It’s Women’s History Month, sisters, but you wouldn’t know it based on one women’s group’s plans. The Network of Enlightened Women, a conservative group, is hosting its annual Gentleman’s Showcase on college campuses during the month of March. The Gentleman’s Showcase seeks to honor young men who “behave like gentlemen” based on a set of criteria — both general and specific — explained on NEW’s web site. Young men have been nominated in the past by women because they carried groceries, shoveled snow, opened doors and other so-called “gentlemanly” behavior. There is no prize, per se, but the accolades of conservative women everywhere!
While I don’t know why NEW has to co-opt Women’s History Month for their Gentleman’s Showcase, nor do I agree that traditional gender roles should be enforced on anyone, I don’t inherently think the idea of positively acknowledging “nice guys” on college campuses is a terrible idea. NEW is an anti-feminist group in the sense that it seems to believe gender roles should be dictated for all: men should act one way just because they should and women should act another way just because they should. NEW laments the number of “ladies” and “gentlemen” on campuses these days — an “endangered species,” they call it — and the lack of respect they see between the sexes, based on their definition of what “respect” means. NEW explains:
“The Gentlemen’s Showcase seeks to restore dignity and respect between the sexes by honoring and recognizing gentleman. Gentlemanly behavior is rarely valued or deemed necessary. In turn, the respect for femininity is deteriorating. This demise of chivalry doesn’t promote equality between the sexes. Rather, it breeds mutual disrespect. But the women of NeW believe that gentlemen still do exist on college campuses, and we want to honor those that stand against cultural norms and demonstrate gentlemanly behavior. A gentleman is someone who makes everyone feel comfortable no matter the situation.”
Here’s a list of qualities befitting a gentlemen, based on what has earned a young man a place in the Gentleman’s Showcase in years’ past:
- A gentleman opens your door for you, without expecting anything in return.
- A gentleman shovels his neighbor’s car out of the snow.
- A gentleman helps an older woman carry her groceries.
- A gentleman comes alongside you as a leader, not to demand submission, but to earn respect by giving love.
- A gentleman treats you like the lady you are.
- A gentleman is confident, but not conceited.
In an article in the conservative online newspaper The Daily Caller, the uber-conservative and anti-feminist Conservative Women for America praises the Gentlemen’s Showcase. “Concerned Women for America supports young women in their search for men deserving of their love, respect and admiration,” said CEO Penny Nance. “I also believe that chivalry is alive as long as we as women demand it and settle for nothing less.”
As many problems as I have with anti-feminist women’s groups, I can appreciate, in a sense, what they’re getting at with the Gentlemen’s Showcase. The media can be so focused on hookup culture, frat parties, frat boys and “Jersey Shore”-style machismo. I’m no psychologist, but generally I think praising good behavior encourages more good behavior. In that sense, there’s nothing wrong with praising college boys who have manners. (Obviously, there is nothing wrong with praising college girls who have manners, either, though if someone were to create a “Ladies’ Showcase,” I’d probably assume it was some porno thing, to be honest.)
The problem is what “chivalry” and “being a gentleman” really means and whether those gender roles themselves should be encouraged. We’ve debated what chivalry means on The Frisky before, especially after an essay I wrote praising my chivalrous ex-boyfriend for treating me in such a way that caused me to finally appreciate chivalry. I wrote that I appreciated being treated chivalrously in a romantic relationship because it made me feel that the guy was taking the time to make an extra effort to be considerate of me. It also showed he was trying to “take care of me,” in a sense, which is something I am realizing that I want from a life partner. I don’t need all men to meet my needs that way, but I appreciate it if my romantic partner does. Personally, I’m OK with traditional gender roles between me and a guy — although obviously there’s a lot of nuances, concessions, and discussion to be had about them for each couple invidually.
In non-romantic relationships, though, traditional gender roles shouldn’t be enforced just because. What works for me is not necessarily going to be what works for you. Forcing them, in fact, is straight up sexist. Forcing basic manners and considerate behavior (respect) is one thing, but chivalry does not equal respect. It’s misguided to teach or encourage all men to adhere to traditional gender roles — being “a leader,” for instance — just because they’re men. Some men are not leaders. Some women are leaders. Society needs to allow for all of those equations, rather than assuming someone will be good at fulfilling a role just because of what’s between his legs.
To this end, the ultimate problem I have with the Gentleman’s Showcase is the idea that there’s only one kind of respect women desire, which is a more conservative, anti-feminist definition of a man’s helpmate. But I want a guy who respects me enough to want for me what I want for myself, regardless of what that is. I personally am OK with being in a relationship with a dominant guy who is chivalrous and a gentleman and all that stuff. But if I wasn’t into that — if I was the dominant woman looking for a submissisve guy, for instance — I would want to be respected for that choice.
I’m wary of a conservative women’s group that is teaching men that they should treat women with respect if the concept of respect doesn’t recognize this. As I once wrote, “Teach men and boys to be feminists who believe women and girls should be treated with respect in all areas of life.”