Monday, April 07, 2008

The Elevator Question

Recently, I joined in a law-school-sponsored panel discussion on gender issues in the workplace. While the discussion centered around appropriate office attire for women and avoiding the appearance of impropriety without alienating colleagues of the opposite sex, my mind focused on a more mundane, but very pressing, issue: the Elevator Question. Let me illustrate with a hypothetical.

Suppose you are female associate in the Salt Lake office of a large regional firm. Suppose you are in an elevator with no less than six colleagues, all of whom are male, likely-Republican, and probably Mormon. Suppose that as the elevator descends to the lobby, where the entire group will walk to lunch, the conversation centers on the most recent American Idol results. Just as you are about to urge your colleagues to vote for your favorite Idol contender, the elevator doors open. They remain open for a few seconds, but none of your colleagues takes a step off the elevator. As the doors begin to close, you realize that they are waiting for you. You've let everyone down. Oh, the disappointment--the shame. Everyone knows that Article I of the International Code of Chivalry dictates that ladies go first, but you were careless and inconsiderate and maybe even reckless in failing to get off the elevator. You've practically falsely imprisoned six lawyers. You lunge toward the doors before they shut, and six hands rush to shield you from the closing doors and ensure your safe passage into the lobby.

Does this only happen in Utah, where Mormon boys receive the equivalent of Int. Code of Chiv. 101 at their Young Men's activities? Is this a failure on my part to understand my duties under the Code? Is the workplace under the Code's jurisdiction? Wouldn't it be more awkward if I (oh, I mean the hypothetical you) rushed forward to be first out of the elevator only to realize that nobody intended to observe Code protocol?


  1. Well--are you in the front of the elevator? Or the back of the elevator? Because if you are in the front, then you DEFINITELY blew it. I mean, the hypothetical woman.

    If you are in the back of the elevator and they haven't moved to make a pathway for you to exit, then they blew their "role."

    If they expect you to push through them, then that is totally inconsiderate for whatever gender.

  2. I agree about where you were positioned in the elevator. If they didn't move then of course, the lady wouldn't know they were all waiting for her.

    I love reading your blog--so funny!

  3. Let's assume that everyone in the elevator was positioned such that anyone can easily get out first--everyone is simply leaning against one of the sides of the elevator.

  4. At least the guys in that situation were chivalrous. The guys I work with would probably leave the elevator and forget that I was even with them. Interestingly enough, since I am the only woman.

  5. Hi Carolina,

    I struggle with what (not) to write on my blog (and even if I should "waste" time blogging at all, though since it doubles as a journal and family scrapbook, I can certainly justify it that way).

    When we went down for Conference last weekend, Ryan (almost 17) asked me when my blog became a Sex Blog. Apparently my mom agreed that some things should stay private. And I draw the line way before some other bloggers that I really admire.

    Anyway, I'm glad I could inspire your writing in however small a way.

    I read Nora Roberts' romance novels (one of my guilty pleasures), and she's got some great exchanges in recent books about this sort of situation. I remember one where the hero opened the door, and the heroine asked, "What, is my arm broken?" and he replies something like, "Actually I thought you were secure enough in your femininity to not feel threatened by my courtesy." I should look it up.

    Karin (18) said her anthropology teacher (at BYU) says women haven't found their "place" in the world of work yet because they dress like men in places like the courtroom. I took strenuous exception to this, because I think both men and women dress like lawyers in the courtroom (if they want to be taken seriously).

    When I think of an archetypal man-job, I think of soldier, farmer, mechanic, and I don't think too many male lawyers dress like that in court.

    Or what if he said surgeons were trying to look like men because they wear scrubs instead of dresses in the OR? I'm gonna write a letter. The things they're teaching nowadays!

    Anyway, my point is (I think) that these kinds of things should be common sense. If you forget that you're "supposed" to get off first, then no one should get mad, but if a woman were to refuse to get off first, on principle, then I don't know if I'd want her to represent me in court.

    Oh, and as a final note (since this is such a short comment, sorry), wherever I have lived (Japan, NYC, Cairo, visited Europe, Mexico), men USUALLY exhibit this sort of courtesy. And it doesn't bother me.

    Ok, one really last one: in Cairo there was a "women's only" car on the subway. (I've ridden metros in Tokyo, NYC, London, Paris, DC, Rome, and Cairo, and Cairo is the only place to have a women's only car). At first I was horrified. Why are they ghetto-izing the women, dangit?

    But it was for the comfort and convenience and (maybe) safety of the women (though Egypt is a very safe country for women -- women are also allowed on the other cars, it's just men aren't allowed on the women's).

    Women breastfed openly on the women's car, in a society where many wear a full birqah. I loved riding on the women's car. When I was 13, I probably would have ridden on the regular cars on principle. And been a lot less comfortable.

  6. I appreciate it when men let me off first, unless doing so would make a big production of things. I think men should hold doors, too. I spent far too many evenings standing, pregnant and in work shoes (ie somewhat high heels) the entire duration of a bus ride from slc to provo. I am over this stuff. Give me courtesy. I think it is a sign of respect to hold a door for someone or to allow them to enter somewhere first (or exit), and I think it is nice for men to show this kind of respect for women. You see it less and less. In trying to get around DC with two kids, I really wish more people would show some old fashioned courtesy.

    That said, people shouldn't get weird about it, either. Letting the door actually shut when the female in the elevator doesn't "make her move" is just silly. Hey, why haven't they got you by the elbow and small of your back to gently guide you off, anyway? (ok, that's an old fashioned courtesy that is too over the top for me) That question could be a nice ice-breaker!

  7. What a great (hypothetical) story! I love Jane, she really does make a person think. Maybe my mundane blog will become more open and fun if I learn to let myself go a little bit, write what I really think of potty training my son...

    I agree with everyone above. It was nice of them to try and let you walk off first, but idiotic to let the door close. Perhaps they should have put their arm over the door (to keep it from closing) and gestured for you to get off first. The women was in no way in the wrong.

  8. Carolina, you make no sense.