Friday, 15 March 2013

What is a Gentleman?

So far I have two submissions from Eavesdroppers for our St. Joseph's Day Eavesdropper special.  I hope lots of Eavesdroppers drop in for that, for I am sure we would all enjoy reading their comments in the combox. They will be invited to comment on anything, and indeed, they will be invited to ask readers questions, which I hope you girls will answer respectfully and in a spirit of Christian charity.

Today's topic is about gentlemen, which presumably nice young Catholic Single men and other Single men of good will wish to be. Of course, this is presuming a lot, as maybe they would rather slay the men and steal the horses and have the women flee before them, as was reputedly Genghis Khan's life goal. I don't see how this is compatible with Christian civilization, however.

I know a number of men who act as though they would love to be Genghis Khan but have been robbed of the privilege by feminism. However, I think it is the fifty year old blame of feminism that has inspired their inner Genghisism. One extreme--trying to demasculinize men--has set up another extreme--Inner Genghis.  The female broach of all men-only spaces has led to the creation of spaces on the internet that no woman who cares for her sanity would care to go. 

And this is too bad. There were some serious twentieth century bars to female flourishing that needed to come down, but this was not really supposed to happen at the expense of male flourishing. Better education for girls was not supposed to mean reading problems for boys, or boys being expected to act like girls. However, this has happened, and I think it is unfair. I feel particularly sad for men who were raised almost entirely by women and never had organized all-boy time or places, e.g. boys' schools, boys' clubs, boys' choirs, boys' sports. No wonder there's a manosphere.  

Happily, instead of writing misogynist screeds, many men are fighting back against the feminization of men by adopting an interest in the traditional pursuits, dress and habits of the men who flourished before 1963. And one of the better websites about reclaiming manliness is, of course, The Art of Manliness, which should be as much fun for women to read as Seraphic Singles is for men. All kinds of mysteries are explained and new ones crop up, e.g. why do men get so excited about the weirdest things? 

This is wonderful, but what would not be wonderful would be a return to the masculine pleasures of the past without taking on the masculine responsibilities towards women and children. I think there is a particular danger of this in the United Kingdom where there was a tradition of whole classes of men, e.g. intellectuals and the clergy, not really liking women all that much in the first place, or pretending that they didn't to foster masculine bonhomie. How sad if that gets resurrected instead of the traditional sense that men are called to protect women and children. 

A man who makes women and children feel respected and cherished is to my mind a true gentleman. It's not clothing, though of course a man's clothing can show respect both for himself and for those who have to look at him. It's certainly not tobacco although tobacco, which many women find very unpleasant, provides men with the opportunity to say, "Do you mind if I smoke?"--a signal that he thinks of others.

I had a conversation the other day in which I made the mistake of using the phrase "male social privilege." Saying "male social privilege" can be like waving one's lacy handkerchief at a bull, and at once I was challenged to give an example.

"Men are stronger than women," I said flatly.

"That's not social," said my critic, but subsided.  

But it is social. Because men are stronger than women, men can stroll home from a party after dark, semi-alert for ruffians, but secure in the knowledge that ruffians attack but rarely. But because women are weaker than men, women cannot stroll home from a party after dark secure in the knowledge that ruffians attack but rarely, because if a ruffian did attack, she would be toast. When it comes to matters of life and death, physical strength and personal safety, women are still at a disadvantage.

This is why a true gentleman is the man who sees that a female friend gets home safely. By his mere presence, he provides safety and also rights an glaring injustice: that women must be afraid where men are not.*  

Additional thoughts: God makes men bigger than women so that men will feel protective of women, and God makes children grow taller than their mothers so the mothers can relax and let go. It's not strength and size that make men manly, but how they use that strength and size in service to others. The same goes for women. It's not our softness and size that make us womanly, but how we use our softness and size in service to others.

I wish I could run these thoughts past Saint Edith Stein. (Sigh!)

*Exonerating circumstance: Obviously a man on crutches or a man who is otherwise impaired is exempt from any seeing-female-friends-home duty.


MaryJane said...

I distinctly remember a lightbulb moment on this issue. One night freshman year of college, I had stayed up quite late chatting with a male friend who offered to walk me home to my dorm across campus. Since we had practically no ruffians around, and still being young enough to want to prove myself a "capable woman," I said somewhat defensively, "you really don't have to. I can walk myself home!" To which my friend replied gently, "I know. But I'd like to."

