I truly believe with everything in me that every man, nomatter how rude, disinterested or vile he may appear, is a gentleman on the inside. In most instances it is a case of allowing him to be it for you.
Let me give you some examples to illustrate what I mean.
When I was on my way to California for the first time, I was so paranoid for fear that I would get attacked or lost that I put on my ‘mean face’ and my ‘giant walls of protection’ up (my mom calls it roz-the-prickly-hedgehog attitude) and refused to talk to anyone the entire trip there – and it is a loooong 2 day trip to go without talking to people!.
Not a single man offered to help me lift my carry-on bag (which was heavy and I was clearly struggling) into the overhead compartment on any of my five flights from Port Elizabeth, South Africa to Redding, CA. Nor did anyone offer to help when it came time to claim my luggage in LAX when I couldn’t lift my bag at baggage claim. This was unusual, as there were a significant amount of South African men on board at least three of my flights, and South African men are known for being exceptionally chivalrous.
I didn’t know what was going on; I was so appalled at the audacity these men had to calmly sit back and watch me struggle when I so clearly needed help, as if I were providing some sort of on-board entertainment for them pre-flight before the movies started.
I kept my attitude (although, I did ditch the ‘mean face’) for a few more weeks after that, and time after time I couldn’t believe how men were ‘so ungentlemanly’ in the United States. If I recall correctly, I remember ranting on and on about it in conversations with my roommates (This is one of those moments that I look back at and cringe).
It took me a while, but eventually I let my guard down.
As soon as I did that and started being myself by smiling at strangers and not trying to do everything myself in an attempt to prove my ability to be independent and powerful, the most amazing things began to happen: Without me asking or saying anything men started opening doors for me, giving up their seats for me, offering to pay for me… It felt as if by my being who I am as a person and a woman (just enjoying being lovely and not trying to prove anything or put up walls) I allowed the men around me to be the men they really are, and not what society was saying – or even what I was saying – they were.
Having noticed the change in behavior in the men around me, I began to experiment and take note of how my own moods and even thoughts about myself affected those around me. I noticed that when I was feeling good about myself, and embracing thoughts of and being ‘everything lovely’ (i.e: confident, happy, free, loving and beautiful) men would go out of their way to ‘lend their strength’ to me (I say ‘lend their strength’, because when a man does something like help you reach something from the top shelf, or open a door for you, it is his way of using his physical strength to honour you) in a totally non-threatening or creepy way.
I also noticed that when I was having an ‘off-day’ and entertained thoughts that were demeaning to myself and feeling pretty low on the ‘everything lovely’ scale – especially if I had my roz-the-prickly-hedgehog attitude going on – then men would not do anything special for me. (I once had a guy walk through a swinging door in front of me and let it swing back full-force into me on one such day. And yes, it did hit me and I did go flying backwards…. ah, memories!)
I have so many stories about how men around me (some of whom have been labeled terrible things such as ‘hopeless’ and even ‘pigs’ – which I think is unnecessarily harsh in most cases) have quickly become the most considerate, chivalrous, gentle and kind men who I feel completely safe with and protected by. This is because by allowing myself to be me, I allow them to be them.
A good friend of mine was working at a drug rehab in Australia for a while, and came to this same realization around the same time I did. When she put it into practice, the men (who were really rough) immediately stopped swearing around her, started opening doors for her and treated her with the utmost respect.
The feminist movement was vital for the bringing about of equal rights for women politically, socially and in the work place (for which I will be eternally grateful), but perhaps we have taken it too far. It seems to me that in the western world, woman are trying so hard to be taken seriously by men that they act like ‘men’ in an attempt to gain their respect. And by doing so, we feel the need to make men less like men in a power struggle to get to the top. It would seem that because for so long men were the only figures of authority, we confused ‘masculinity’ with ‘power’. The problem with that is that today the women in power positions feel the need to be men, and so once again the world is void of women in power. It is time for women to discover what real power looks like on a woman, because the world needs both men and women as equals, but not the same. We are equal in terms of our rights, but we are different in the way that we are, the way we are made and to some extent the roles we play. We need to learn to value each other and create space for each other to thrive. We need to allow men to have their strength back and not see it as a threat. I personally love it when men help me and ‘lend their strength’ to me, because you know what – it is exhausting trying to be both man and woman.
So after practicing these principles and observing the men around me, the overriding factors that I have found when working with and interacting with men is this: Men respond to respect – genuine respect (no nagging!), and that most men genuinely want to please women and will do what is required of them to do so.
When you see potential in someone and call it out, that person is able to become that potential – because sometimes we cannot see things within ourselves and need others to act as mirrors and show us. There is nothing more powerful than pulling out the gold in someone through encouragement and acknowledgment.
Let him know when he does something right and guaranteed he will do it again.
Because the truth is, every man is created a gentleman… so treat him like he is one.