The scourge of the “gentleman”

2334277334_9439f3419c_zHow I wish we could stop suggesting men should be “gentlemen”.

Wait, wouldn’t it be great if we all taught boys gentlemanly ways, and we returned to a time of walking canes and hats (admittedly cool things)?

The problem is with imposing what you want to do (or think you should do) on women, rather than listening to what they want or what makes them comfortable; with taking their discomfort, however they express it, as a personal insult instead of a reason/request to behave differently.

Because the dance of the gentleman and the lady is outdated, sexist, and ignores the fact that we’re all individual people with different personalities and backgrounds and needs.

Just be a gentleman!

What does it even mean? It seems to say “give women special treatment because they are women, do a set list of things, and that will make you a proper man who treats women correctly”. In its least harmful manifestations, it’s a form of benevolent sexism, and the clue’s in the name; still sexism.

The “gentleman” is a bullshit idea – it’s the toxic masculine counterpart to ‘lady‘ for a start – but most importantly, from a blogpost I adore, it places higher importance on men’s need to treat women a certain way over how women feel about it.

it is you in your head deciding how to treat a woman, chivalrous action contains an implicit quality of threat: ‘like what I’m offering or else.’

Every woman knows the instinct to placate, whether we listen to it or choose to risk speaking our minds.

It encompasses restrictive rules about gender-directed behaviours that are unasked for, may be unwelcome, and ignore the fact that women (and men) are individuals who should be treated as such, which increase distrust and confirm biases about “men and women being from different planets” and other nonsense. We need to communicate, not assume.

In its most harmful, it reinforces damaging ideas about how you’re allowed to act based solely on your gender which is where most of our gender inequality problems come from in the first place. It can be used even to excuse extremely violent crimes when extended to what “romance” means (man so in love he hurts people), and when terrible men self-identify as gentlemen, we find them excusing their own terrible behaviour/being and externalising blame onto others for not accepting their efforts.

Edited to add: I don’t know how I forgot this! Gentlemen’s Clubs. I mean what the hell even is that? “Let’s be euphemistic about a bunch of men getting together to leer at semi- to fully-naked women paid to dance in front of them while they drink and talk shop. What can we call it? Oh of course! The Gentleman’s Club, perfect. Sounds respectable. Even though it’s the opposite of that”.

To be clear, I have no desire to put down women who take these jobs; out of necessity or choice, while men are willing to be the sleaze that pays, they create the market and that’s no fault of the people who fill the required positions. Much like porn actors; people are quick to jump to criticism of service providers, while quietly enjoying the products of that service themselves.

I think it’s telling that even with something where we shouldn’t find it too hard to criticise men, it gets wrapped up in a cloak of gentlemanly justification, keeping them free from it.

The Magnificent Gentleman

The suspect had this idea that somewhere inside him was “a magnificent gentleman, worthy of having a beautiful girlfriend.” “The ideal, magnificent gentleman.” “A superior gentleman.” “A beautiful, magnificent gentleman.”

Also, “Women are vicious, evil, barbaric animals, and they need to be treated as such.”

He kept wondering why girls did not give him the chance to show them what a Magnificent Gentleman he was. Didn’t he deserve it? He was a good guy.

Who’s this? Elliot Rodger, the misogynist murderer who wrote an enormous screed about how unfair the world was for not giving him – a great gentleman – what he wanted.

But m’lady

Telling people to perform and gratefully receive certain actions based on their gender is extremely restrictive and while it tells men things like Don’t cry, sacrifice your safety for hers, protect her, be the provider and the dominant fighter not the vulnerable or caring one and so on, which is damaging for their development as potentially good people…

…it tells women Don’t be angry, don’t try to better yourself, settle for what you’re given, reward a man for his trouble, be docile and submissive, make him feel strong but calm“, which – along with lots of other things – make it harder to stand up for ourselves, articulate desires, make choices for our own lives and more.

These are the insidious messages that trap us in situations that make us all unsafe and unhappy.

“Be a gentleman” teaches refusal to recognise the importance of people feeling safe – or just acknowledged and respected for who they are. But actually respecting women is not in fact requiring they always do or want what you expect just because of your respective genders.