It was a real turning point for me in no longer protesting kind help from gentleman friends, and a line I strongly suggest that other men use the next time some girl tells them that she can open the door for herself.

Seraphic said...

Yes, I really wish young women would stop their short-sighted "I am womyn hear me roar" routines when men offer them a kindness. It makes the men think twice about offering their help to women again, and let's face it, we do need their help quite a lot of the time. And even when we don't need it, it can be very pleasant.

There are times when a man probably deserves to be upbraided, but when he is offering a sincere kindness or gesture of respect is never that time!!!! AAAAAAAH!

Bernadette said...

A while ago I decided to make a conscious effort, whenever a man of any age held a door open for me, to look him in the eye, smile, and say "Thank you!" Any time we have a chance to offer positive reinforcement for everyday kindness, I figure we should. Plus, it amuses me very much when they sometimes are so startled at being thanked.

Mena said...

Bernadette, I do the same thing. They're offering a courtesy, and courtesy is in short supply these days - let's make it known that it is appreciated!
As a side note, when I moved to the big cowboy-ish city on the prairies from the big sophisticated city by the ocean, I was surprised to find that the men here - except the Chinese ones, for some reason - always let women enter and exit the elevators before them. It's a small thing in a way, but at the same time a big thing. Big enough that once I got used to it (though I still, after six years of this, murmur "thank you" as they stand back to let me get on and off), I started to find the lack of such courtesy from the Asian men not only noticeable but offensive. Odd. I suppose chivalry's not a done thing in China?

Mena said...

Hmm... I shouldn't have used the word "Asian" above, as the lack of courtesy to women seems to be confined to the Chinese men, not men from all of Asia. Might tie in to the phenomenon Seraphic mentioned the other day, of the nasty attitude toward single women past a certain age, and the "little emperor" syndrome. Could it be that this all at least partly a result of decades of the one-child policy?

Seraphic said...

No clue. Perhaps a Chinese reader or a reader in China would be able to fill us in. Chivalry as we know it is kind of a European-origin thing. Maybe Chinese men have different ways of showing respect to women, and the ones you share elevators with have not yet cottoned on to local customs.

Jam said...

I... have no opinions about deriving behavior from average physical differences I guess...

However, there is one un-gentlemanly trait I see too often among young men of the aspiring gentleman set and that is making cracks about a woman's appearance/attractiveness. For instance, calling a liberal woman politician fat; or saying an actress advocating "choice" wears too much makeup and dresses like a slut. Little comments like, "I don't know why she's so eager to get the government to pay for her birth control, what man would want to sleep with her?"

This kind of thing is not gentlemanly, much less virtuous or justified. (1) Making comments about a woman's appearance is particularly uncouth. Any man who thinks that old-fashioned manners are something to be valued and emulated should know this basic, basic rule. (2) It's so patently stupid to even imply that everyone on your side is attractive, and everyone on the other side isn't, that I won't even spell it out. (3) It does not bespeak great respect for women as *persons* with intellect and reason and dignity, to respond to a woman's ideas (however poorly thought out) with criticism about her looks. Whether or not a woman is sexually attractive to you or to anybody is irrelevant to assessing her ideas. (4) Whether or not a woman behaves, looks, dresses, or otherwise presents herself as a "lady" does not change the acceptable range of responses to her. A gentleman, as we all learned from "My Fair Lady," is a man who treats every woman like a lady. What was that thing about turning cheeks?

It is absolutely true that the Christian view of the person gives a woman far more dignity and freedom than our modern "pro-choice" "pro-sex" feminism. 100%. But this kind of thinking/talk runs contrary to respect for women; and frankly, it instantly invalidates the individual's claim to have that kind of respect.

Sorry for the rant. To circle back around: I think of "gentleman" as a kind of (small-L) liberal idea. It's a set of behaviors and standards that people (in theory) could agree to regardless of particular religious/political affiliation. I tend to think we ought to have our eyes on the prize (virtue) rather than fiddling around too much with what's essentially etiquette; but I will absolutely take etiquette, and it makes a good foundation if nothing else.

Anonymous said...

