Code of the Gentleman

There has been a bit of conversation in recent days, about the unfortunate behavior of certain members of the male gender at science fiction and fantasy conventions. I won’t name names, mostly because I don’t know names, and I wasn’t there. Suffice to say, some things have happened which have (again) brought to light the fact that some guys just don’t have a clue about how to behave around women. And I’m not talking shy. I’m talking clod. As in, wouldn’t know how to treat a lady if it meant his life sort of clod.

Which brings up something I’ve been thinking about a lot in the last couple of years. It has to do with the seeming death of gentlemanly behavior in our 21st century American culture.

Once upon a time, both boys and girls — if they had any of what they used to call breeding in the bad old days — went through a finishing process before being dispensed into society. This process focused largely on etiquette. What was and was not proper in polite society. And as ironic as it might seem for me to hold forth on issues of propriety — me, the guy who rails against Political Correctness — I do think it’s useful to have a refresher on the duties and expectations of men, when dealing with females.

So, without further ado, here are the basic rules. Call it the Code of the Gentleman.

A Gentleman does not stare at a woman.
She may be beautiful, or she may be not so beautiful. She may be fully clothed, or she may be wearing little more than a thong bikini. Whatever the case, and whatever the dress, a man should not stare. I don’t know where this rule originated, but it doesn’t really matter. A gentleman should not fix his eyes on a woman and leave them there, while in a public place. A private encounter with a wife or lover? Fine. Stare away. But staring at a stranger? Not acceptable. Regardless of how she may be dressed. Yes, I know, double-standard. But then this isn’t about being fair. It’s about being a gentleman.

A Gentleman does not ogle a woman’s breasts or butt.
Call it a corollorary to the first rule. This sort of thing just isn’t done, and this is where I think many modern men fall down. Yes, yes, the proliferation of breast implants and the displaying of same by women via low-necked shirts and other clothing makes it tough to not take a gander. Same for women with exceptional trunkage. But a gentleman will not permit himself to indulge in sight-seeing of this nature, not with strangers and not in public. He will avert his eyes — preferably to the woman’s face if he is in conversation with her. Speaking to a woman’s chest is not the mark of a gentleman, and should be avoided.

A Gentleman does not let his hands do the talking.
Barring a gentle handshake or perhaps a palm placed gingerly on a bicep, a gentleman keeps his hands to himself. You have to know a woman really, really well, and probably be advanced into a romance with her, to venture beyond this point without losing your gentlemanly cred. No exceptions. Regardless of the favors you feel you might be doing for a woman. Unless you’ve got explicit permission or solicitation to touch, you don’t touch. Anywhere, for any reason. A woman’s personal space is sacred. Cads and trolls break it at will. A gentleman respects this barrier and will not penetrate it.

A Gentleman does not use suggestive language.
As in, don’t fixate on sex or sexual subjects, when engaged in conversation with a woman who is not your lover and/or wife. Even if you’re supremely attracted to her. Unless she’s in a romance with you, your fixation on sex and sexual language is liable to be embarrassing, if not alarming. Women consider this a strong signal that you’re bad news — not well adjusted. An occasional brushing of the subject, in the natural course of conversation? Fine. To make it the maypole of the exchange is to broadcast all sorts of not-so-nice messages about yourself: hard up, needy, possibly even a sexual predator. Keep your language proper.

A Gentleman does not abuse money, power or influence.
It’s a very old story. The one about the man with the money, the fame, the authority, using these things to extract sexual goodies from females. Often younger, but not always. Often seeking that male’s stamp of approval, be it for a job, a good word, or something else she may need to further herself in the world. It is therefore the height of ungentlemanly behavior to take this need — on the part of the woman — and exert it against her for puerile sexual gratification. And I’m not even talking copulation or blowjobs, though this is considered common tender among the lechers of the world. I’m talking about guys getting away with all of the things I’ve already named, because they know the woman they’re talking to can’t or won’t saying anything — because she needs something from him.

