When issues pertaining to the treatment of women in our society arise, I have noticed that conservotrad Catholics often say that they are/will raise their sons to be “gentlemen.” The assumption is that traditional “gentlemen” know how to treat women right, unlike the uncouth “bros” fostered by the libertine hook-up culture. Yet, in practice, there is really not much difference between a gentleman and a bro.
As I mentioned in a previous post (https://extraecclesiamestlibertas.wordpress.com/2014/12/31/the-problem-modesty/), gentlemanly behavior only refers to a man’s public persona and only to certain types of women. The dashing Southern cavalier, so beloved of works like Gone With the Wind and The Birth of a Nation, more often than not kept one or more black females slaves as mistresses/sex slaves, and staffed the “Big House” with the children born from these unions. Forcing your bi-racial children to be house slaves in full view of your “legitimate family” is actually pretty brazen, now that I think about it, but I guess as long as you don’t publicly acknowledge that they’re yours, the facade can still be maintained. Another, less racially charged example, can be found in King Edward VII of Great Britain, who had many mistresses and was a fan of the Paris brothel scene, but was still seen as a “gentleman” by his subjects and British aristocratic society.
Gentlemanly behavior is not extended to all types of women. Only “respectable women” get the privilege of being treated as “ladies,” whereas women who are disadvantaged in some way (e.g., lower class, a prostitute, from another ethnic group) are merely “females” that can be used and abused at will. However, the rationale for being treated “like a lady” assumes that “respectable women” are weak, irrational creatures who cannot make their own decisions and must be put up on a pedestal to protect them from the vicissitudes of the cruel outside world. A gentleman acts the way he does towards a lady out of condescension to a “weaker vessel,” not because he respects her an an equal who just happens to be of a different sex.
That a man can appear to be a gentleman in the street and a bro in private shouldn’t come as a surprise, since all of us have different personas in different social situations. While it may be considerate for a man to open a door for a woman, merely being polite isn’t the same as seeing her as a competent, rational, social equal. And the fact that a would-be gentleman opens doors for pregnant women or helps an elderly woman with her groceries doesn’t preclude him from treating potential or imagined romantic partners with contempt.
“Gentlemen” in the traditional sense have never been on the forefront of the battle for women’s rights, because such men feel a need to define how women should be in relation to themselves. I have no doubt that many gentlemen thought they were doing what was best for the women in their lives by opposing their right to vote, own property, or work outside the home, but it’s quite possible to believe you’re doing the right thing even if you aren’t. If a man sees women as things that only exist for his personal satisfaction, whether for sex, baby making, or an outlet for his rage, then he’s not going to respect them, regardless of how polite he is to certain women in public.