The custom of a door being held open for a lady by a gentleman can seem dated and sexist in our time. With the evolution of culture, comes the evolution of customs. So can be the case for the kindness of opening doors for others.
It is interesting to explore where this custom started. There are references to Vikings letting the lady go ahead as ambush decoys. Then there are the multiple time periods where women’s skirts reached enormous size, making it physically impossible to get next to a door to open it. Architecture may also have contributed. Doors in some time periods were very large, heavy and may have had studs for protection. It is possible that a woman and even a man, did not have the body mass to get a door moved by him/herself.1
Regardless of its history, how do we keep the curtesy of this practice without it being patronizing?
These two concepts are relatively cut and dry:
First, no matter who you are or who is behind you, it is always correct and courteous to hold a door open long enough so that the person behind you can catch it as they go through.
Second, it is always kind to open and hold a door for anyone whose arms are full with packages, are pushing a stroller or cart of some kind, are elderly or are using a wheelchair or other mobility aid.
Now for the trickier situations:
The basic concept here is that you open and hold a door for your superior. If you and your boss are approaching a doorway, you open and hold and they go first. If you are with your parent or grandparent, you open and hold (if you are the granddaughter, take a moment and make sure your grandfather does not want to take the lead). If you are with an equals, the person on the hinge side should open the door.
Whatever your gender, if someone chooses to open the door for you assume the best, which is he/she is being courteous not disparaging. Being offended by a kindness is not kind.
When you open a door for someone else, position yourself on the hinge side of the door, step ahead, reach across with the hinge-side arm and step back to open the door and allow the person to pass. If you need to switch places, fall behind to do so. It is important that all parties involve take their time, rushing may cause accidents.
At the end of the day, opening and holding a door for another is thoughtful and should have little to do with gender.
1Gentlemen Open Doors. (n.d.). Retrieved July 30, 2016, from http://www.forgetfulgentleman.com/blogs/forgetfulgentleman/6013466-gentlemen-open-doors