Do Manners Still Matter to Millennials?

Kaitlyn Parkins, 26, and Shawn Rice, 30, are graduate students in NYC. They met on an online dating service three months ago and have been together ever since. The dating service’s statistical tool analyzed each of their 50 responses, along with other hopefuls who completed questions in a number of categories ranging from the personal to the professional. Then, the two of them learned that an algorithm had matched them; they did the rest.

One of the service's questions, which they both chose to answer?

Do you think men should open a door for women?

Check the one that best describes your opinion:

1) Yes; chivalry is important.

2) No, it's sexist.

3) It's nice, but not necessary.

Kaitlyn and Shawn both checked the “It’s nice … but” option. Does a question about manners count? In this case, yes.

Discussing the question in more detail, Kaitlyn said, “I would be irritated if a man didn’t open the door for me, not because he’s a man but because people should do it as a courtesy. Whoever is there first.” Shawn said, “I am from the South, so I enjoy the chivalry but I also consider myself a feminist. Men and women should open doors for each other. It’s a courtesy.”  

The “should or should not” of a man’s opening a door for a woman has its antecedents in a code of ethical, social and moral conduct. The custom originated in medieval Europe’s upper class when the roles men and women played were well-defined and circumscribed, as were the roles of their servants and other social classes.However, the centuries, habits, customs and mores of these Western cultures have not been static. They are often revisited, modified, or eliminated to accommodate the changing times.

For example, many of the conflicts of manners and style cause major disruptions between the aristocrats and their servants in PBS’s show Downton Abbey, set in Britain in the 1920s, where the possibility of changing your inherited social status by moving up or down the class ladder is regarded with disdain and mistrust.

Emily Post, the doyenne of manners and etiquette in the United States, published Etiquette for all social classes in 1922. The best-selling book is now in its 18th edition. Peter Post, Emily's great-grandson, writes the "Etiquette at Work" column for the Sunday edition of the Boston Globe. He is the author of the New York Times best-selling book Essential Manners For Men, published in 2008 and in 2012.

Within these guides are the haphazard proclivities of different generations and individual notions. For example, standing in line to get tickets to a concert at Carnegie Hall last week, a man in his late 50s offered to let my partner and me in front of him. Without prompting, he said, “Women first.” We said it wasn’t necessary. Smiling, he said, “Can’t help it.  It’s a generational thing.” I asked, “Would you allow a woman to open the door for you?” His response, said with conviction, was “Never.”

My second cousin, Joel was married to the same woman for more than 50 years but became a widower about two years ago. He lives in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida — where women outnumber men probably five to one — and is an incredibly fit, attractive, smart and successful man in his early 80s. If a woman doesn’t allow him to open the door for her, he knows she’s not for him! Could a woman open a door for him?

“Only if I were carrying heavy bags in both arms. Then I might," he added.

Regardless of age, social status or century, our interactions with others will always be governed by manners. While one may think that technology and social media have changed the way we behave or tell us right from wrong, take a look at The Official Book of Electronic Etiquette, which describes “netiquette.”

It appears that holding doors for one another today is good manners regardless of gender. But if someone opens a door for you, always smile and say, “Thank you!”

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Ann Jackowitz

Ann Jackowitz writes and lectures on social injustice, gender inequality, LGBT issues, minority women including Jewish women, fundraising (with years as a senior exec at non-profit organizations) and breast cancer advocacy (she represented SHARE on the NBCC's board. of directors) She has produced films and written on "Anna O," an early inspiration for Freud's use of the "talking cure."

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