The elevator went down and at the first floor the door opened. The ritual was repeated. The males stood as if frozen until a female got off, followed by the others. Then the rest of us scrambled out before the door closed.
Why do men do it? Why do I do it? Why do we believe that we must let females get on and off elevators before we do?
It has been years since the historic first public bra-burning. Since then, women have risen to high public office, become major corporate executives, and now work as equals in most professions and many trades.
True, many inequities remain. But even the most hard-nosed of feminists must concede that during the past two decades, great strides have been made. I mean, I know dozens of women who swear better than me.
Yet, we persist in the elevator ritual, the opening-the-door-for-them ritual, the first-in-the-cab ritual, the stand-up-when-th ey-get-to-the- restaurant-table ritual, the help-them-on-with-their-coat ritual, the shake-hands-only-if-they-offer-to-first ritual, and many others.
Why shouldn't I get on or off the elevator first if I'm closest to the door? It would be more orderly and result in less emotional stress brought on by those moments of indecision.
Even worse, on the few occasions that I've done it - bolting on or off the elevator with a devil-may-care attitude - why do I immediately feel guilty and embarrassed, fearing that the females behind me are thinking: "What a boor"?
Seeking answers to these questions, I asked a female executive why women expect to get on and off elevators first.
"We don't expect it," she snapped. "In fact, it infuriates me."
Then why do you do it?
"We don't do it. You do it. It's your fault. You stand there like a bunch of wimps. So if we don't break the logjam and get off first, we'll be riding the damn thing all day."
You mean you don't see this as being a courtesy required of men?
"Of course not. Who the hell cares who gets off an elevator first, unless it's on fire. And I don't need a man to open a door for me or help me on with my coat. I've been opening doors and putting on my own clothes as long as they have. And when they jump up at a restaurant table, one of them usually hits the table with his leg and slops water all over the place."
Then why do we do these things?
"How do I know? You're the ones who are doing it. We just wish you'd stop."
You won't think we're boors?
"Of course not. If anything, we'll respect you for treating us as equals and being enlightened."
I am always seeking enlightenment in this foggy world. But the question still remained: Why do we do it?
So I put that question to the eminent psychiatrist, Dr. I.M. Kooky.
"If I may summarize your question about elevators and doors and cars," he said, "what you seem to be asking me is why do we continue to abide by the outmoded tradition of 'ladies first,' is that not correct?"
Yes. Is it because we are subconsciously patronizing them, treating them as weaker or lesser creatures?
"Possibly. But I believe that the primary psychological reason for our behavior is that by letting them go first, we get a real good look at their legs and their bottoms. I'm a leg and bottom guy, you know. And, boy, oh, boy, when you open a car door to let one of them out, you can sometimes get a glimpse of thigh."
That's why we do it, in order to gawk and leer?
"I don't know about you, but that's why I do it. I always help them on with their coats because it gives me a chance to get a sniff of their perfume. A real turn-on, I'll tell you."
Doctor, I am shocked and disgusted.
"You are? Then I'll tell you something. You ought to go see a psychiatrist."