I was raised in a traditional Catholic home with very traditional gender specific roles. Dad made a living, did work around the yard, and household repairs. Mom stayed at home, did ALL the housework, and was expected by Dad to do ALL the housework and most of the child rearing. In my house, women were treated as inferior to men. Nothing a woman said or did was worth a man's time. She was never thanked or complimented. Talk among the men often involved calling this woman a "dog" or that woman "ugly." I was told on a daily basis (through words and actions)I was fat and annoying and that my opinion didn't matter. This resulted in me growing up (despite frequently hearing from people outside of my family how beautiful and wonderful I was) to believe I was fat, ugly, and a waste of any man's time. Though I am now in young adulthood and have been able to recognize that these are all complete lies, I still struggle with feeling comfortable around men. Unfortunately, history often tells us that men throughout all of time have more often than not viewed and treated women in this way. I'm not a man hater. I just think these matters are a consequence of original sin. The only men I have known to truly treat women in a sincere and gentlemanly fashion are those who are devoted to prayer and seeking a life of holiness.

Seraphic said...

I am moved by Anonymous' comment, so I will not erase it. (But everyone else tempted to be anonymous do review the combox rules. I usually erase anonymous comments.)

I'm sorry that's how things were in your house, Anonymous. In my house, women were never, ever treated as inferior to men. In history, well, I think there were different kinds of families then, just as there are different kinds of families now.

If you find your past getting in the way of your happiness today, I recommend chatting with a counsellor. You may need a bit of mental adjustment and a few psychological tools to avoid ever being involved with the kind of men you grew up with again.

Jam, men have no business making remarks like that at all, let alone in front of women. Rush Limbaugh's style is really not worth emulating in social life.

american (not) in deutschland said...

Ugh, "what male social privilege?" indeed.

Jam, I like your post, but the very idea that "not insulting womens' appearance" takes that much argument to defend says a lot.

رشاد بن ابو رشاد said...

Since you invite us guys in the eves to comment, I'll just say that I think the best rule of thumb in regards chivalry - as with all human interaction - is to try and not be a jack*ss. I think the heart of politeness is kindness, and kindness is all about the golden rule..


Feminism and and the revolution of mores (eg, obsolescence of chivalry) that has accompanied it, is in dialectical terms the result of technological revolution. The industrial and information revolutions, the invention of washing machines, tampax, hormonal birth control and "safe" abortion, etc. The capitalist loves the effect that putting women to work has on the wage market, and the gnostic loves how these trends and tools drive us toward androgyny and the annihilation of natural differences and restraints.

Capitalistic materialism and gnosticism are now the two great threats to the Catholic Faith, by the way. So on that score we who love and embrace that Faith have every obligation to be reactionaries, but in an intelligent and clever radical fashion that will keep us from being mere conservatives. In this immediate milieu I don't think there is much worthy for us to conserve, really, and the word "conservative" has been hijacked and very ill used.

We all are left holding shards. It's not an easy time to be alive, in that sense, but I think that things are starting to work themselves out and settle after all the cultural upheaval of the past century. We'll figure out how to re-formulate tradition in ways that work for us all.. I sense sanity returning..

Well. I just waxed much too philosophical. I guess I'll finish by saying that I am hopeful, and that I like this blog. You ladies are a good read, and advance my sympathy and understanding. Thank you, especially Seraphim.

You want a question. I'll rise to that lure:

We guys are repeatedly told women are the same as us, and we are supposed to treat women the same as men, but at the same time are admonished that women need to help take back the night and that we really take the word 'no' seriously (etc.) - all of which is kind of confusing..

What is that you most want us to do, to improve relations between men and women? What is the biggest issue, and how can we address it, to improve things? Nuts and bolts. What's really wrong, and what do we do to fix it?

Sarah said...

I just don't get what's so confusing about women having equal social, political and economic opportunities and choices, while still acknowledging that she is a woman and is actually different from men. I would say that even the staunchest third wave feminists would say that they don't mean they want to be TREATED like a man. They want to have the same opportunities as men.

Equating women receiving the same opportunities as men and asking for men to treat women AS IF THEY ARE men is part of the problem and part of the reason feminism is misunderstood. And I REALLY don't understand how the "no" to sex thing is confusing... Are men allowed to be raped even if they say no, or what?

