10 August 2011

Being Ungentlemanly

A co-worker today described me as “a well groomed gentleman”. I very nearly beat her about the head with the toner cartridge I was carrying for her. The very cheek of the woman.

I didn’t mind so much being called well groomed, although she went on to qualify that remark by saying she was impressed by the fact that I had ironed my shirt, despite the fact that I hadn’t. I believe I did own an iron at one point. Last time I saw it was about seven years ago in Brisbane.

No, my beef was with being called a gentleman. I’m sure she meant well enough by it, but it’s one of those words that never fails to get my hackles up. I can not and will not be classified as such.

“Oh Garry, whatever could you mean by that?” asks an imposing woman in a floral dress holding a plate of biscuits. “How could you be opposed to gentlemanliness?”

To be honest, I do find this state of affairs a little disconcerting. I hadn’t realised there was an anthropomorphic projection of polite society watching over my shoulder, and I’m buggered if I know where she came from. Doesn’t she know it’s bad manners to sneak up on a man when he’s blogging? Good biscuits but.

Obviously it all comes down to definitions, and on that point most people I talk to about this end up disqualifying themselves from the conversation. As I see it, you’re only allowed to talk to me about gentlemanliness if you can define it without using the words “door,” “seat” or “bus”. You would be surprised how many people fail at this, which actually speaks to the heart of the problem more directly than you might think. If a gentleman is defined simply as “someone (presumably a man) who opens doors for ladies and offers them his seat on a bus” then it’s not worth much, is it? Anyone can open a door. So can velociraptors. What’s your point?

“No no no,” says Biscuit Lady, “it’s not just that. It’s about being polite, and showing respect. Being courteous.”

Baloney! Baloney I say! That’s just another slightly more convoluted way of classifying a man by what he does, not who he is. A man may be as well spoken, sophisticated and ‘gentle’ as can be, and still be a complete creep. I’ve heard men speak eloquently and graciously about how they believe the aboriginal race to be inferior, how we ought to just ban Islam outright and how homeless folk on the street really only have themselves to blame, all to the supportive nods and smiles of the ‘gentlemen’ around them. You can keep that, and keep it as far away from me as you can.

So what is a gentleman, really?

A wise man (I think it was Zorro) once said “A nobleman is nothing but a man who says one thing and thinks another”. I think that’s a little closer to the truth than the bus thing, but I’m going to go out on a limb and propose my own working definition. To me, a gentleman is a man who fulfils all the expectations that society makes of him. That sounds like a noble aim, until you start to look under the rugs and behind the cupboards of the society that’s making the expectations. The biscuits may taste delicious at first, but in the end they have a habit of rotting your teeth, turning your stomach and dislocating your shoulder.

Basically, a gentleman is man who does as he’s told.

I, on the other hand, aspire to be a man who tells society where to get off (Yep, that means you Biscuit Lady) and what it can do with its expectations. If that means I don’t get an invitation to your daughter’s coming out party, then so be it. I know who I am and who I am not (so does she, come to that) regardless of whether I fit your preferred mould. And if you think I’m going to do as I’m told by some old bat who isn’t even really there, then you’ve got another thing coming.

Classify that, bitch (you can leave the biscuits, though)!

Meanwhile, back in reality (or what passes for it in my life) the whole revolution is actually a lot less rebellious than it sounds. I’m not going to go around refusing to lift, open or carry things, but if I do open a door for you, it’s not because I’ve been taught I have to; I honestly believe I don’t have to. If I open a door for you, it’s because I choose to, which actually makes it much more meaningful than anything a gentleman could possibly conceptualise, let alone sneer at.

Besides which, I catch busses so rarely these days that it doesn’t really matter. But just be aware that if you call me a gentleman as you sit in my seat, there’s a reasonable chance that I’ll take it back again.

Make of that what you will.




Garry with 2 Rs
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