Would it be wrong for a man to open a door for a women that is fully capable in opening the door for herself? Does that inherently change the relationship of these two strangers by making the man the oppressor and the woman the oppressed? Here in lies the largely fueled debate that many feminist have argued is a reoccurring ritual in which women are place in the unable and frail category, in need of a man to do things for them. This man's actions are not genuinely helpful, but instead he is implying that women are incapable of doing things for themselves; that a man should be there to 'help' them.
I am able to see some of the things that Marilyn Frye is saying in reference to this debate in her piece titled Oppression. Sure, sometimes a man will run out of his way to open a door for a fully capable woman. He could even have his hands full himself, but is determined to open the door for this woman. Fryre argues that this man is "pretending to be a helpful service" when really the action is symbolic and doesn't serve any real helpfulness to the women.
Symbolic, I agree. There was no real need for this man to open the door for this women; it was done by him with a purpose all his own.
But, here is where I disagree with Frye's piece. It was not done to symbolize the power he might envision men having over women and it certainly was not a gesture of mocking a woman's typically subordinate place in a hypothetical relationship with this man. From the experiences with men I have encountered in my life, this action is not meant to do any of those things. The act is considered chivalrous, yes. But, I will argue there might be men out there that are sexist and will still open the door for a woman. Those men shouldn't be seen as the majority or the overall inclusive group of men that partake in this ritual. The action was symbolic of this man's outlook for women. He is doing this to show respect for her, to show her that he cares. Sure it might be a bit excessive. But in fact, sometimes men are so aloof with their attraction towards a women, they will open the door for her in place of striking up a conversation.
Is it wrong for a women to open the door for a perfectly capable man? A woman doing it for a woman? A man doing it for a man?
No, it's not. It is just the polite thing to do sometimes and shouldn't be construed any differently due to a man doing it for a woman.