Also, to reiterate what Jam said, I've also noticed that many of the men who strive for "chivalry" only strive for chivalry towards the women they believe "count," as in, the attractive, sweet ones.

I am somewhat ambivalent on the topic of chivalry, though. I am always impressed by a gesture of etiquette, but not because of any ideology of it. If I am being honest, I can't think of any other reason for me (or anyone else) to be particularly impressed by male chivalry except because I am a straight woman who biologically seeks a man who would physically and emotionally care for me. Plus, social conditioning to think that a man who goes out of his way will respect me.

رشاد بن ابو رشاد said...

My only point in bringing up the no thing, and the safety at night thing, is to say that the ethos of chivalry is predicated on belief in women's vulnerability to male strength and propensity to violence. Men have to treat women differently because of this. It's about fairness and - in my view - politesse and kindness.

The old ethos also included chaperoning women, and other rules that prevent coed mixing without supervision of vested adults. As I was saying our new world is a creation of things like birth control, which releases us from some of the "worst consequences" of fornication, which was the main *practical* reason the old ethics were enforced. Now, sexual assault and date rape are the two of the only significant remaining barriers to the true "liberation" of women, the last things that prevent women from being as "free as men." I *do not* mean to imply that there is any ambiguity in my mind the "no means no" when it comes to physical intimacy. Nor do I think the fact that many women feel insecure walking alone after dark is at all acceptable. I only wonder what the solution to these problems are, human beings - men, especially - being what we are.

Chivalry gave a clear answer: women need to be chaperoned and protected by men from other men. That's unacceptable now, in light of feminist mores. I ask above, is there another solution apart from eventually neutering, which is to say effectively abolishing, men and masculinity, because they are so dangerous?

That, I think, is the implicit (usually, but not always unstated) goal of radical feminists. See S. Firestone, who typifies this logic, which is inherently gnostic in its implications - such radical Feminism is predicated on trans-humanism, transcendence of (human) nature through technological revolution..

But I am again waxing way too philosophic, maybe..?

In practical terms, what do I do - 6' 2" 230lbs - to make women who do not know me feel secure around me?

That right there is to my mind a major question. How do we get to know one another if we do not trust one another?

Seraphic said...

Our eavesdropper has jumped the gun. As a matter of fact, it is not time for eavesdroppers to chime in until Saint Joseph's Day (March 19). If eavesdroppers have specific questions they'd like me to address on Saint Joseph's Day, please send me an email.

Seraphic said...

But I will address the last question, which I find very interesting.

Many women are going to be made nervous by a 6'2", 230 lb (104 kg) stranger after dark on the street or approaching them somewhere when they are waiting for a friend (unless he's the waiter). They are going to be less nervous if they are at a big group meeting, or Mass, or some other public event. But even then the absolute best way to meet women is to ask someone they know to introduce you to them.

As for on the street, clothes make the man. To be honest, I wouldn't be made nervous by a big guy with short hair and a suit and tie, or a jacket and tie, whereas I might feel nervous around a guy with long hair (or a shaved head), a leather jacket, T-shirt and jeans, to say nothing of athletic wear. (In Scotland. In Canada, it takes a lot to make me nervous.)

It's probably very unfair (as I do a thought experiment) that if I were walking through Edinburgh's New Town by myself after dark that I wouldn't feel a qualm about the pin-striped guy with the umbrella, whereas my heart would start to race if a guy in sloppy clothes slouched towards me. However...

Jam said...

Too many men (of an orthodox/conservative bent) are too confident that they know what feminism is and where it came from (and when). Too many people (generally) accept that the gender and queer theory we see today is the "true" motive of feminism "all along" just now coming to the surface.

