Tuesday, June 10, 2014

What Does It Mean to be a "Gentleman"?

We look to our parents, when we are small children, for how to behave, what to think and feel, as well as society when we are older.  Advertising, television, movies and books all influence our views of correct behavior in public and private.  They also influence how we should think about other people and how to treat them.  Whether we're willing to admit it or not, this is all true.

Since the recent Santa Barbara shooting spree and release of the shooter's manifesto, the blogosphere, Facebook, op-ed pages, and probably bar discussions have swirled about the young man's attitudes toward women.  He clearly believed women existed only for male sexual gratification.  He raged against women who would not submit to him and what he saw as their purpose.  What I find so shocking about the Santa Barbara shooter is his objectification of women as sexual objects.  Where did he get that?    Unfortunately and ironically, these attitudes and beliefs are far too common in a society that believes in equality and human rights.

Women are human beings.  They think, feel, and act in their best individual interests, as do men.  They are intelligent.  I think of women as family and community-oriented, to balance men's individualism and action.  There is more to the relationship between women and men than sex.

One of the things my father harped on was respect.  If a guy didn't respect me, he didn't deserve me, as my father put it.  If a guy wasn't a gentleman, I was not particularly interested.  "Bad boys" may make interesting characters for short stories and TV dramas, but they are actually boring to me, and especially when they treat women badly.

What does it mean to be a gentleman?  I think most people nowadays hear that term and think "19th century" and "boring stuffed shirt."  So immediately, there is a tremendous need for role models.  I think of Cary Grant or Gregory Peck or Paul Newman.  But who could be the role models now?

Paul Newman
Gentlemen are men who understand that being kind and compassionate comes from strength and not weakness.  They understand that women and children are not property and accept that.  They expect women to use their brains, and are disappointed by a woman who uses her sex to get what she wants.  They have impeccable manners...toward everyone.  They can be sympathetic, and empathize with others, no matter who they are.  They have strong opinions and are intelligent enough to know that they are not always right.  They have integrity in their dealings with others, whether in business or socially, and value honest, open communication.  They respect other people.  Their character is unassailable.  They know what the Golden Rule means.  They will fight to defend themselves and their loved ones, but not to attack.  They have a social grace and finesse that comes from their confidence in themselves and a genuine concern for others.  They enjoy sports and competition, but understand that not everything is a competition.  Gentlemen are not wimps.

Several years ago, I decided to take the plunge and sign up at an online dating site.  What I learned as a result made me shudder until someone explained to me that online dating sites are not necessarily used for true relationships that begin as friendships.  My goal had been to meet men after some e-mail contact followed by phone calls.  I was surprised by the number of men who wanted to jump straight to the meeting.  The other surprise was their use of their sexuality to try to win my attention.  Talk about a HUGE turn-off!  They didn't want to talk, get to know me, let me get to know them.  Once my subscription was up, I did not renew.

For many years now, I've had the feeling that the women's movement left men in the dust.  I think the women's movement was essential, and we still need it because women are still not treated equally with men in many areas of life, and marriage law needs reform.  Meanwhile, men are lost.  They don't know anymore what they're supposed to do in life.  Women can work, support themselves, protect themselves, as well as do all the traditional female work.  What's a guy to do?

Not what the Santa Barbara shooter did.  Guys who get it are the guys who understand what equality means both legally and socially.  They respect themselves and women.  They accept that it's no longer enough for a guy to have a good job and excellent prospects to attract the attention of women (although some might argue that wealth is still important).  They also need to be good human beings.  They need to be gentlemen.  They need to explore their individual potentials intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally, not only physically.  In short, they need to know their humanity, accept their flaws and weaknesses, and enjoy their strengths and talents.  Women are drawn to people who share their interests.

Interests?  Yeah.  Not booze.  Not drugs.  But interests beyond sports, fishing/hunting, and business.  Look around you.  In your community, I'd bet there's a lot of things you could do to develop your interests in gardening, music, film, literature, travel, cooking, etc.  You might surprise yourself.  If women can pick themselves up and change their lives, so can men....


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