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There’s a post going around that I’ve seen a couple of times now about “being a gentleman”.  As a man myself and a father of two sweet girls, I’m part of the group supposed to nod our heads and agree that men should strive to be gentlemen. Nothing’s wrong with that, but the trouble is that each of the examples given perpetuates the idea that men are somehow more than women, and that women need our protection and support.  Let’s take them in order:

1. He stands when she walks in the room

Really? Whoever wrote this must not live or work in an environment with a lot of women, or they’d be yo-yoing up and down all the time. If as it suggests “men stand out of courtesy when a guest visits a meeting,” shouldn’t you also stand to greet another man? If the men stand, wouldn’t you expect the women already present to stand as well? Like many pieces of advice this was written at a time when women would stay away by default, making their attendance at a men’s event “special”.

2. He walks by her on the outside, closest to the street

I stand closest to traffic when I walk with my two girls, this is true. That’s not because they’re girls though, its because they’re both kids and easily distracted by butterflies and I want to make sure that I’m ready to intervene should I have to when they or a car does something unexpected. I don’t assume that this is true for any of the adult women I know, many of whom are far more street-smart than I am.

3. He opens the door for her

Likewise, my wife can open the door for herself (if this is a car – going in and out of buildings whoever’s in front generally opens and holds the door for those following behind). The article claims that, “the modern gentleman helps her in and out of the car to stand in the way of creepy gawkers.” Really?

4. He never criticizes a home-made meal

What does this have to do with things that gentlemen should do – shouldn’t it apply to all humans, regardless of gender? Again, the fact that it shows up in lists like this perpetuates the idea that the job of the woman is to do the cooking, and the man’s role is to “smile and chew”.

5. He doesn’t LOL

Okay….?

6. He pulls out her chair

Maybe at a stiltedly formal banquet, but even so this is continuing the theme that the woman is there as an accessory to the man and would be helpless without him.

7. He sits after she sits

Interesting title. The body ends with, “Talk show hosts continue this tradition today by waiting to sit until after their guest has taken their seat. If Oprah does it, so can you. She’s your guest. Allow her to sit first.” Can’t a man be a woman’s guest even if she isn’t Oprah?

8. He helps her put on/take off her coat

“Corsets are not common today, but many women still enjoy the help of a gentleman.” Because aww the weaker sex is so cute when they can’t dress themselves, I guess.

9. He doesn’t walk ahead of her

I’ll actually agree with this but not for the reasons given. How about just walking next to someone because walking single-file makes it impossible to carry on a conversation?

10. He gives up his seat to her if there is only standing room

If someone is pregnant, elderly, or crippled then this makes perfect sense. Suggesting that by default any woman is inherently less-able than any man is silly, though. I know plenty of out of shape men and a whole stack of baddass women who would need a chair far less despite lacking a penis.

11. He carries her bags

Again, because its assumed that the woman is just weaker than the man. Certainly not true today. As for putting bags into the overhead compartment of an airplane, shouldn’t anyone in a position to do this for anyone who isn’t make this offer, regardless of gender?  Or are all men 6′ tall and muscular?

12. He picks up the check

Because she doesn’t work, of course, and he has to prove that he does. This isn’t the 1800s any more. Whoever does the asking should pick up the check (whether its a date or a business lunch), and I fully expect my girls to do their share of asking.

13. He holds an umbrella over her when it rains

Or you can each have your own umbrella.  In our family my wife is generally far more practical than I am and is more likely to have brought one along – although these days we both end up getting wet covering the girls if we haven’t planned ahead enough. Just as in #2 though, that’s because they’re little kids, not because they’re girls.

14. He gives her his jacket

If he has one, and she doesn’t, and she’s cold, and he isn’t. In that situation I probably would, because my wife likes being a lot warmer than I do – although she’s more likely to have an appropriate jacket than I am. Again, women aren’t inherently more “breakable” than men and are capable of dressing themselves for the weather.

15. He keeps her secrets

Yup. I’d expect her to keep his as well. There’s nothing gender-specific about trust.

16. He walks her home or to safety

This makes two assumptions – that the woman is somewhat helpless, and that the man is a strong fighter. Often neither (or both) of these are true.

17 & 18. He listens to her and He’s on time

Both of these are good advice for any member of any relationship.

