There’s a term that should be removed from the current vernacular on sexual harassment, sexual misconduct and sexual abuse. It’s a word pushed into some kind of placebo to assuage these issues, but as long as we keep using it we will not make any progress on the underlying gender issue of equality. That term is gentleman.
It’s origins come from identifying a male who was born of a good family from one who was born of royalty. It was later attributed with honor, chivalry, and courtesy. I’m not arguing that these traits are far gone; I am surrounded by a few honorable, chivalrous, and kind men, most of which are relations within good families.
Enter Hefner. There are others, I’m know, but Playboy was the mainstream impetus for gentlemen’s shift in meaning. Along with the sexual revolution, it’s my opinion that Playboy created a culture of womanizing, and not just in its centerfolds – it introduced the notion that a man could be both simultaneously lascivious and chivalrous.
And we embraced that. It was a sin license, a get-out-of-jail-free card that empowered narcissism now at pandemic levels. Go to any gentleman’s club for evidence. I’m just guessing here, having never proven that hypothesis. But, I have the same evidence in online forums for off-roading, in the locker room at the rec center, in my department where I teach, and in the White House. Yes, Bill Clinton was an abuser, but he was admired under the new definition of gentleman more than he was condemned. Nothing has changed for 45.
The greatest barrier to gender equality is not that the feminine has less consideration in contributing to society. As long as women are considered possessions, equality will remain elusive.
The woman to whom I am married is a mouthful compared to my wife. Poetry, prose and motion pictures have long infiltrated all genders with the notion that when one is betrothed (or simply bedded) there’s been a shift of title. You belong to me. My heart belongs to you. Not unless I’ve checked the organ donor box and you’re its transplant recipient. We do this with well-behaved kids as well; possessions of progeny. But, I’m getting away from my point.
Aside from matrimonial possession, there’s another more pervasive and perverse ownership that has to do with territory, not the real estate kind, the flesh kind, the kind that’s ransomed in the quid pro quo. It’s in the power differential (double entendre intended) where possession inundates space and bodies. Narcissists don’t see women as whole beings, they see them as parts, parts that belong to them in exchange for whatever favors that have been offered, like just the “gentleman’s” presence. While porn is responsible for reducing women (and men) to not even the sum of their parts, we are saturated with less objectionable and more ubiquitous images laced through social media in click bait that continue to disconnect women from equality.
It’s a machine that capitalizes on titillating for a click while entrenching lascivious attitudes as a-okay while depreciating women. Recognizing this manipulation is a step in the right direction of restoring chivalry and consideration.
It is not being a gentleman, at least not in its current definition. Ironically, there isn’t a label we can all get behind in terms of defining a man who has the ability to honor equality.