A Gentleman does not suffer the ungentlemanly.
Which is not to say we need to go back to white gloves and pistols at 20 paces. But there are times when it’s honorable to step in and help another male adjust his behavior, especially if that behavior is obviously in poor taste, unusually crude or boorish, and is otherwise perturbing females in the area. This might be done gently, or it might be done not so gently. All men step out of bounds from time to time, in spite of their best effort. It helps us if we try to keep each other honest. And the socially deaf trolls — the serial creeps who just don’t get it — they can sometimes require more rigorous action. It behooves the real men in the area to intercede, where they are able, otherwise the females can be left feeling more vulnerable and isolated than before. Silence and inaction can function as condoning of the behavior.

Again, this might strike someone as odd, coming from the man who says PC is bunk. But being a gentleman isn’t about PC. Being a gentleman is about having a personal code. Call it honor, for lack of a better label. I like to think of it as Arthurian integrity. A touch of the Old School when chivalry had not yet fallen out of fashion, and there were societal expectations on males — as regards their service and bearing towards women.

I think this code can apply anywhere, at any time, and it’s a shame to see so many males advance through adolescence and into adulthood without receiving either a proper role model — or proper guidance. Because the honest truth of it is this — and I speak comfortably as a man who knows his limitations: women civilize us. Left to our own devices, we are selfish, brutal bastards. We need the women in our lives to remind us of a higher responsibility, beyond our own carnal lusts and the rumbling of our stomachs. A gentleman rises to this challenge like a falcon rises to the morning sun. He does not shirk it or shrink from it, or cast it off as old-fashioned.

Okay, that’s it for now. Nothing overly dramatic. Just a basic set of precepts. Some might even call it common sense. But if the behavior of some men in certain places as of late is an indicator, there is a large Clintonian movement afoot. Ergo, it’s all right if it feels good to the man, and as long as the woman doesn’t complain. Too much. I’m not in agreement with that modern (post-modern?) paradigm. I think it gives the male an excuse to slip off the civilized chain, and become a dog. Granted, this urge in the human male is always strong. We have, by our nature, strong desires and urges. But it’s precisely our ability to direct, focus, and deny those urges, that separate us from the beasts.

So do yourself a favor, and don’t act the wolf or monkey.

Like the line from Devo said, are we not men?


18 thoughts on “Code of the Gentleman

  1. I’m gonna be honest here, Brad, I think it’s sad that this needs to be said. Actually, to be honest, I think that this is probably going to follow on deaf ears. Sure some of the behavior can be innocent, like maybe a guy gets a little off color unintentionally because it’s okay with who hangs out with back home and he doesn’t realize that he’s making someone else uncomfortable. But a lot of this stuff is done by guys who know perfectly well would they’re doing, they just don’t care.

    I had an old boss who was like that and he always just insisted that he was kidding, just playing around. ALL of the women that I worked with hated it but no one would say anything about it. Then one day he harassed the wrong woman and she told corporate. We was gone, literally, the next day. The sad thing? He kept insisting to corporate that it was a joke and didn’t know why everyone got so worked up. I won’t go into what he said here but it was pretty disgusting. Not only would never say this in polite company, I’d never say to ANY woman that I’ve ever been intimate with. Yeah, it was that bad.

    Maybe I overreact to things like this a bit, a big part of which is that I’m Southern and was raised as such (my mother would’ve literally smacked me upside the head if I did any of the aforementioned things), but I think we need to bring common courtesty back to daily affairs and just learn to be more respectful of each other.

    Okay, I’ll get down off the soapbox and return you to your regularly scheduled blog. =)

  2. Well put. Though I think this should apply to all people (hey, we women ogle on occasion, you know πŸ˜› ) and such. I’ve seen situations where women have physically imposed themselves on men as well and where men have imposed on men. Mostly I think it boils down to “don’t do anything you wouldn’t want stranger doing to you” and Wil Wheaton’s “don’t be a dick”.

    As long as you men still let us open our own doors and don’t treat us like delicate, special flowers, I’m cool with a little more chivalry. πŸ™‚

  3. Jordan, agreed absolutely. Steve, I’ve seen guys like that. I tend to think they know exactly what they’re doing when they do it. I’m never quite sure how or why they come to believe that such behavior is acceptable, especially as a supervisor. If anything, a supervisor should be even more on his game than a peer employee, because of the power imbalance. Suffice to say I have reluctantly concluded that some men truly do see women as objects, not as people. For such men, I think you are right: all the appeals in the universe won’t make a dent, because petitioning them to respect females is like petitioning them to respect a pillar of salt. Which is not to say women can’t abuse the system too. I have seen that, personally, and it’s unfortunate because every time a woman abuses the system, it devalues not only her, but other women — and makes protections against harrassment less effective. But again, in many such cases, men could (should?) be a lot smarter. I can thank of one case in particular I observed last year where nothing would have happened had the man managed to keep his hands to himself. Alas, he didn’t, and eventually it was a very big deal affecting lots of people. And I am not sure he understood what he’d done or why he’d screwed up — it just didn’t register.

