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Letting the Draft In

Welcome to The Baffler’s agony corner, YOUR SORRY ASS, where Amber A’Lee Frost dispenses bossy, judgmental advice on how to live your life fairly, kindly, and with good humor. Send us your rants and pleas, please: [email protected].

Our world is riddled with fundamental conundrums governing adult conduct in our dubiously polite society. If you’re a megalomaniacal plutocrat seeking still more power, you probably need to know if it’s acceptable to call a professional rival a “pussy” while advocating a regime of unaccountable torture. Or if you’re a “Berniebro” seeking to hound a Hillary superdelegate into submission, are you permitted to use a Tinder account with a female pseudonym?

Fortunately, Amber A’Lee Frost has the answer to these, and countless other quandaries of our postmodern world, in her Baffler–branded advice column, “Your Sorry Ass.” Read and learn, you wayward philistines!

Dear Your Sorry Ass, 

When going through a door, what’s the maximum distance I should hold it open for people behind me? Is it wrong of me to hold it less for attractive women, for fear they think I’m coming on to them? If I hold the door open and the person is like fifteen feet behind me, they then feel the need to start jogging so as to not waste my time. My entire life has been racked with anxiety over this issue, doubly so as I work for a university and don’t want to be untoward toward women.

Signed, Letting the Draft In

Dear Drafty,

My neurotic friend, you have stumbled on one of the more fraught conundrums facing we top etiquette specialists today—the distressing overlap between an anachronistic, sexist chivalry and plain good manners. The distinction between the two can be reduced to “etiquette versus manners.” Chivalry is cognate with etiquette here—an established set of rituals intended to project one’s breeding. While not without its retro charms, it is an outdated concept devised and enforced to consolidate power among the aristocracy, and should be viewed with suspicion when not outright disdained. 

Manners, on the other hand, refers to behavior that showcases one’s good nature for the comfort and fellowship of others. I’m a great fan of manners, which I hold are an extension of kindness and our civic duty. While manners are timeless, etiquette is inherently retrograde (and arguably repressive in nature). But door-holding—a surprisingly common anxiety!—can obviously be both. So how to alleviate your neurosis without either offending an unsuspecting woman or accidentally pledging your fealty to a rigid set of customs devised to marginalize dissent by insisting that we not burp at the dinner table?

I would say here your best bet is consistency for all able-bodied and unencumbered persons. Allowances might be made for those who are injured or doing any heavy-lifting, but mostly you should hold the door the same for one person as you do the next. Doors are not gendered, my friend, and we should not treat them as such! As far as standardizing your door-holding practices for the greater egalitarian good, the trick is not to measure your allotted door-holding by time, but rather by paces—five, to be exact.

At the risk of becoming a tad obsessive-compulsive about things, a quick glance at the strides that oncoming pedestrians take should give you a sense of whether to hold to hold the door for them. If they’re about five steps away, I say hold it. (For elevators, allot ten, if there’s room.) Anything further than that, and you’re likely to cause them anxiety, once they are suddenly faced with the pressure to break a normal stride into a dash. Drafty, no one likes meeting the gaze of a distant-yet-expectant stranger, peering at them from yonder doorway; it’s disconcerting, and turns every public space into a series of awkward interactions that involve sprinting! Implying an obligation to exercise is the opposite of good manners—in my opinion it should be considered an act of war!

And since you have yet to even acknowledge the second agonizing neurosis of door-holding (perhaps you’re more well-adjusted than you thought!), I will beat you to the punch.

Three parties. That’s it. If the person you’re holding the door for attracts stragglers, you may inadvertently get stuck holding the door for longer than you are obligated. An unexpected crowd comes along and you’re suddenly a doorman; this is a bankrupt kind of apolitical voluntarism that (in my feminist opinion) echoes the anxious drudgery of what the sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild calls the third shift: an infinitely expanding set of unrewarded domestic obligations. Do not be cowed by the crowd, my friend! Three parties—meaning people or cohesive groups of people—are all you should be holding the door for before cutting back into the stream of human traffic yourself and going about your day! 

As for the gender politics of door-holding, I would venture to say your concern over coming off like a lech is a touch too finely tuned! How are you holding the portal in question open? With your dick? No? Then you’re fine. When you hold it, are you locking your gaze with a woman, only to then waggle your eyebrows and twirl your distinctly caddish, heavily waxed mustache? No? Then it’s probably not weird. No muttering of obscenities or invitations to come over to your place to have a looksee at your extensive collection of lithographs? My friend, it’s just a door, and you’re being unsuspiciously nice!

And even if you do not find yourself adapting quickly to my (admittedly slightly Taylorist) door-holding instructions, remember the wise words of my mother: “no one is ever paying as much attention to you as you fear.” It is highly unlikely that you would offend any woman with a smile, brief eye contact, and a graciously opened door. Honestly, you sound like you’re doing fine!