19. He compliments her

Yes – and she should compliment him. The example given though is telling: “She spent a lot of time getting ready, so a gentleman always compliments.” While this can be true (and also bidirectional), I prefer complimenting my wife for successfully completing a complex piece of work with a demanding client, which takes far more skill than taking a long time in the bathroom.

20. He would never dream of hitting ANY woman

… and a woman should never dream of hitting ANY man. Why is this a gender-specific thing? And yes, slapping is hitting.

21. He asks her father for her hand in marriage

… because, after all, a woman belongs to her father before her husband takes ownership.  Really?  I admit that I had some private conversations with my in-laws before I got married, but I think that actually asking their permission would have been a very good way to be rejected by both them and my (then) girlfriend. Women can make their own decisions, sometimes even disagreeing with their fathers. Its a thing now.

tl;dr:

Women are sentient beings every bit as strong, resourceful, intelligent, trustworthy and capable as men. Likewise, men can be every bit as tender, attractive, and vulnerable as women. And that’s okay.

Photo Credit: jenny downing

  • kitttens

    hahaha “Because aww the weaker sex is so cute when they can’t dress themselves, I guess.” Spot on!

  • Kay

    I love this. I’m sick and tired of people hearkening back to the “good old” Victorian days as somehow better. We got rid of corsets and lots of skirts because they were impractical and unnecessary, so why can’t we get rid of the attitudes that went with them?

  • Jason

    Richard, your article is logical, but just plain sad, and, frankly, so off point from the original content. You certainly hammered your logic home, though. An adult woman doesn’t need a man to do anything for her. She’s a big girl and doesn’t need a man making her feel inferior by being super nice, protecting her, and doing historically chivalrous things for her.

    Here’s how I envision your logic in my house…”Hi Honey, I was gonna bring you flowers for our anniversary but then I thought ‘You could just stop and get your own flowers’. I didn’t want make you feel like you couldn’t do things for yourself.” I just might try this, but something tells me it’d be my last anniversary.

    • http://richardstanford.com/ Richard Stanford

      Jason, I get flowers for my wife for our anniversary too. Nothing wrong with that – I like doing it and she likes getting them. Of course, I also appreciate little gifts and remembrances from her too…

      As the parent of two girls though, I really try to keep my eyes open for things that send the message that women are “less than” men, especially when they’re wrapped in a pretty package. I’ve seen lots of situations where well-meaning folk try to help and end up pushing women away from anything challenging.

      Things like #12 are a great example. Sounds great, right? Except that by teaching our sons that they’re expected to pick up the check, we’re also teaching our daughters that their role is to either sit at home waiting for the phone to ring or to look for a guy who can afford to pay for whatever she wants them to do. These messages get received well enough without needing any reinforcement.

  • Audrey

    Excellent. My reply to the chivalry argument that’s been steadily snaking its way into my generation is: MARRIAGE IS A PARTNERSHIP. I say this in internet shout because it is very important. That doesn’t mean it’s equivalent to a business partnership. But it’s like a very deep, important friendship that you must put effort and thought into. I’m incredibly independent. For example, I prefer to pull out my own chair. Why? It seems ridiculous that anyone else should have to. Even when waiters do it I am uncomfortable. Especially when it’s a big show. However, my dad has done this for my mom in a very low-key way as he’s passing to his own chair and that doesn’t seem as odd. My dad also tells my mom honestly how she can improve her food. We all joke about it, he does it lovingly, shows her affection, and we try different things. But we all do this as a family.

    Additionally, paying half of everything is very important to me. I like to feel as if I have a part in creating this relationship – putting in part of my own money isn’t a problem. And even if I was married, I’d like to get the check part of the time too. Things like carrying bags, opening doors, etc, these are all things that are nice when I’m STRUGGLING. As in, moving or I have 5+ bags. I like to feel like I can do things too. Don’t assume that this means we don’t like to be treated. The occasional special dinner, the surprise flowers, these are gestures that are a treat, not a constant pampering and petting action that makes me feel like I’m on a pedestal! It’s definitely a balance. It may seem delicate, but I assure you if you work as partners, you will find it.

  • Melanie Katherine Post

    Thank you! Some of the things on that list made my stomach churn.