What Men Really Want (at least in terms of prosocial behavior)

door-openSome interesting research that integrates several different issues we’ve been discussing: helping behavior, social norms, and self-esteem.  Basic finding?  Men don’t like it so much when another man holds a door open for them.

Reactions, questions, or comments?  (Other than my initial response, which in this case would be, hey, men, grow up, why don’t you?)

This entry was posted in Chapter 11, Chapter 5, Gender, Prosocial Behavior, Social Norms, The Self. Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to What Men Really Want (at least in terms of prosocial behavior)

  1. Having just survived the apartment hunting process in San Francisco I found this piece to be amazing!

    Every time I would look at one of these complexes they would have some unnecessarily well dressed concierge person walk you around. The part that always felt most strange about this process was having them open doors for me. Gahhhh, I forgot how weird this feels. I don’t think that it is fair to related the peculiar nature of this feeling to the fact we live in a western non interdependent culture (although, that would be a fun argument to make).

    Rather, tying this specifically into gender I think our cultural norms around men have lead to a huge emphasis on feeling masculine all of the time. So much so, I recently noticed that I feel better about what I am drinking when it comes in a flat round manly cup versus a tall martini cup, regardless of how masculine the contents of my beverage my be (i.e whiskey).

    Curious to hear what others attribute this weird feeling to.

    • I definitely agree with many of the observations you pointed out. Although I identify as female, and cannot relate as well to the concept of being required to feel masculine, I have heard my older brother make similar statements to yours regarding the masculinity of your drink. My brother, who is a vegetarian, has told me that he doesn’t always feel comfortable telling people he doesn’t eat meat, because society portrays manly men as eating burgers and steaks, and it therefore makes him feel less masculine or manly.
      Isn’t it weird how we’ve labeled foods and drinks as “masculine” and “feminine”?

      • Gideon Wulfsohn says:

        I don’t think it’s weird at all. Certain foods build muscle and make you “swole” in ways that others do not. Some of these associations are not well grounded in nutrition, but burgers definitely will make you bigger even if they do so in a way that is less than optimal.

        I got into weight lifting back in high school and my buddy and I loved watching these youtube videos under this channel called “Bro Science Life.” Its this character that embodies masculine culture at the gym. Nicely encapsulates an extreme culture that goes beyond the open door phenomenon.

        • Daniel Dinjian says:

          I think that it’s sad how ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ labels hold so much weight in marketing products. I know that it’s effective and so it persists, but this article and discussion sort of make me wonder, what came first? Did people start buying certain products to embody a certain image? Or did somebody first create a niche market? Like is it something psychological in the way that we attribute external qualities to having internal attributes that allows companies to market their products towards a specific consumer base? Or is it because of all the media shoving these associations down our throats that we think to be x you have to have y?

          • Elliad Dagan says:

            I really agree with your assessment of marketing products towards men and women, especially boys and girls, and believe that we do not address enough the strong effect it has on social norms. All we see everywhere we go we become inundated with advertising aimed at relating to who we are while at the same time shaping who we are. If I have learned anything from the past few weeks I know that what we see, and what we put in our heads, makes us who we are in that moment. Moments become days become years and eventually who we are. I do not think that for the most part the gender roles are made by advertising companies, but that is a self-filling prophecy. I will admit though that some social trends were caused purely by marketing such as the idea that women need to shave but I think those are fewer and farther between.

  2. This article was really interesting, and definitely helped me in viewing everyday experiences through a new lens, namely that of a man. I believe that many men tend to have and hide behind a facade of strong masculinity, regardless of how sturdy it may actually be. Some men tend to demonstrate or show off their masculinity in various ways, including the unfortunate and sexist habit of cat-calling. The media often portrays and focuses on “manly” men, which perpetuates numerous societal expectations for men, such as being very muscular. After reading this research and going on to considering the various ways in which men in today’s society are expected to uphold their masculinity, I can better understand why having a door held open for a man might affect his self-esteem.

    • Profile photo of Aubrey  Tan Aubrey Tan says:

      You make a very valid point here with what society deems optimal traits for men to have. I think that’s the issue when it comes down to what’s expected from each gender and people fear from straying outside those boundaries. For me, holding the door open isn’t really in the gender norms, but something such as men crying or wearing makeup can be from upon by others.

  3. Although the article states that “…holding open doors for men is socially unusual,” I think that holding the door for a male who is accompanied by his girlfriend or wife is not only socially normal, but is a sign of respect.

