By Angela Reinhardt
Last week I had a lunch meeting with a colleague who was sitting in the booth when I arrived. As I approached the table, he stood up and asked if he could help me with my coat. I declined, but only because it was freezing and I was stuffed into two jackets, which would have made the gesture more awkward than he’d anticipated. After we’d discussed an upcoming project and lunch was over, he again offered to help with my coat and opened both the restaurant door and my car door.
When I drove off it occurred to me that the art of being a gentleman is dying. It’s being smothered by an unfortunate bedfellow of gender equality that likens chivalry with slimy or “benevolent” sexism, and the over-casualization of society and relationships in general.
This colleague is from an older generation than my own and, outside of my husband who regularly opens doors for me when we’re in public and carries heavy bags, I rarely see men around my age (36) extend such gestures.
I consider myself a progressive and independent woman. I believe in equal rights, equal pay, and sexual respect; I cuss; I could hardly be considered a “romantic;” and don’t shy away from heavy lifting or getting dirty – but genuine (the genuine part is important) acts of chivalry make me feel respected and special and I don’t want to live in a world where they don’t exist. My son is 12 and it would make me proud to see him treat females with such respect and dignity when he gets older.
But what’s a man to do when women might not want you to take their coat?
Every morning on the way to school my daughter and I listen to the Jeff and Jenn Show. One of their segments is called “Ghost Hunting” – a listener calls the station to get help finding out why a person disappeared from their life. In this episode, a man told the hosts he was confused when a lady stopped returning his calls after they went on what he thought was a great first date. The hosts call the lady, who tells them she was offended when he pulled out her chair - she was a successful business woman and didn’t need help from a man. This woman is not alone. According to one survey, 11 out of 12 women say if a man offered her his seat she wouldn’t accept it.
For this woman, having a man pull out her chair is a sign of feminine weakness. At the same time, the man struggles to understand his place in an increasingly feminist world where gender roles have shifted so much. When a man opens your door or lets you order first, it doesn’t show weakness in my mind. Having a man put his coat over a puddle is overkill, but women can be empowered and successful and accept these gestures without feeling like they’re being sent back home to cook and take care of kids.
Matters are complicated with the general devolution of what’s expected and/or demanded in relationships. Guys aren’t for the most part gentlemen, and women don’t expect them to be. Things have become so casual that a lot of men are comfortable sending pics of their genitals after the first or second date. Comedian Aziz Ansari discusses this unfortunate phenomenon in his stand-up special Buried Alive. He surveys the crowd and nearly all the women had received a similar photo. He then comments on how unacceptable this behavior would have been a few decades ago.
“I’d get thrown in jail the next day! Polaroid d*@! bandit strikes again!”
A male columnist from the UK writes, “Yes, we need to make sure that women are truly treated as our equals in society, but let's not use that as an excuse to stop being gentlemen.”
As a culture we’re trying to work out the kinks when it comes to gender equality, but as a modern woman I still like a gentleman, and I value manners, respect, and courtesy. Like a female Cosmopolitan journalist writes in “Why We Still Want a Gentleman,” manners never go out of style.