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?