The year it all took place.
Darkness lay over the table like a blanket under the sliver of a moon at midnight. The meal prepared for me, too dark to see, lost its appeal. In fear, I struggled to find my way from the table, sheepishly walking to find the heavy door, pushing through to find a well-lit room that appeared in order. It was a restroom, what I needed, an escape from the darkness and relief of my bodily functions.
Washing my hands, the ceremony marking my return to the darkness, culminated in captivity. Pulling the door. Pulling again. Pushing.
It would not move.
I was trapped.
Discovery turned quickly to concern, then to panic with the speed of a cheetah lunging for the kill. The dust of my state of mind settled to the ground with pure terror as I realized I could not get out! Falling to my knees, I beat the door in hopes it would offer kindness, and empathy, and release me. I cried out to those at the table, where the dimly lit ambiance felt like a prison before. But this was the prison.
I was trapped in this bathroom.
“DADDY!!!”, I cried. But no one heard me.
What felt like hours resolved with me crying on the floor. Watching the door. Hoping for a rescue.
Suddenly, without warning, the door swept open, my father’s face rushing through with eyes ablaze with concern and contempt! “What are you doing in here so long?”
“I couldn’t open the door! I was trapped!”, I screamed.
Turning, he tells me to put my hand on the door and pull. It won’t budge.
“Two hands”, he says. It moved, then with my arms and feet, traction gained, the force of my strength against the pull of the door broke free and it was open. “You have to get stronger to open doors like this”, he said.
“The more you open them, the easier it will get.”
I hate that restaurant. I hated the darkness and the terror of being held against my will in that bathroom. I also hated the ridicule that came for months after as the story amused others like a bard singing the tale of “James, James, the weak little soul, stuck himself in the pee-pee bowl, arms too small, shoulders too weak, it’s a wonder that he could even pee.”
Lessons are learned through many experiences. In a conversation about writing it was said, “We do not learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience.” Further, “everything old is new again.” I appreciate this wisdom from Terri Lonier.
This story brought to mind two things.
First, I did have to pull more doors in order to open them. I weighed fifty pounds in 1984, by 1990 I was 170 and 6’1″ in height. I was lean, but I was no longer weak. Thanks, puberty.
While I may have not had the ability to be free in 84, I could open bathroom doors within the year. It just happened that the swing arm was a bit too tight. No matter, there aren’t doors that stand in my way now. But the door is a metaphor for so much more. So many other lessons that I learned through doing, reflecting, and doing better.
Second, when I think of opening doors, I’ve spent my entire life opening and holding doors for other people. Literally. Being a gentleman required this behavior as a sign of respect. But there is an unknown current that flows beneath the surface of this action. Think about this…
The original of holding doors for women was an attempt to manifest both a physical and conceptualized weakness; to keep them in their place, or make them dependent upon men. This act, no matter the personal sentiment, developed the idea that women should be seen as weak, dainty, or incapable. Holding a door for the next person is a kind gesture, but holding a door for someone because they are a woman, is sexist.
The practices of chivalry provided a “gentleman’s right” or courtesy of being received as a caller, which is not something I am going to talk about at this point. Being nice to someone is not a ticket to their friendship nor an obligation for reciprocity, engagement, or affection.
I remember running to catch a door for a lady in Palo Alto once. I trotted in front of her and smiled as I stood like a doorman for her entry. She paused, smiled back, and said, “Thank you young man, but I am more than capable of getting into this building on my own.” And with that, she took the door and held it for me.
For years I ran around the car, opening the door for my wife, closing her in safely, helping her get into buildings, and all for the sake of desiring to respect her and show her acts of kindness and service. For the most part, she waited for me. We left those practices a few years ago and now I will get the door for her when her hands are full as she needs help. And she does the same for me when I need it.
I see my wife in every moment as the strong, independent, brilliant, kind, willful, playful, skilled, professional person that she is, and YES, she is also a woman.
But her womanhood is second to her personhood, and while being a woman plays a role in who she is, it does not create or affect her worth, ability, power, strength, and most of all, agency.
No matter the intentions of subtle sexism, the effects are brutal. Women haven’t been “allowed” to open doors for a long time. This has kept them in bondage against their will, to the men around them. The men who have written the rules of what it means to be a woman.
This is true in politics, business, the home, the church, the community, and in smaller circles around the globe.
Doors are heavy. But, when we open them over and over again, they get lighter.
It’s time for our sisters in the world to not only open the doors, but it’s time to see them as capable human beings who are opening doors for others to be free, to live, thrive, and grow. This is who they are.
And before anyone says it… no one is letting them do anything, they are doing everything of their own agency. And this wind is blowing against the tide, and the tide is changing.
Or at least it should.
Some of you ask why this topic is relevant to my voice and purpose. The answer is not short, but in short, because sexism is a disease among religious communities, churches, and politics of some cultures. It has too long been ignored with a real voice of concern and challenge. The patriarchal manifestation among the church of American culture today is wholly unbiblical, yet many in leadership argue their points of view as if from Scripture. No. I do not agree and disavow all manner and elements of Complementarianism as a biblical model of engagement toward the women of our world, especially in the church. I am also not going to allow the trolls who seek to disembowel my conversation for the sake of their own fragile power. Thus, accusations about roles, gospel pictures, heresy, etc. are just going to be ignored while all manner of kind and genuine debates will be answered. No matter the context. This error, even subtle, is at work in my very life and the lives of those people that I love and shepherd. It is a matter of grave pastoral concern and moreover, a concern of a true citizen of any community. It’s a matter of right and wrong, just like suffrage and slavery. So, the world can have their tantrums and the weak-minded religious too… but for me and my house, we will love our neighbor, and our wives/husbands, as Christ loves the church; by giving ourselves there unto.