This column will hopefully open up some discussion as to what a true gentleman is, where this notion came from, and whether or not being a gentleman is possible or even a good thing. The true gentleman is a dying breed of man, and this is a good thing. I applaud Matthew McMillan’s column (Daily Nexus, “A Lesson in Modern Chivalry and Gentlemen’s Etiquette,” Feb. 8) calling for men to improve their lives and the lives of others, but the notion of gentility he ascribes to is sexist and classist at its very core. For those chaps who want to live the life of Errol Flynn, they should know that he was a lush and a lecher.
Courtship, at its origin, was a classist and sexist social structure in which a man attempted to woo a woman of the court – that is, her family had money. Courtship was an arduous process that narrowed the competition for marriage. Patriarchal society gave control of the family’s estate and dowry to the man. The woman’s role was to look pretty in order to attract wealthy men. After the marriage however, her role was to make babies.
Unfortunately, these remnants of ancient societies have bred a number of people who don’t understand how they’ve been duped into believing stories of fairy-tale courtship. More unfortunate than that, the people who buy into such lies seem to be made for each other. People will rise to meet what’s expected of them, and when this is very little, people rise very little. Ask for nothing and you shall receive it – in abundance. When it comes to matters of love, question the motives of those involved. The gentleman may not know why he does what he does, but Matthew McMillan has answered that question: “[to sleep] with as many women as possible.”
The key to “living large” is to not think in terms of an eye for an eye. This rationale not only leaves both sides blinded, but also, in today’s society, is simply a dumb idea. If somebody does something to personally harm you (taking your eye), doing something vengefully (taking the other eye) makes you legally liable for any damage you cause. Simply put, an eye for an eye leaves both sides with legal fees and fines or jail time. Rather than balancing this rash ideology with “turn[ing] the other cheek,” as McMillan suggests, take the feelings of others into consideration even if you choose to disregard them. By acknowledging your opponents in life, you can better decide the power and the practicality of your decisions.
The key to “loving well” is to not regard human emotions as a game, and to question the motives behind your actions as well as the actions of your past, present and future lovers. If you don’t feel strongly enough to “feel her pain, touch her heart and yes, rub her feet,” or if your significant other does not desire this type of attention, then don’t do it. By engaging unwillingly in such behavior, you are lying to your lover, invalidating the foundation of trust upon which so many relationships are dependent.
The most important aspect of a gentleman’s life is to reconsider what a gentleman really is. Must a gentleman be gentle or even someone who identifies as a man? What does it mean to treat someone like a lady? Opening a car door for someone is another relic of a sexist society that felt that physical activity wasn’t a woman’s place because they were the “weaker sex.” Truly respecting people means that if your sole intention for interacting with them is to have sex with as many people as possible, then they deserve to know that information before you engage in the pretense of “winning them over.” People aren’t prizes to be won at some game.
The last part of McMillan’s discussion involves “looking good.” Perception does bear more weight than reality, so sadly, your intentions do not matter much. Intent has no precedence over impact. Again, if you consider the feelings of other people, you can evaluate how they will perceive your actions. If, as a heterosexual male, your lover overhears you regard women as “bitches,” it doesn’t matter if you didn’t intend to show disrespect to her, because she perceived you to have insulted all women.
More superficially, looking like a “gentleman” is yet another remnant of the old courtship folly. By wearing clothes that look expensive, one can give the impression that one is with money. In this era of brand-name knockoffs however, I have personally received more compliments on the pants that I bought at K-Mart than on anything I’ve paid for in blood at Banana Republic.
Finally, a gentleperson has a deeper relationship with those in his or her life – flowers, wine and smooth moves may be nice gestures, but relationships do not depend on this kind of bullshit. These are all ways to score points in the game that shallow people call love. If you truly want to excel at a game, don’t play with people’s feelings; learn how to play Scrabble instead.
And while you celebrate Valentine’s Day, remember that Saint Valentine was a priest who was beheaded for performing unauthorized marriages on the church stairs.
Daniel Okamura is a senior sociology major.