    This article intrigues me because of my personal experiences. Countless times throughout the three years I have been at Tufts, I have ranted to my friends about the lack of ‘door-holding for other people’ that goes on. I cannot understand why such a small gesture has stood out to me out of all things, but it has bothered me. Numerous times I have witnessed people open a door without looking behind them and simply walk in, despite there being another individual right behind them.

    To me, holding the door is not so much as a gender issue, but a willingness to participate in, and create a closer community. Little gestures and actions such as holding the door for one another, helping someone when they drop their belongings, et cetera, are what bring communities together.

    • Thanawan Wongsanguan says:

      It is interesting that you point out that holding door is not so much s a gender issue, but a willingness to participate in, and create a closer community especially at Tufts. It shows that one simple gesture such as holding door could mean so many different things depending on context and cultural norms.

  4. Profile photo of tkolbj01 tkolbj01 says:

    I have actually been wondering about this a lot lately. It may sound weird but I have realized that, for whatever reason, its natural for me to hold a door for the person behind me but I always walk through it first and then prop it open so that the next person can catch it before it closes. As a female in a largely male work environment if I make eye contact with a male by a door they almost always hold it open, but more than that they open the door and wait for me to go through before they follow on their way.

    This really has me wondering, is it rude of me to go through the door first? Is that viewed as less helpful than waiting for the person to go through first? It always seemed weird to me to have to walk past the person holding the door because it was more inconvenient for them yet the door was open for me either way.

  5. Michael Rogalski says:

    I’m actually extremely interested to see what the results of the study would be if it was a woman holding the door for the men in the study. Personally, my self-esteem does not fluctuate a ton (which apparently means I’m pretty good at positively illusioning myself), although if a girl held the door for me I would probably think “Wow Mike, you must look pretty good today.” This would actually boost my self-esteem for the time being, creating the opposite effect observed in the study. Conversely, if a man held the door for me it would change my mental state very little. Depending on his mannerisms and affect, I would either think he was just a nice guy having a great day or that he was a little weird. Either way, though, neither of those thought patterns would reduce my self-esteem as far as I can fathom.

    • I agree. It would be interesting to see a similar study done with women holding open the door for men. I can imagine that you’re right, and most men would feel a self esteem boost if a woman opened the door for them. On the other hand, maybe some men would experience a decrease in self esteem thinking they should have moved quicker to open the door for the woman. I could see both sides happening.

    • I second that. I think mannerisms play a huge role in how a male should react when another male holds the door for him.

  6. Thanawan Wongsanguan says:

    I think that it depends on the situational context of the behavior as well as the cultural norms. In Thailand it is disrespectful and rude not to hold door for someone older than you. In my culture an act of holding door for someone, regardless of gender, is an act of kindness that shows that you have a good manner. It could also be a gesture to show your respect towards that particular person. However, I believe that in some situation where men are fighting for power over one another an act of holding door for someone could make another person feel less dominant. I used to watched this Youtube video about the body language of the president via handshakes, the way they walk etc. Most president that wants to show their power over another person grab other person’s hand from the top and shake it.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YUDWNcvoosQ

    • The linked video is very interesting in terms of its discussion on body language as a means of portraying power. As you mentioned, cultural norms surely play a role on our behavior, whether that means who and how we help or in what manner we choose to portray ourselves. In the video we see Putin and Bush, both men of extreme power from different cultures, showing noticeable differences in body language as they walk. While both men are certainly trying to portray a sense of power, one is much more stiff while the other is more relaxed. I wonder what other differences we would see if we were to compare the body language of more general populations from these two cultures?

  7. I regularly hold the door open for whoever is behind me, man or woman. This morning as I was getting off the bus and entering the bus station, I held open to door as the person before me had done. The study mentions not having studied the effect of a woman opening the door for a man, and I would be curious to see if it has the same effect on their self esteem.

    Secondly, I would like to see this experiment done in other countries. In Italy, it is considered extremely rude to not hold open the door for someone older than you, thus I was raised always opening doors for older people, even if I’m not going into that door per se. Culture plays an interesting role in why we engage in certain helping behaviours..

    • Rachel Lai says:

      I agree with both of your points. I almost always hold the door open for someone behind me. It doesn’t take a lot of effort, and I just feel like that’s the polite thing to do in any situation regardless of whether it’s a man or a woman. It’s never even crossed my mind that my holding open the door for a man behind me is weird, but that probably isn’t the case with some other women, so studies that look into the effect of a woman opening the door for a man would be interesting to me as well. I also agree that this is not the norm in every country, so my perspective is strongly influenced by having lived most of my life in the US.