I think there are two things to be done in response to the mess. First, is to understand, in a very concrete way, that human societies have not been just to women and have not treated them with their rightful dignity and respect. I hear too many Catholics say things like "my gran was never oppressed! I don't know what these feminists are complaining about!" We are sinful humans; we live in sinful societies; and we need to know enough to be sincere when we say, Society (at any point in time) is not a guide for right behavior. In particular, I think we need to recognize that men's chastity and self-control has often been disregarded. My point here is that feminism emerged out of legitimate critiques. This isn't to say that every proposed solution or explanation is legitimate by any means. But we can't hope to figure out "men and women" for the future if we don't truly understand what has happened in the past, or if we don't recognize the wrongs happening around us. To echo American's comment above, why on earth should anyone feel justified attacking a woman's looks? Second, is to think thoroughly and meditate on the question, What is God's intention with regard to the sexes? What is the Truth about sex and gender? He should be our reference point, not Victorian England, or interwar Paris, or 13th century Italy, or what have you. What this all boils down to is, if we want real lasting solutions, it doesn't do to just limit ourselves to "it used to be x and now it's y, so how do we get x back?" I think people know this, and I don't think the historicising impulse is necessarily intentional/conscious, but we need to be able to say with conviction and familiarity with the facts that our society's ideas about women are broken and have been broken, albeit in a different way and degree.

My two cents.

Seraphic said...

That was very well articulated. Thank you!

MaryJane said...

As Christians we obviously need to oppose a materialistic worldview, but I do want to say that any serious study of history will show that as of right now, capitalism has given and is giving women more opportunities for growth and independence (in a good way) than any other economic system. (I leave aside the agrarian society of the high middle ages, to which I think it is impossible to return.)

There are plenty of places where women still struggle to get an education or run businesses *simply because they are women* - these tend not to be countries with a free market economy.

Of course, who knows what kind of markets may emerge in the future.

{Probably no one is interested in this, and I don't blame them, but it didn't seem right not to stick up for a system that has led to such wonderful opportunities for women. (Which of course is an entirely different question from what people do with those opportunities.)}

Seraphic said...

Don't worry. There is to my knowledge at least one other reader who is all about free market economy.

american (not) in deutschland said...

I get what is being said about the deeply undesirable "trans-human" autonomy that seems to be the goal of queer theorists. But I would ask you to read this again carefully:

(Remember, the imbalance of power mentioned was a man's *physical* power and greater ability to commit sexual violence.)

"Chivalry gave a clear answer: women need to be chaperoned and protected by men from other men. That's unacceptable now, in light of feminist mores. I ask above, is there another solution apart from eventually neutering, which is to say effectively abolishing, men and masculinity, because they are so dangerous? "

You have set up a dichotomy whereby "neutering" and "abolishing masculinity" is somehow the feared outcome of "preventing rape." I ask you if there is not a better choice of roles for men than (a) dutifully protecting women or (b) raping them.

"Men being what they are" (ie., rapists) is actually not that inevitable of a situation. Many, many acts of violence used to be socially thinkable in a way that they are not now. The reason why they are not is because of years -- centuries -- of what is essentially social rewiring. So basically: men can change.

That men *haven't* changed, perhaps, is evidence that there are not many incentives for them to do so, or that there are many incentives for them to continue to exert the kind of control and abuse that benefits them psychologically, or however you want to interpret the way that sin is at work in the lives of young men who kidnap and rape their ex-girlfriends as "punishment", or what prompts men to sidle up to girls on buses and grope them.

I think Jam was right on. So many otherwise well-intentioned conservative men don't ever seem to get that feminism is responsible for positive experiences and ways of life *for the conservative women* they talk to, and indeed, might not be talking to at all (about serious topics) if not for feminism.

I used to be a total "anti-feminist" little teenage girl with all these arguments (mostly articulated by the men whose books I read...) about how the overall narrative was that things have gone Dreadfully Wrong. There was a point where I realized that I was able to engage in the conversation in a university and in the respectful hearing of men *because* of the terrible descent into less structured gender roles. (For some VERY conservative men, women having the conversation might not be anything like a positive development, but the point is that FOR WOMEN, it is.)

I'm glad that you are willing to ask us questions, and I hope you keep on the journey of trying to find out the answer. For myself, I appreciate male protection because of the way things are, but that doesn't make the need for male protection any less of a power imbalance.

رشاد بن ابو رشاد said...

American not in bocheland,

First, I am a feminist. A patriarchal pro-life feminist. I want women to triumph and flourish in every way possible, within the bonds of love and sanity alone. I do not minimize the many legitimate and needed accomplishments and goals of the feminist movement. I applaud and actively support them. I am, by the way, no conservative. I am a Catholic communitarian and a radical, an anti-liberal (anti-libertarian) and economic leftist. I have traditional tastes, but I a not interested in making tradition into a fetish, especially not in religion.

