The discourse surrounding men and their behaviour is rather polarised. On one side we have those who believe all (or at the very least most) men cheat, lie, have commitment issues, dislike hard work, will forget your birthday and insist on playing mind games. If you're particularly misfortunate you may meet and fall in love with a man who manages to possess all of the above traits.
Then we have the romantics. Those who passionately believe every woman is predestined to meet a man who will perfectly fit her imperfections and specifications. In ‘The One’ she'll find the love, security and serenity she seeks, and finally be able to retire from the futile dating game. Unfortunately we don’t often speak about ‘Mr Average’, the man who lives in the gulf between the two myths. Much like the average woman, Mr Average is fundamentally good but prone to the occasional screw up.
In an ironic twist the reality about men seems to have become as skewed as the myths. Depending on where you go, who you know and what you believe, if you meet a man he’s either a demi-God or a fully fledged demon. Mr Average seems to have all but have vanished and at times it seems as though the demons outnumber the demi- Gods .
It is said there was once a time when being a gentleman was part of a man’s duty. Male identity was so bound up in gentlemanly conduct to behave otherwise was to choose to abdicate from your responsibility and masculinity. Those days are no more. There's been a downward shift in what society expects from men which has negatively impacted the standards men set for themselves. We’re in a bit of a predicament and many women are constantly asking "Where have all the gentlemen gone?"
Before writing this blog, I decided to discus the subject with one of my best friend’s and get his opinion. He raised a number of salient points about why there seems to be an underwhelming number of gentlemen. Firstly, hazy conceptions concerning what precisely it means to be a man and the subject of gender itself being immersed in unnecessary controversy and complexity means men who do display gentlemanly conduct are at risk of being labelled as the "nice guy" and instantly friend zoned.
Gestures that were once deemed gentlemanly are now viewed by some women as offensive. Such women (who he described as “crazier than Germaine Greer on her period”) feel insulted when men behave in a chivalrous manner, as they believe it implies they can’t take care of themselves. After assuring him that no woman I know personally would ever take offence if a man paid the bill or covered the taxi fare home, he responded with “That’s not because you’re post-feminist. That’s because you’d all rather spend your money on shoes. Witches” Yes he called us witches.
When my friend realised I intended to focus this blog on the decline of the gentleman he launched into a long monologue, most of which is too offensive to post. However the final part of his rant is worth sharing.....
“Christiana, where are the ladies? You can’t sit here and lament about the decline in gentlemen, when there are no ladies for real men to court. I'm not trying to deflect. I understand men need to step their game up. But I know even if they did step up their game a lot women aren't doing their part either. However no one’s talking about it because you’re all so sensitive… ”
After thinking carefully about my friend’s argument I came to the realisation I couldn’t blog about the decline in gentlemen without acknowledging that there are less women behaving like ladies.
Tracing the decline in the lady is a complex task. It’s an unsurprising turn of events considering we're in a culture where every female singer in the charts (bar Adele) seems to be in a competition with the next to see who can wear the least amount of clothes without revealing her labia.
We live in a bizarre time where a woman broadcasting intimate details about their sex life is empowering rather than crude. Being drunk and disorderly in public is viewed as liberating rather than uncouth. Edgy is better than elegance. Foulness is preferred to finesse. More (weave) is better than less.
For every man unaware of the power of a well-tailored suit, there's a woman who thinks leggings are trousers.
Sidebar: Leggings are not trousers.
For every man that doesn't walk on the right hand side of a lady, there's a woman that won't cross her legs. For every man that approaches a woman with unnecessary aggression, there's a woman who responds to a man with unnecessary abrasion.
Now I understand the discomfort surrounding labels such as gentleman and lady, they were popularised in a time when women were subservient and men were dominant patriarchs. However I don’t think our status quo is desirable either. A lot of women are losing out on the joys that come from being a lady and being treated as such. Countless men are losing out on the esteem that comes from being a gentleman.
It doesn’t have to be zero-sum. There is a middle way, where we take the best of the traditional conceptions of being a gentleman and lady and then blend it with our modern way of thinking.
In essence being a lady or gentleman is about striving to be excellent in all things. It means holding yourself to a standard that is higher than necessary. It's not so much about one’s appearance (though that comes into play) it's about conduct.
Being a gentleman or a lady involves a great deal of responsibility. We can shirk away from that responsibility or we can aspire to embrace it, and live it. The challenge I leave with all of us (myself included) is to strive to do the latter.