I am female, and feminist. You might even say that I am ’empowered’. I live independently, have a career and study martial arts, particularly Bartitsu and traditional pugilism. I read the Guardian and prefer sensible shoes. However, rather than spitting in the face of such patriarchal notions as ‘gentlemanly behaviour’ I would like to suggest that feminism does not require the death of courtesy, we just need to think a little about what it means to be a feminist and what it means to be a gentleman.
Feminism has had a lot of bad press, it is far easier to discredit someone by mocking them rather than engaging with them and I’m not going to rehearse arguments about sexism in the popular press.
Whilst recognising that ‘equality’ does not mean the same to everyone, I would like to suggest the following, not entirely satisfactory, definition that feminism is a movement for a society in which women and men are treated as persons of equal worth, whose life choices are governed by their abilities and preferences rather than their chromosomes. Like all political movements feminism is made up of individuals and I would also like to suggest that writing off the entire feminist movement because you disagree with the actions of particular individuals is a bit like writing off all liberals because the Marquis de Sade went a bit far.
So – what is a Gentleman? I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that a Gentleman is a man who conducts himself with thoughtfulness, respect and courtesy to all those he interacts with, including those who are in a less powerful position than himself (1)
Given those definitions, it starts to look as if the two groups have similar aims. So why the clash?
What is the difference between a Gentleman and a twit. To put it bluntly – motivation, motivation, motivation, basing the treatment of a person on their ‘needs’ based on their sex rather than seeing them as an individual (2)
So, let’s pull it together – holding a door is considerate. I hold doors for people, having them slammed in your face is horrible. Some people say thank you, some don’t. Some people are rude, and there’s nothing you can do about it. But, if you have just got a mouthful it’s worth just taking a moment before blaming ‘feminism’ to consider how you presented yourself. It may be that woman just had a chip on her shoulder, or did she pick up that you were seeing her as a lady first and a person second? Little things make a big difference and sooner or later, motivation will out.
That’s what it comes down to really, if you consider being a ‘Gentleman’ to involve more than wearing tweed and having shiny shoes then respecting women means thinking of us as people not women/ladies and treating us in the way we prefer to be treated whatever the ‘rules’ say.
By all means hold doors, maybe offer to carry luggage, but be aware of your motivation and don’t judge if we don’t want to be treated like a ‘lady’. Some of us like frilly knickers, some of us like combat boots. Talk to us like adults and if we can’t tell you what we want then we don’t deserve to get it.
It’s not what you wear, it’s who you are.
(1) In coming to this conclusion I am indebted to Mr James Marwood
(2) And yes, I know we’re all guilty of making judgements based on irrelevant factors, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to be better.