Should We Still Teach Our Boys To Be Gentlemen?

As wonderful and as necessary as the feminist movement has been, I often wonder how men feel about the change to their roles.  I’m not talking about how they feel about feminism and women’s rights – I think most men are generally fine with that. (Obviously I am referring to westernized society. This discussion has not even begun in much of the third world. Don’t get me started on that!) – What I am talking about is how men have adjusted to the little things.

Do they struggle with how to treat a female colleague?

Do they constantly feel that they are walking on eggshells, wondering if a sexual harassment lawsuit is looming around the corner if they pulled a chair out for their female boss?

As a female, I am proud of the strides my sex has made in the equality of gender roles. I feel empowered that young women today have the option of post-secondary education; the choice of any career; the option to excel in that career while at the same time raising a family (or not) or the option to stay at home and raise their children (however economically, many families can’t afford the last option but that is another discussion).

Women are just as capable as men to hold corporate careers, own businesses and make a living in every field, however women are still fighting the battle for pay equity and equal representation from the lowest to the highest levels in roles traditionally thought of as male. There is still much work to do but in most sectors, the divide is gradually becoming narrower.

Did the rules need to change? Of course they did.

Feminism isn’t just for the boardroom though. Women expect to be treated with respect and equality in all aspects of their lives but do we want the same treatment from our life-mates as our cubicle-mates? If not, do men know that?

As we have marched ahead to our revised tune, the gents sometimes seem to struggle to keep in step, try though they might.

Take dating for instance; do men know how to act anymore? In a new relationship today, should a man pay the entire bill for a dinner out with his date? If he does pay, will she think he’s domineering and trying to take care of her because she is incapable of taking care of herself or will she think he is sweet and romantic? What about holding the door for her? Should he or shouldn’t he? Pulling out her chair? Standing when she enters the room? – does anyone do that anymore?

I feel sorry for men at times like these.  They must feel like they are walking a tightrope of etiquette.  Do the wrong thing and you are thought of as rude and insensitive – a Neanderthal of cultural behaviour.

But who determines what is right and wrong?

Some women would be offended if a man opened the car door for them and others would be offended if he did not.

What’s a boy to do?

Which brings up the question: Should we still teach our boys to be gentlemen?

I will generalize and say that we all teach our boys – and girls – basic manners: saying please and thank you; pardon me/excuse me; not interrupting etc, but what will the next generation of young women expect their young men to do beyond the basic niceties?

Will men stop walking on the outside of the sidewalk and offering their arm to a lady? Many already have.

Will holding a door go by the way of a kiss on the hand? 

Some might argue that many of these gestures are fine in personal relationships but should not be brought into the workplace.  Is that where the line should be drawn? Offering your arm to a female colleague in my mind would be an error for the man, but yet I would expect him to hold the door for her.

Learning to make the distinction between what is acceptable and what is not must have to be learned by trial and error; or trial by fire depending on the recipient. 

The other day, as I was approaching a store, I witnessed a young boy of about five years of age struggle to hold a heavy door open for a ‘mature’ lady who with a smile thanked the young lad for being “quite a gentleman”. The boy beamed with pride, and his father did too.

For all of you men (and women) who are taking the time to teach your boys the traditional approach to the decorum of gentlemanly behaviour, I applaud you. In my opinion, etiquette should never go out of style and every gesture toward that end should be received in the manner in which it is bestowed.

For all of the strides my sisters before me and my daughters after have made and will make, I thank them for their struggles. It is in part because of them that I am respected for my intelligence, appreciated for my contribution and seen as an equal in my role.

And for all of the men in my life who have treated me with respect, appreciation and equality, I thank you too for your part and appreciate your efforts.

And for the record, I think there is a line and the office is where it should be defined. For me, it looks like this:

  • At work: hold the door, and if you would like a coffee, make it yourself.
  • Personally: pull out my chair, offer your arm, walk on the outside of the sidewalk, help me on with my coat, pay the bill, and hold the door. Oh, and if you’re getting yourself a coffee, I’d like mine double-double, please.

…Because for all of our advancements, I for one still enjoy and appreciate being made to feel like a lady, when it’s appropriate. After all, isn’t having the best of both worlds part of what the battle has been about?