I’ll always remember those times when the young, well-meaning man tries to assert his gentlemanliness by trying to take my stuff from me. Wait, what?

I mean the old “Let me carry that for you”. He’s seen it in films, he’s read it in books (perhaps), it’s The Gentlemanly Thing To Do! But wait… she said… no [thanks]?

An affront to my masculinity! A challenge to debate! She cannot be refusing me, surely?

Because that’s what seems to happen in his head; you politely refuse (because you’re not struggling at all and not having a bag feels weird), and he then insists. Oh come on, just let me, he repeats. “I’m just being nice”. This makes me angry.

No, respect isn’t treating people like they are unable, it’s listening to what they want and need, including when they say ‘No thank you‘. Show people they’re valuable and respected in far more ways than this. Chairs, bags & doors are not the extent of our difficulties.

Even if we can’t express why it stings at the time – I don’t want you to insist on doing things you think you should because you’re man and I’m woman; I want you to be kind to me because you see me on a level with you, as an equal, as a teammate – not get angry when I refuse to perform a role you have imagined for me.

It hurts and it’s scary because you should respect when I say no, when I refuse you, without taking personal offense, because I am and should always be allowed to say no. If you react hurt, confused or even angry when I’ve said no to a simple offer (and it’s not an offer if you won’t take no for an answer, by the way), how do you think I’m going to feel about the relationship as a whole? Like when we’re intimate?

Consent needs to be: freely given, retractable at any time, specific, enthusiastic and ongoing. If one of those conditions isn’t met, consent does not exist. We didn’t learn this when we were young. Learn it now and stop making women in your life fear you when you know you are a gentle man (not a fucking gentleman) – listen, respect, care and be kind.

It is kind to offer to help someone with heavy things in awkward situations (women can and do also do this) – they’re still allowed to say no to you, though.

It’s not just about the bags, and it never was. There is a serious problem with men who will not accept rejection. We’ll always feel safer when men hear and accept “no” happily.

Don’t let the door hit you on the way out

Pull up a chair. No wait, let me!

When men insist on reducing the whole of feminism down to “What, you don’t want me to hold the door or pull your chair?? Fine [bitch].“, it’s utterly infuriating. There’s a bit more to it.

To entertain this, though: know why you should keep holding doors for people, or be considerate by moving some furniture into a useful position for someone? Because they’re a human being, so are you, and it’s polite.

Not because you are THE MAN and they are THE WOMAN or whatever. If a man’s behind you, still hold the door. Letting them slam on people is mean, especially if they’re carrying stuff.

the-person-right-behind-you-the-58-rule-of-a-30646770But please can you not loiter in a doorway when someone is quite far behind you and entirely capable, meaning they have to do an awkward run to get there.

Can you not, as a man, linger in the narrow doorway while waiting for a woman to pass through it uncomfortably close to you while you stand in it. I would like my personal space through doorways, too, thanks. I don’t want to feel myself brushing against you because I’m supposed to be grateful you’re helping me with this confusing contraption. Especially when you’re quite a bit older and seem to not be looking at my face. Don’t walk behind them afterwards.
Don’t ever do all this – too many times this little ickiness in my life.

Can you not, men, act all incredulous and insulted if a woman holds a door for you! Don’t faff about and try to swap with her like it’d be the end of your world if you just went ahead. Good lord man, she hasn’t cut off your testicles. She’s been a polite human at you, a fellow human.

Can you not act like you’re superhuman – we’ve all mastered doors solo by adulthood, I assure you.

Say thank you, say you’re welcome, be polite – do it for anyone because making the day a bit nicer and easier for others is good, not because penis. Thank you.


3 thoughts on “The scourge of the “gentleman”

  1. Pingback: Incels and taking online misogyny seriously | Purely a figment of your imagination

  2. Rick

    That was an excellent read. It goes really well into the issues that self labelled “nice guys” cause, where they put themselves in this archetypal position of a “gentleman” but never stop to think about what it truly means or whether that is the best “persona” for them to aspire too.

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