Wednesday, 29 March 2017


To the redheaded woman wearing a green top in the lift last night:
I am truly sorry you felt I had been so rude. In fact I felt gutted that my efforts were wasted. Everything I’d done was deliberately planned so that you’d not feel threatened in any way.

As I walked up to the lift I saw you and other man waiting. He was clearly not with you, so as the doors closed, I was aware that you were in a late night lift with two strange men. Each of us blokes took a corner, as did you, and where normally I’d prefer to make eye contact with another human being, I declined, because in that context it might seem a bit dodgy.

All of us were going up to the fourth floor. I’ve stayed in that hotel many times before, and know well its long lonely corridors, punctuated by twin swing doors every twenty paces. Beyond each set of doors you can see only darkness, with motion-sensitive lighting coming on as you walk further.

The system works well, but if you were a woman late at night with two blokes behind you and darkness up ahead, you might feel it’s scary as hell.

That’s what I reckoned anyway, which is why, when the lift doors opened, I resisted every instinct in my body to sweep my arm in gentlemanly fashion and offer you the chance to step out first, ahead of me. My Dad instilled in me manners, of the old school variety, which are deeply engrained in my being.

Heading swiftly out of the lift, I was followed by the other bloke, who was also large and heavy-footed. Holding each and every door open for him, I could feel the sink of the floorboards as he paced close behind me. I was pleased he was behind me, as with both of us ahead of you, neither man could know which room you stopped at.

Then his footsteps disappeared, and as I went through the final twin swing doors, I was sure I was alone.

You were still behind, so that was my only error. I was just about to walk into my room as you came walking by, and in an American/Canadian accent said:

“You're a real gentleman you are!”

Given what had just passed, at first I thought you were sincere, so I said thanks very much, but then you lingered and blustered around, evidently upset, at which point I realised that your observation had been ironic. You were upset with me, but what could I possibly have done to offend you?

Genuinely mystified, I turned to look at you for the first time and asked:

“Did I do something wrong?”

You straightened your back and threw your hands loose, as if to shake of the stress.

“Yes. You left the lift first and you stormed off ahead and you didn't hold open a single door!”

For a second I grabbed my room’s doorframe. I’d held every bloomin’ door, save for the one where I hadn’t known you were there, but it was clear that reasoned argument was not on the menu.

Upset, a little angry, but mostly blindingly frustrated, I turned to you once more and failing to fully disguise my emotions, asked if you wanted to know why I’d left the lift first, and why I’d walked ahead of you.

You didn’t seem to want to know, angrily suggesting:

“Don’t know. Because I’m ugly?”

That completely screwed up my head. Nevertheless, as you walked away, I called out to explain that in fact I was trying to stop you feeling nervous, but by then you’d gone back through the doors whence we came, and disappeared into a room.

Aha! So you hadn’t even needed to walk through those final doors, the only ones I didn't keep open for somebody else.

Because you were ugly? Are we all meant to go “Ahh…” at that and feel compassion for you?

For men in the 21st century life can sometimes be very complicated.

As I sit here I’ve no idea whether she was good-looking or not, because I had barely looked at her.

Isn’t that what we men are meant to do in potentially threatening situations? Aren’t we constantly accused of sexually objectifying women?

Yes, it’s a scandal that any woman should ever have to perceive any social encounter as threatening, but we’ll never make progress if the rules keep changing.

I’d enjoy scant pity if I wrote about being a man within the same parameters used by female columnists every week. I read about how tough it is to be a woman; how we men are a violent, ignorant bunch of useless lovers and slothful house partners.

Increasingly I don’t even bother to finish the piece, because I’m utterly fed up with this slagging off of men, ad nauseam.

Obviously not all women would react as that stranger did to me, and all men are most certainly not rapists. We are all different, in the infinite ways there are to be human.

In this age of gender fluidity, isn’t it time we stopped talking about gender behaviour in massive generalisations?

Haven’t men come far enough now for women to ease up a little on the aggression and criticism, and accept the dazzlingly obvious: that there are good, kind and considerate souls of both sexes, and to besmirch either half of the population on grounds of gender is absurd.

For every Mary Robinson there’s a Margaret Thatcher; for every Rosa Parks a Marine le Pen. There’s more to life than gender politics, and while we’ve all a long way to go before we stop offending each other, it’d really help if we acknowledged that we’re all intensely and wonderfully fallible.

Sometimes we men simply have your safety and peace of mind at heart. Now let's stop attacking each other and work together.

©Charlie Adley


Spontaneous Theatre said...

Thoughtful piece Charlie. and I agree, I'd love a world where we don't have to deal with this sh*t. But we don't live in it yet - alas it is a world where the goalpoasts constantly move, though where rape isn't reported enough because of the 'stats' of how women are treated, and incidents have happened enough, where not every white cop is a murderer of black men, yet incidents have happened enough to cause fear, where not every priest is a pedophile...yet. It's a world where women are told that pretty women get doors opened for them and ugly ones do not. It's a world where yes, we always think of dark corridors (and thank you for thinking of it). It's a world where our values are shaped by our experiences, where one in four means that every fourth guy could be...what...wait...where a woman has to be a mathematician in each situation.
Yes yes there are times when good people are doing their best, when we are all frustrated in different ways. We all wish for this place where all doors are always open, but we are not there yet. Here's hoping.

Charlie Adley said...

Beautifully put. The real scandal is that there should be fear at all, but as you say, this is the world we have to deal with. Thanks for your eloquent feedback.