  4. I admit it, I still open doors for women, even without asking. Is that bad?

    And yes, some women can be bad too. Though I hate to say it, assuming the woman is attractive, the dog male mindset might see improper female advances as a ‘win’ for him. Just speculating on that one. As a married male I’d be freaked out if a woman made advances on me — especially a supervisor. Thankfully I am a badling, middle aged white guy, so the likelyhood of me getting taken advantage of by a lustful female coworker is roughly zero. (grin)

  5. I should also add that I am not a saint when it comes to keeping my eyes where they should be. I don’t go in for touching or other forward stuff, but I will admit it: if a woman has boobs, especially large and/or nicely shaped, I have to work very hard not to look at them. I’m just wired that way, I guess. Takes a lot of extra effort, which I do put in, mind you. Because I still believe in the rule. I just know that’s where I am weakest, because, well… ahem. I just like big round boobs I guess. (sigh)

  6. I don’t think you have any evidence that sexual harassment is more common in 21st century American culture than it was in the 19th or 20th. Which is not to say that I have a problem with any of these rules, it’s just that it seems unnecessary to encode them within the framework of “Gentlemen” and “breeding”. It seems to me that 19th and early 20th century gentry engaged in far more mistreatment of women than their modern-day analogues do.

  7. Though I abide by these rules, are you really so sure you’re doing anything other than being Politically Correct? Codes of discourse and codes of action are all codes, arbitrarily engendered (no pun intended, but pun thoroughly appreciated after the fact) by various Janes and Johns. You’re shutting out all those poor oglers and touchy-feelers! And you don’t know if maybe they go to a lot of parties where those things, y’know, work.

    Consider, also, that I’ve met women who would consider your code insulting because it assumes women can’t handle themselves.

    Personally, I follow a Philosophy of Hypocrisy, which means I don’t need to sort my beliefs in the way that most people choose to do because I think hypocrisy is intellectually and morally advantageous. Therefore, I can be politically correct while railing against political correctness, and a feminist while holding the door.

    Or a feminist while… not holding the door.

    And besides what kind of women are there at SF conventions that are worth ogling OOOOOOOOOOOH NO I DIDN’T!


  8. this may just be me. but then again, i’m a shy person. but stare at folks, folks tend to notice that. so in turn they notice you!!! how you going to hide in the crowed? why i always wear a hoodie. so no one will notice the six dreads sitting on top of my shaved head. but ya know, a passing glace is quite alright.

    but this is what my mother taught me on the subject. there are no w****s or s***s. just friendly woman i.e. respect them all.

    doors? if the timing is write hold em open for all comers.

  9. I tend to think that chivalry is a bit outdated, from a feminist perspective. I think, like Nobu explained, that everyone should simply behave appropriately. Treating women like delicate flowers who can do nothing themselves perpetuates the stereotype of weakness and inferiority, and also hurts the self-esteem and confidence of women who buy into “gentlemenship.” My own girlfriend, for example, expects me to do all kinds of things for her that I see as a direct violation of her personhood. If she wants something, she should ask for it — at least in my opinion. We need women, and they need us, but it’s a 50/50 exchange economy. The ogling problem is a troublesome cycle, but I think it may actually be improving. For a time, though, I was predicting that sometime in the next couple decades single women might cease to wear clothes at all. There’s far too much societal emphasis on the perceived merits of good looks. Good-looking people have a huge advantage in our world because we allow it to happen, and as a result their value is placed on their physical appearance alone, while less attractive individuals are looked down upon as lesser beings. We live in a shallow world indeed.

  10. I completely agree with these gentlemanly rules, and, as has been pointed out, they really apply to the human race in general. Treat others as people, not as sex objects.

    Personally, my feminist sensibilities have never been offended by a man behaving gentlemanly. Gentlemanly behavior is respectful behavior.

