, if you’re a boy I’ve liked, I’ve feverishly wasted hours of my free time analyzing every word from you until they’ve become absolutely devoid of meaning.
And, still, I can’t come to terms with Pete opening the door for me sometimes because he thinks it’s the right thing to do. There’s something wrong with this picture.
Maybe chivalry isn’t dead. Maybe it’s just been redefined. Reincarnated.
As have been the definitions of what it means to belong to a nuclear family, if at a glacial pace.
As have magazine depictions of masculinity and femininity, for better or for worse.
“A woman who strives to be equal to a man lacks ambition,” said writer and psychologist Timothy Leary.
I don’t want to be equal. I don’t even want to better. I want to be whatever I want and not feel guilty about it.
CONTACT HANNAH MCCARTNEY: firstname.lastname@example.org