I hate gentleman culture. I really do. I came to this conclusion as I was watching the incredibly legit, very informative reality show, “Famously Single,” about celebrities wanting to learn how to be better lovers, more effective communicators, and more functioning humans in general (don’t judge me, I initially watched it as a joke, and now I’m watching for real). During one of the episodes, one of the main male stars on the show was on a date with a girl who wouldn’t shut up about him being a “gentleman.” She just wouldn’t stop saying that word. He would take out the chair for her, “Oh, you’re such a gentleman!” She would talk about what was considered gentlemanly behavior and what wasn’t. “A gentleman doesn’t kiss on the first date…Boy, you are a gentleman…such a gentleman….GENTLEMAN.” It got on my fucking nerves. And HE kept saying the word too, which was doubly annoying. Eventually it got to the point where I had to assess why I was having such a strong reaction to their conversation, and especially to my negative emotional response to the word ‘gentleman.’ I mean, I’m not opposed to a polite, upstanding fellow. I’m not one of those people who secretly yearns for an asshole to love me so I can change him, then smugly present him to the public like a show pony of sexual acquisition. So what is my issue, exactly?
My problem is not with a man opening a door for me, or holding out my chair. My problem is that so often people equate doing simple acts of human decency, aka “being a gentleman,” with being a good person, and that’s just not the case. Offering someone a coat, holding open a door, picking up the tab, these are things that do not automatically make a man a good man, it just makes them a regular dude who wasn’t completely ostracized from civilized society. These arbitrary actions have somehow become the benchmark of the “nice guy,” and quite honestly, most of those self identifying nice guys give me the creeps. The guys that think buying dinner and holding open a door for you means you owe them anything, and that in turn you should just be grateful to have met such a “gentleman” like them. News flash: no one owes you shit, buying dinner doesn’t make you a saint, and it certainly doesn’t give you a pass to not exemplify more valid attributes of being a decent human being. Too often I will see guys claiming to be gentlemen when really their using baseline human actions to manipulate people, especially women, physically and emotionally. And frankly, I’m just tired of hearing the ‘G’ word all around.
I’m also equally exhausted with the assumption that women are these dainty, other-worldly creatures that constantly need to have things done for them. It’s old-school misogyny at its finest to assume that a woman should naturally take on the role of someone eternally in need, and that the man should always be the provider. Because women can’t drive or pay for themselves right? They don’t have the agency, careers and the means to buy a meal for themselves… For me, if a man cannot accept the idea of me paying for him ever, that’s a huge red flag. It should not be offensive or emasculating to have a woman pay for him, because women are perfectly capable of treating someone to a night out as much as a man can. Plus I definitely don’t need the residual guilt of knowing that someone’s spent so much money on me when I haven’t contributed anything monetarily, ’cause going out is expensive, yo. That’s straight up taking advantage of someone in my opinion, and I could never be with someone that’s uncomfortable with equality, someone who doesn’t let me take care of them as much as they take care of me. Plain and simple.
Not to mention that the gentleman stereotype is a hugely limiting, hetero-normative concept. It assumes a straight male persona, excluding queer people from the identity entirely and preventing women from having to engage in those kinds of behaviors (as if women aren’t able to hold open a door or pay with their own money to buy some In-N-Out for their boyfriends). It’s assuming a lot: that the male is automatically straight and is trying to charm a lady, that said lady is completely comfortable with being paid for and waited on constantly, and that the man is a “good man” if he enacts these specific actions and archaic social cues. The superficial and slightly classist undertones of the gentleman archetype are also infuriating to me for a multitude of reasons. Usually people are socially trained to picture a conventionally attractive, well-dressed, articulate man when they hear the ‘G’ word. When I Googled the word ‘gentleman’ on my computer, nearly every single picture showed an extremely attractive man in an expensive suit, the shiniest shoes imaginable, a glistening watch, the whole getup of the assumed, modern gent. They were also mostly white, which is a whole other discussion about class assumptions in terms of race, but that is another post for another time.
My point is that so many of the instantly accessible examples of gentlemen are all adorned in egregiously expensive clothing, and that visual expectation is simply not realistic or fair to put on men. Money doesn’t make someone more honorable, and a $5,000 suit doesn’t make a man more worthy of anyone’s time or respect. That’s not to say that if you do have money or dress in suits every day that you can’t be a good guy, but it’s not reasonable to expect most men to have the funds necessary to dress that way all the time, and it’s certainly not fair to assume that they are not intelligent, successful, or gentlemanly without those things. And all too often I see these harmful assumptions made about men who don’t aesthetically look the part, don’t have the “right” kind of high earning job, or speak like the Stanford educated, arrogant, subtly British gentleman type. It’s an incredibly dangerous, subconscious mindset that ultimately, at its heart, equates wealth with worth. And as we all should know by now, sometimes the least likely, most unkempt of people can be the truest and most noble, as opposed to some of their more straight-laced male counterparts. It reminds me of a drawing I found a long time ago on Tumblr that said the Emma Goldman quote, “I’d rather have roses on my table than diamonds on my neck,” and it stuck with me. Now, personally, I’m not a jewelry or flowers type of girl, to be honest I’d much rather have some In-N-Out that I was talking about earlier with some Netflix and long rounds of “chilling,” so it’s kind of a moot point. However, if I had to choose between the two, I’d much rather receive some sincerely picked flowers than a diamond necklace that was cold and empty of feeling. Intent is everything, and if you’re not doing something with the pure intent of trying to make the other person feel good, safe, and loved, then you sir or madame, are no gentleman.
Now, dealing with the word ‘gentleman’ itself is tricky for me as a result of the aforementioned issues I talked about above. I’m not opposed to a man being considerate and courteous, but I’m also somewhat suspicious of the gentleman entity in its entirety. Therefore, to cope with this internal and terminological struggle, I always say to myself that what I truly want is a gentle man, not a gentleman. Because any old bloke can open a door for you, or pay for a meal. But a kind man, with a gentle heart and sincere intentions, will make even the simplest of actions burst with love and meaning. He’s going to pay because he actually wants to treat you, not because his parents told him “that’s just what the man does.” He’s going to respect your boundaries and limits because he actually values you as a human being, not because he wants to coerce you into falling for him or doing something you wouldn’t otherwise want to do. He will ask you what you’re comfortable with and not assume what you’re comfortable with, because everyone has different expectations and boundaries (Some of my personal boundaries include: you insisting on paying for everything, I will never be comfortable with that; opening a car door, any other door is fine, but for some reason a car door is something I really hate being opened for me; gender generalizations; straight up bigotry or ass-hattery of any kind). It feels so much more right to me to say ‘gentle man’ because that is exactly what I want, not some adolescent bullshit artist that wants to be seen as a hero for the most commonplace of courtesies.
So yeah, I’ll take a loving, kind, gentle man over a gentleman any day.
Disclaimer: Everything I talk about is attributable to women as well. Ladies, you are not too special to pay for dinner. You are not so above him that you should feel like you don’t need to put in as much respect, consideration, and effort. Respect men’s boundaries and feelings, do not make assumptions about what they want or what makes them feel good. Again, intent is key, and consent is necessary. In conclusion: women, just don’t be assholes. Men, don’t be assholes. Everyone just be gentle men and women.