What it means to be a gentleman in 2017 without appearing sexist
by Clare Sheng
The word “Gentleman” immediately brings to mind an old fashioned man who opens car doors and takes off his hat. In the modern age, this seems extremely outdated and against the feminist movement. But does that mean men should forget tradition, values and their manners?
In the age of political correctness, it is important to consider what it means to be a gentleman in 2017. Keep in mind that being a “gentleman” need not be targeted towards women, it is not opening the door for a woman or offering to walk on the street side of the side walk. Instead, consider how to be polite, considerate and open minded to every person, man or woman.
I interviewed two people, who I admire, for their take on this issue.
is a business owner, President of the Brisbane Junior Chamber of Commerce and the Ambassador for The Brisbane Club. His role at the Brisbane Club has been encouraging younger members to join the club, especially female members. I have always found Nathan to be extremely well-mannered, and thoughtful of others for a young person. Of course he is always impeccably dressed.
Q1 – You are a millennial. What does being a gentleman mean to you in this day and age, and how do you think it was changed in the last 20 years?
Any gentleman’s first priority should be to make anyone feel comfortable no matter who they are, their background, their life, the situation, whatever. If you don’t focus there, nothing else will fit into place.
We certainly have a tonne of reference points of how it’s changed over the last 20 years and ever further back from there. In essence it’s still the same priority of providing comfort, it’s just changed to better suit a wider and diverse audience. We have much better (not perfect) gender equality, a workforce that no longer is determined by your age or decades of experience so being able to deliver comfort to others requires more adaptability and thought.
Q2 – What are you influences in acting in a gentlemanly fashion?
My strongest influences are the surroundings I’m in constantly. I’ve seen other men (or boys if you’d prefer) act like a gentleman just to impress, like gaming the system for their benefit. This works only in the short term. All of my influences and influencers (it’s a strong mix of females and males) begin from a position of genuine words backed up by actions. Those who say what they mean and mean what they say will tend to always have the best manners amongst anyone. They know that speaking down to a waiter won’t get you anything but if you’re genuinely nice (even during a rubbish day) they’ll give you the world for nothing.
Q3- Do you think you have had to consciously change your actions around women, to as not appear to be sexist?
Depends on the person and the situation. For me, the easiest way to avoid the dreaded sexism feeling creeping into a situation is to remember that wherever you can you are to level the playing field for everyone. Where it can get tricky is when you get to know someone well enough to understand their preferences for something as simple as a kiss on the check over a handshake or a chair pulled out for a meal. I’ve had plenty of conversations with my peers of both genders and every single one of us has been in an awkward situation. The remedy is you need to be genuine if you’re extending the gentlemanly act and if you’re receiving it and you’re uncomfortable or weird about it, say so. Honestly, people want to know where the line is. Help them!
Q4 – Have you ever encountered a situation where your “gentlemanliness” was not welcomed? What would your advice be to young men/millennials on how to act?
Often. Which surprises a lot of people. Gentleman’s manners can often be misconstrued as flirting or plain old sucking up. If that’s your intention it’ll be seen a mile away and it may go towards courting your next partner as a way of showing a mannered side of yourself but if not in this situation you’ll be found out. Manners comes down to genuine intentions backed up with actions, it can’t be a show and dance number as you’ll slip up sooner or later. In the few cases where someone has been offended by my gentlemanliness a sincere apology and explanation almost always works. I still have two people who I’ve inadvertently stood up for appointments (which I kick myself for constantly) and have apologised a number of times without response so they’ll both receive a personalised apology package to hopefully repair the relationship.
Q5 – You are an ambassador of the Brisbane Club, and have been working to dispel any sexist presumptions that usually surround traditional clubs. What are some of the steps you are taking to encourage more female members?
Private member business clubs such as The Brisbane Club do carry with them an air of older and perhaps in some cases, outdated rules such as single sex dining rooms and bars. Happily I’m a member of The Brisbane Club for the opposite reason, as they have full male and female members in their own rite. At its core The Brisbane Club provides a comfortable environment for people in business to socialise and network with one another, something that is essential within the Brisbane business landscape. My tip to enticing more female members to join is simply open the doors and show them around. Very quickly the misconceptions of cigar smoked filled rooms, way too much grey hair and very little life get ripped away and replaced with inviting staff, welcoming members and food and wine to die for.
Q6 – When most men have their phone permanently attached to their hand, what are your philosophies around using the mobile phone in social situations?
Phones and technology are a constant battle in any social situation. They shouldn’t be present beyond grabbing a photo or checking to see where someone is. The less they are seen, the better. It’s easy to remind yourself if you’ve got it out too much as you’ll find conversations being had around you and not involving you and you’ll definitely know you’ve had it out too long when you get asked what you’re looking at?!? That text, email or Instagram post can wait…
On the flip side it can show that your gentlemanliness isn’t working too well and you’re proving to be a bore or worse yet an offensive so and so. You’ll need to be on the front foot with this and either engage in better conversation or ask for the persons attention over their technology.
is a construction lawyer, fashion designer and savvy business woman. She is empowering women by designing bright, feminine corporate wear and taking corporate fashion to the next level. Having worked in different industries and work environments, Laura shares with me her views on what being a gentleman means.
Q1 – How would you describe how a gentleman should act in the 21st century?
I think the 21st century gentleman is smart, confident, savvy and yet still holds the traditional values of a gentleman and what it means to be one.
Q2 – You design beautiful feminine corporate attire for other lady bosses, as well as being a lady boss yourself. You also work in a male dominated field, construction law. What is your experience on how men act around such a strong female role?
To be honest, I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded by men that love power women. They are not guided by gender and instead see drive and passion and want to work alongside that. I remember a male equity partner I used to work for always asking me “where do you get your drive, Laura?!” and he was always a huge supporter of what I was doing in business and in law. Similarly, the current firm that I consult to is all male and we all work really well together. I think when you don’t see gender and your differences and instead focus on the common goals we all have, that you get things done and done well.
Q3 – Have you ever felt men being patronising disguised as being gentlemanly?
Yes, more so in a social scene. It’s in their tone when they speak down to you, but I’m not sure they are even convincing themselves that they are gentlemen.
Q4 – What are some aspects that you would want to see go in being an old fashioned gentleman?
Call me old fashioned, but I love when a man still holds the elevator for me. I don’t mind “the gentleman”, it’s all about their intentions and the way they convey themselves. If you are being patronising, it’s never going to be perceived that you are trying to be a gentleman. I personally don’t think anything needs to “go” but, that said, I do like to pay my own way and am all for equality in that regard.
Q5 – What are some aspects that you want to see stay?
Sometimes it makes your day when a man holds the door for you, or helps you pick something heavy up that you’ve dropped. Yes, I probably just need to go to the gym to get more muscles! But I think it’s a nice courtesy and I would feel the same way if a woman had helped me on the street too. It’s about being courteous and I think we need more of that in the world. It’s the little things that count and can put a smile on your face in the day-to-day grind.
Q6 – You have mentioned that you have clients buying your pieces for their wife, would you want your partner doing that for you?
He does have good taste! But not necessarily. I do think it’s extremely thoughtful though when men pop in store to purchase something for their wife because they are out of town on business or because she has had a bad day. I also have clients that have purchased personal shopping nights for their wives as they understand how busy they are and how hard they find it to shop. I certainly wouldn’t say no to the offer, as it comes back to being a thoughtful gesture more than anything. It’s not controlling, it’s just saying “I thought of you”.