When it comes to sexual violence there is no a or b. For men as individuals there is no choice. Sexual violence is criminal and sinful. Point final. No further discussion necessary. For men and humanity as a species, rape is simply something that some men do, and will never stop doing. We are fallen. Men will sin. Some will commit heinous sins.

That's human nature, it will not change naturally.

That reality used to be understood. (don't try to immanentize the eschaton, yada yada) Now, we've been conditioned to expect - and believe it possible - to eradicate sexual violence altogether.

I'm a veteran. I noticed with interest this past week that Leon Panetta came out and said that the 3,000 sexual assaults reported last year were only the tip of the iceberg. He said he believed that the true figure was more like 19,000. One in three military women will be assaulted during their careers.

They went ahead and authorized women for combat roles anyway, a couple months ago. Think about that.

Let me tell you something. This is a big deal. It's the last institution, other than the Church, that recognized human nature.

Imagine you are at a FOB in the middle of the Kush or Arabian desert. It's 50 meters sq. Everyone lives in one room, like Trappists. Deployments last 3 months or more. Guys have been deployed like this for as long as a year. 30 20 something guys, testosterone ridden monsters. It's like a hard core camping trip, with minimal comfort, hygiene and boring food. Then, they start shooting at you trying to kill you. Exterminate you with high explosives and AK's.

They want - no., sorry - are *going to* - put women in the middle of that. It's absolutely *insane.*

I really have no ax to grind anymore. I want everyone to be happy.

The little I know about being a man tells me that there is something sacred about it. Our traditions honor that holiness. The military - war especially - is maybe the one place were normal hetro guys can unambiguously love one another without the threat of having that love be misunderstood. Non-sexualized love. We become brothers.

It does matter if you are the one woman in 20 that could physically cope with that life. You do not belong there. Period. That is all.

If you go, you will be in extreme danger. Vulnerable in ways I am not, because of your femininity.

This culture is bent on eradicating that taboo. The logic of open homosexuals serving is the same. They will destroy the esprit de corp and corrupt the erotically disinterested nature of the relationships between the men in the units involved. That too is a tragedy.

I'm not Robert Bly. I have no systematic gender theory to give you. I can only tell you that something very wicked this way comes, and that our culture has shot the pooch on sexuality. Things like the all male combat unit and the male priesthood matter. We need to protect them, not just for the sake of men, but women, too.

See, in the end I too am a victim of the "Don Draper" and fratboy patriarchy that 1st and 2nd wave feminists dismantled. Because I suffer from the confusion and mistrust just like you do.

Another reason I'll call myself feminist, because I want to address the confusion as well as I can. I'll open myself to that critique, and listen. I mean., let's make it our common project.

Seraphic said...

Thank you, Arabic Script, for your remarks. However, I have a German readership, and I will not permit the word "boche" to appear on my blog in future.

Seraphic said...

By the way, I agree in the main with what you have said. I think it is insane to put women in combat, and I do not think it is possible to eradicate rape, just as it is not possible to eradicate murder. The best we can do is to create societies in which even fewer men wish to rape and to better protect women against rape. And, sadly, this means advising women not to be over-tempted by the pleasures of intoxication, even if their male friends have a delightful time getting intoxicated.

MaryJane said...

I too want to chime in and say that I am very grateful for some of the legacy of feminism (e.g. the right to vote) but very much opposed to women in combat. In fact, I don't really know any women who are in favor of women going into combat, even if they are in favor of women in the military in general (about which I have mixed feelings.)

I tend to think the that question of "violence toward women" and "male protection" is less relevant in peaceful civilian life, where it really amounts to men walking women home after dark. {Extenuating circumstances aside, of course.}
Since most of us reading this blog seem to be in peaceful civilian life, the issues are a little bit different. Yes, men only in combat, yes men only as priests, but regular stuff like careers and driving cars and voting? Men and women both engaging in these tasks is not really a big deal. Two people can do the same task but bring something very different to their ways of doing it: it's not androgyny, it's complementarity.

For further reading on the Church's perspective, I highly recommend the CDF's Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and the World. (online at

MaryJane said...

Sorry, I just realized I wasn't supposed to comment until tomorrow! I shall read in silence for the rest of the day. :)