What it means to be a gentleman

gentleman 1. A man of gentle or noble birth or superior social position 2. A well-mannered and considerate man with high standards of proper behavior

Recently on the book of faces, a friend of mine, Ken Mueller who writes an interesting and handy blog over at Inkling Media and is apparently way more talented than I ever knew since he is working with the Smithsonian on a new exhibit on radio during WWII and will write the accompanying book (SHOW OFF), posted a link to a video from the Steve Harvey show, featuring Lynn Messina, writer and contributor to The Motherlode, Adventures in Parenting blog at the NY Times. She was talking about a recent post she wrote for Motherlode about not wanting her preschool aged son to be taught to be a gentleman. In this discussion, she specifically means the behavior most of society considers gentlemanly with regard to girls and women, such as letting girls go first at all manner of things like using the bathroom to taking a turn on the slide. The bit on the Steve Harvey show is here.

I watched the segment, and I read her blog, and I have to say, I agree with her. If you take the second definition as offered by the online version of Webster, a gentleman is a well-mannered and considerate man with high standards of proper behavior, which I wholeheartedly support. I think my son, and all boys/men should apply this standard of behavior to everyone. Equally. Regardless of gender.

I don’t say this because I am a militant feminist who is offended if someone holds the door open for me. As a human being, who might have her hands full of coffee, I appreciate when someone holds the door. Because I AM a feminist though, and a nice person, I will readily hold a door open for anyone else.

I feel it is important in this day and age to work at being considerate and respectful of everyone. Steve Harvey tried to make the point that for boys, often the first significant relationship they have with a woman is with their mother. And he won’t even curse in front of his mother. I don’t want Cooper to treat me with respect because I am his female parent, I want him to be respectful because I am his parent. And because I treat him with respect as my child. Cursing is a whole separate blog post though.

In the clip Steve Harvey makes the point that women would not want men to treat them like they treat other men, because we would not like it. He says men are gross and are horrible to each other. I certainly have seen my share of that type of behavior between men. But I would suggest in response to that statement that maybe it should NOT be OK behavior even between guys. And the same goes for women and girls who call each other “bitch” for fun or are crass and rude online. Why is this acceptable behavior? Is it really funny? I would argue no. I think this kind of behavior ultimately puts distance between us as people. Rather than build camaraderie, I see crass and rude behavior as something that ultimately demeans another person, whether that is sexist or racist language or physically harmful behavior. Hazing has been prohibited at colleges because it does not build respect and bring people together, but instead causes harm, often deadly, to others.

What I hope Cooper gets from us as parents is the habit of treating everyone with civility and respect. To honor the other person, regardless of gender, religious beliefs, color of skin, age or abilities as another human being. Now that does not mean I expect or want him to be a doormat. Part of being respectful of others is being respectful of yourself. If you cannot do that, it is very hard to do it for others. So I do not expect him to let someone take advantage of him, be abusive or hurtful. That might mean he stands up for himself or someone else, but it may entail simply walking away from that person or situation and not giving it any energy or time.

It is a lot of work to first find the love and respect for oneself that we all deserve, and to then look outward and view each person we come in contact with, whether in person or online, as a creature deserving civil and respectful behavior. But it is what we probably should all be striving toward. I do want my child to be nice to girls. I also want him to be nice to boys, dogs, cats, chinchillas and worms. I hope he learns to hold doors open and let others go first where appropriate no matter what their gender. I hope that he always knows that he is loved and that in turn he puts that love out into the world. Because THAT is what makes this world a better place.

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1 Comment

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One response to “What it means to be a gentleman

  1. You can’t see me but I’m giving you a standing ovation.

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