Good luck, men. Keep up the good work.

Do you have anything to add to this conversation? Share it below.


9 responses to “Should We Still Teach Our Boys To Be Gentlemen?

  1. Teaching our girls to be ladies would also be to the point. When I was still on a walker after recent knee surgery, I was almost to a door when a young woman, I would guess about 23, darted in front of me, went out the door, and slammed it in my face. I am thankful to say that very few people act that way; when they see me struggling along with a cane and an expression of pain on my face, most people rush to open the door for me and offer any other help they can. Boorishness on the part of man or woman should be unacceptable. Even a capable woman, as I once was, should be capable of smiling and saying “Thank you” when somebody demonstrates uncommon courtesy. Being insulted and insulting because a man opened the door for you or pulled your chair out should be unacceptable no matter what your position on feminism is. I was a very good cop, but i didn’t run to catch a burglar when I was pregnant. On the other hand, I could certainly work a crime scene and identify a fingerprint no matter how pregnant I was.

    • Thanks for your comment, Anne. I completely agree that we should also be teaching our girls to be ladies. Good manners and common courtesies are vastly important, in my opinion. I am sorry to hear of the incident that you described. Not only would that have been rude if you were in the best of health but when you are in pain and struggling, that is unacceptable.
      I hope your knee heals well. Best wishes to you.

      • Thank you. The knee has healed adequately,but my back is a mass of arthritis. There is nothing at all to do about it and no doctor is going to treat me adequately for the pain, so I’m stuck. At least I have things I can do even when I have to lie down. I’m so sorry for people who are retired or ill and have nothing they can do except watch boring television reruns. With my book reviewing, I’m kept pretty busy, and I’m thankful to the publishers who provide books for me to review. So many of them are so very helpful. I’m going to be reviewing a new English edition of the Koran, and my husband will read it too, as he has read other editions five times, and the publisher generously offered to provide us two copies, so that we can both read at the same time. That kind of helpfulness is what we should be fostering in our children.

        • Sounds like you have a lot on your plate. I’m glad you are keeping busy and staying positive.

          I agree, that is definitely the kind of helpfulness that we should be, and hopefully many of us are, fostering in our children.
          All the best to you.

        • I think in other contries they are used to Foreigners, but in America for some reosan foreigners are usually considered jokes (especially guys), not always but usually their portrayed on T.V in a comedy style I’m not sure where your from but say for example a middle-eastern guy in America if you watch T.V our image is that of Borat or a greasy hairy guy with gold chains and lots and lots of cologne etc Asian’s are always smiling and running liquor stores etc Even for women say a Russian woman would be considered a mail-order bride.I know it sucks but it’s true!!!! America is filled with stereo types.So if your going to get a date your going to have to find someone who has a specific attraction for foreigners especially if you have an accent.

          • I agree with some of what you say. There are stereotypes on television but I don’t think it is just american television. I personally am offended by the character of Borat. I think it is in very poor taste and like-wise dislike similar characters that make fun of anyone based on race, religion, sexual preference, disability- well anything that makes fun of an individual or group at their expense. It’s almost 2013; I would have hoped by now that people were more inclusive.
            I guess the way to change peoples perspective to live a life of example. Thank you for your comments.


  3. christine woodley

    I think that men should open doors for women .. and women should open doors for men .. kids for adults .. adults for kids .. everyone for everyone. That’s what I keep in mind when I’m out in the world.

    I had an interesting experience a couple of years ago. I was visiting an eastern European country (won’t be specific) which has only recently come out from communist rule. I (a woman-of-a-certain-age, small and blonde) have taken for granted the way men treat me in my world – courteous, chivalrous even – so I was shocked to find men in this country were rude and self-centred. I had young men elbow past me to get to a tea service, e.g. I mentioned the political situation because I have been told that their behaviour is based on years of being forced to do “whatever it takes” to acquire the necessities of life. Whatever the reasons, it was a real eye-opener to me.

    • Thanks for your comments, Christine. I completely agree with your first point.
      Not having travelled to many parts of the world, I haven’t had the experiences that you have and I’m sure cultural difference play a huge role in etiquette and social behaviour. Women have worked very hard in the western world to gain the rights and freedoms that we enjoy. I’m sorry it is not equal everywhere.