This month Huntsman Cutter and resident Essential Journal columnist, Matthew Gonzalez ponders what it means to be a gentleman in 2019
What does it mean to be a gentleman these days? The word itself seems relatively straightforward, it’s a kind or good natured man, however, culturally speaking, it seems to mean so much more. It still tends to evoke images of slender, attractive and slightly aloof, aristocratic young men from the 1930’s who were permanently outfitted in either a dinner suit or their country tweed. Men whose lives revolved around copious amounts of champagne & distilled spirits, fine food and doing what ever they liked without a care in the world, because they would rarely get in trouble for anything they did. Think of the young men who made up Oxford’s Bullingdon Club or practically any male character from an Evelyn Waugh novel. They are hardly the kind of men we should use to model ourselves after. Today as gender roles and class distinctions continue to melt away we need to take a moment and reflect on how to be a modern gentleman without acting like some kind of Edwardian toff.
Manners still do maketh the man, that familiar phrase maybe around 500 years old but it is more true today than when it was written by Eton’s old head master William Horman. One of the problems with the old world aristocratic gentleman that we see portrayed in popular culture is that it had much more to do with class status and “breeding” then it did with the quality of one’s character. Literary figures like Pip and Joe from Dickens’ ‘Great Expectation’ perfectly articulates this point. Joe the blacksmith’s humble decency throughout the novel is starkly contrasted by a grown up Pip who, elevated to the world of Londons elite gentry class, became resentful of his old friend and even disgusted by the identity of his secretive benefactor. Dickens masterfully illustrates the importance of kindness and respect over the decadence of material objects.
With that in mind it is important to note that manners have evolved over the years. Chivalry has changed and many of the things that we may have been taught as young children or seen in films simply do not apply to the modern man. A part of being a gentleman in the 21st century means acknowledging some of the outdated expectations of men and women and fully embracing the fundamental notion of equal respect for all.
Being a modern gentleman means recognising the structural inequalities which are ingrained in our society in order for us to move beyond them. It means no longer treating women as second class citizens by labelling them as delicate, cute or bossy. Those kinds of words only serve to create hierarchies which put men at the top when a true gentleman knows that diversity and equality is far more beneficial for everyone in the long run.
This, however, goes way beyond gender roles. Gentlemen these days come from all walks of life, from every income level, ethnic background, political affiliation and religious belief. So being a gentleman is a tacit recognition of the importance of others. That the richness of our culture is found with in its diversity of thought. It’s about being open to new ideas and different opinions. It is about accepting that what we believe is just as valuable as the beliefs of others. Such a level of respect shown towards others can only derive from a strong sense of respect for oneself and an element of gratitude for what you have, without that, a man can at best drift through life in a constant search for his own beliefs and identity.
We can all too easily associate being a gentleman with a certain look or style and there are a myriad of books that cover the basic rules of ettiequte for men, like what to wear to certain events, how to write a formal letter/email or even how to set a table for a dinner party. While those kinds of tips and guides are fun to read and can even be helpful for a specific instance it is not what makes a man a gentleman. If we were to strip back all of the glamours and elegant facades of the old world gentleman that we imagine in our heads we hope to be left with a man who is decent, kind, polite and respectful to all who he meets. So regardless of whether you wear a suit everyday or your profession is considered blue or white collar, as long as you respect others and expect it in return you will be unmistakably a gentleman. MG
Words by Matthew GONZALEZ