Perhaps the most common misconception about the Good Men Project is that we’re trying to tell people how exactly to be good men. But if you’ve spent more than five minutes reading us, you’d know that our purpose isn’t to ram a preconceived notion about goodness or manhood down anyone’s throat. Instead, our goal is to just talk about it: what it means, how we define it individually and collectively, who we think are doing a damned good job of it.
And then, every once in a while, we come upon something like this, and I understand why people make the mistake. The second annual “Gentleman’s Showcase” is the brainchild of the Network of Enlightened Women (or NeW), a campus organization for conservative women looking to “cull the testosterone-infused, scraggly bearded herd roaming most college campuses looking for a few ‘keepers.’” An online contest, it hopes to crown the exemplary gentleman by the following criteria, outlined on their website. Here’s an excerpt:
- 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 treats you like the lady you are.
Their promotional video (embedded below) is a series of impromptu interviews with college kids struggling to define the qualities of a “gentleman” and answering the question “do you think they’re extinct?” The whole endeavor reeks of gender-role nostalgia: a throwback to an age when women were expected to wilt and men were expected to catch them as they wilted. It’s a definition of masculinity jammed into a strict man-corset of specific behaviors and expectations. (And those who don’t restrict themselves are disqualified from the contest.)
This is a perfect example of what the Good Men Project is not. A definition, not a conversation; a narrowing, not a widening. There’s obvious merit to encouraging respect among peers, but to assign “gentlemanly behavior” to men is to reinforce gender tracks that crumble under the weight of modern transport. Our very own Henry P. Belanger sums it up in an interview with Politico:
They may be right—and I’m inclined to agree—that there’s a lack of common courtesy and human kindness around. Wanting to be treated in a more respectful way, everyone wants that. But I don’t see why it should have to be about gender roles.
There’s nothing wrong with opening doors for your fellow human beings. Awarding a prize and a label to a specific tract of people? That’s where they’ve lost me.