    I was repeatedly offended by a man I knew who *refused* to let me open my own door. He literally would not walk through the door if I held the door open for him. I had to let go and let him open the door before we could enter a building. And he did this every time I saw him. That is *not* gentlemanly. That is treating me like I’m not capable of holding a door.

    I like it when people–men and women alike–open doors for each other.

    Of course, I must interject that girls wearing fur bikinis at conventions are wearing them in order to be ogled. But ogled *only*.

  11. See, I open doors for kids and old people, so when someone opens a door for me I tend to see it as “oh shit, I’m old now”. πŸ™‚ Really though, as long as you open doors for all women, it probably isn’t something most people will notice. If you only open doors for attractive women, then the fat chick who gets the door shut in her face might be annoyed (been there…sigh).

    Oh, I’ve had male friends who got very inappropriately come on to by women before, and a few males as well. As sort of funny as it was to see them uncomfortable (double standard, I know), having spoken to them afterward, I don’t think they were too thrilled about it even so.

  12. Yeah, I have a mohawk that is usually varying shades of purple or blue or orange. People stare. I’ve slowly gotten over it πŸ˜›

  13. I should point out here, Alex, that when it comes to my husband, all bets and gentlemanly behavior toward me are off πŸ˜‰ He’s perfectly allowed to grab my ass, make crude comments, and ogle me all he likes. But that’s a personal preference because we have a fairly obvious relationship and no issue with (tasteful-ish) public displays of affection. But that’s a comfort that comes with familiarity. I also tend to joke with my friends a lot and we hug and hang all over each other. I see Brad’s code here as laid out for treatment of strangers and people you don’t know well enough to be able to judge comfort zones.

    The world is quite shallow, I agree with you there πŸ˜› The difference between being a 20-something female who is a size 3 with 32DD boobs and a almost 30-something female who is a size 14 (still with giant boobs) is quite depressingly remarkable. As much as I got annoyed with the attention at lower weights, I sure miss being treated like a human being and being catered to a bit in some situations.

  14. Thanks all for the great comments. Marina’s story about the man who refused to let a woman open his own door reminds me that some guys can and do take things too far. My general rule is: I keep an eye behind me as I am headed through a door, and regardless of who is behind me, I open that door and let them pass through. Male, female, whatever. And I absolutely do not make it specific to how a person looks. That’s mighty gauche, a man opening doors only for those women he considers attractive. That seems anti-gentleman to my sensibilities. As does turning gentlemanly consideration into an ultimatum. Maybe that’s another rule? A gentleman doesn’t go out of his way to draw attention to himself or place his need to feel “manly” above expediency or other situational awareness? I personally don’t mind women opening doors for me, and always make sure to thank them when they do. Seems like just basic politeness in my book.

    Ms. Nobu is correct, the “code” is mainly for strangers dealing with strangers. Friends, couples, lovers, spouses, the rules can be different — because you’ve had time to get to know one another and the comfort zones and personal space can overlap in a way they don’t necessarily out in the world among people who don’t know one another. I think what floors me is hearing about guys who basically take advantage of parties or other social situations to basically fondle, cop feels, be brutes or boors, or just generally act like assholes to strange women. I don’t know how or why that mentality evolves, or why men think it’s OK. I was raised with a rather old fashioned standard, and that standard largely dictates how I am publicly with other people — women especially. Ergo, be polite, be kind, say thank you, never assume you have persmission to be in a person’s personal space if you’re not explicitly invited to be there, etc.

    As for PC, to me the “code” is a man’s own behavior standard he sets for himself. He applies it judiciously and mindfully because it’s part of his integrity. It’s not an external, haphazard standard foisted on the public at large by hypocrites. That’s generally how I see it. PC is often a “for thee, not for me” operation exercised by folks who like to get away with murder in their own lives, but have a cow if other people don’t do as they’re told, etc.

  15. Thank you for laying this out for all to see. I know that these guidlines should be obvious, but as you said, we all have our weaknesses (I like nice boobs too!), but I have found that my interactions with the other sex will be far more satisfying if these rules are followed.

  16. I agree with the commentors who have taken the “it’s not just about male behaviour it’s about people behaving respectfully” approach.

    Interesting read. Thanks

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