  8. Profile photo of Ki Jung Lee Ki Jung Lee says:

    I do not want to make any generalization but I just want to reflect my experiences. I was traveling in Norway and Sweden for my vacation. One of the biggest differences that I realized is how much people (these people are from all different countries, not necessarily Norwegian and Swedish) I met during my vacation did not say thank you when I hold door for them and when allowed them to go before me in the narrow staircase. Also, most people did not hold door for me and did not really yield in any pathway (they just stood their until I go around them). These were somewhat unusual experience for me because I always learned from my parents to hold doors for others, say thank you, and yield to any possible situations. Therefore, these kinds of behaviors are normal to me and that is how I feel that I have been treated in the United States. The interesting aspect was at the later stage of the vacation, where I was more thinking according to the reciprocity of the social norm. I was thinking, “these people never said thank you, so why would I bother to hold door for them?”. However, I still held door for them because it was one of ways to boost my self-esteem. Beside the fact that these typical behaviors became habituation for me, I was able to say to myself that I am better than these people because I do good things even without proper reward back (saying thank you). To me, the research on gender difference in response to pro-social behavior was unexpected because I thought the difference would came mostly from different cultures in which they were raised. I would be more interested in doing this kinds of research on different cultures to examine whether holding a door for next person is social norm or not.

  9. Profile photo of jstone08 jstone08 says:

    Sort of a hot take here: this doesn’t seem that crazy to me. While it has been a vestige of 20th-century gender roles to hold doors open for people, in my experience the usual recipients are not that phased by it. Just the other day I was in the gym and as I was leaving, both a man and a woman were approaching the gym door. I held the door for them so they did not have to enter their security code. The woman was mildly appreciative and the man sort of grumbled “thanks.”

    His response was not nice nor was it expected to be nice by me. I wasn’t bothered by his lack of appreciation. Could this be some confirmation bias on my part after reading the research summary? Quite possibly, but I still stand by what I think in that the finding does not seem that revolutionary. What is interesting is how deep the action probes into masculinity and how fragile it is.

  10. Bud Henry says:

    I think that in general men have trouble asking for help. Most of us have been raised to believe that independence and self reliance are virtues. So, even something as small as having a door held for us can make us fell like we’re accepting help, and therefore less of a man. I’d like to say that the men in the study are being childish, but I think I understand the sentiment.

  11. This is a phenomenon I am not surprised by at all as gender norms are so deeply entrenched in our everyday lives and expectations. As the article states these men felt that they were being interpreted as needy or weak and thus their self-esteem was under attack. However, as a women, I would like to expand on the fact that it is much more normal for us to receive this type of benevolent sexist help. I grew up in a very macho society as a latinx individual, I was used to my male friends having ‘chivalry’ in mind when around me. Some would move me when walking on the sidewalk to the farthest position between me and the street or help me reach things high up. This is of course a reaction to the societal norm of women being lower on the social status and being perceived as weak and dependent. However, a few summers ago I made a 2 month trip to Myanmar and was surprised that while women were still relegated to a similar social status the sexism did not include prosocial behavior toward them as a group. Doors were not held open for me, men didnt try to help me with my heavy bags and so forth. My boyfriend at the time was becoming aware of the opposite phenomenon when it came towards helping him. Even though i would be the one to do the reservations and set everything up, he would be the one that deemed necessary to help and needed his bags carried and such. It is interesting that these sexist prosocial behaviors change so much and their interpretations depending on culture or status.

  12. Elliad Dagan says:

    I found this article to be misleading and I do not think we could draw the conclusion that men do not like a door being opened for them. The experiment only had the confederate open the door with pomp and circumstance and I do not really think anybody likes that. For the men it was weird and it bothered them enough to lower their self esteem, the women clearly did not care as much, but I doubt that all of them enjoyed it. I find that I open doors for people the majority of the time when I am walking into a building ahead of us and hold the door open for them as we both go in together. I think this is how most people open doors for each other unless they are bellboys and I think it has a very different effect. I would even argue that men like having doors opened for them because otherwise valets and bellboys would not exist. They have jobs because people, men and women, pay them to enjoy the service they provide, part of which is opening doors. I would argue that those jobs are more convincing than this study which failed to even test what would happen when different genders opened up doors for each other. I only see “chivalrous door holding” on Tufts Tours.

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