The term "gentleman" is closely associated with the Victorian era, where it held two meanings. The first definition of gentleman was linked to a man's social status, and many who aspired to be considered gentlemen did so out of a desire to climb the social ladder. However, it was also held by some that social status alone was not sufficient to confer the accolade and that it had to include a moral aspect. A chivalrous code of conduct became part of the makeup of being a gentleman, and when we talk of being a gentleman in the 21st century, that is the meaning that is more commonly meant.
Being a gentleman in an era of gender equality
It's been said that the growth of feminism in recent decades has made the gentleman an endangered species. The thinking here is that men have rightly been educated into accepting equality between the genders but that this has had the consequence of rendering the role of the gentleman obsolete or of making men reticent to display gentlemanly behavior for fear of being branded insensitive or sexist. However, many women still value men who display gentlemanly qualities, and the trick is to be both courteous and appreciative of women's capabilities.
Outward behaviors of a gentleman
There are certain behaviors or standards that are expected of a gentleman. If you did a straw poll of people in the street, chances are that the behaviors they would most quote would include holding doors open, not cursing and always being polite. An AskMen article on 'The Etiquette of a Gentleman" also included not speaking loudly, not losing one's temper, not staring or interrupting, not spitting and respecting one's elders. These can be classified as basic manners that a person should adhere to if he wants to be considered a gentleman.
Underlying gentlemanly values
If someone wants to be seen as a gentleman, they can teach themselves to hold doors open and to not spit. However, a true gentleman has to have innate gentlemanly qualities that underpin everything that they do. The 19th-century writer Cardinal J.H. Newman wrote an essay called "Portrait of a Gentleman," which provides some sound insights into the qualities that gentlemen must possess. He comments that a gentleman is someone who never inflicts pain, is "tender towards the bashful, gentle towards the distant and merciful towards the absurd." He is also modest, has "no ears for slander or gossip" and is never mean. Newman's seven paragraphs should be essential reading for those looking for guidance on the qualities required to be a gentleman.
Updating the concept of being a gentleman
A gentleman doesn't hold a door open for a woman for the purpose of hoping to impress her. He does it because it is the polite thing to do. Indeed, a modern gentleman will have no problem holding a door open for another man, and this is perhaps where the concept of gender equality and feminism comes into play. Gentlemanly qualities, such as being polite, modest and kind, are applicable in dealing with everyone we interact with. Indeed, we should also applaud and embrace instances where women aspire to the concept of the gentleman, or should that be gentlewoman? Finally, for those men who are gentlemen, there is the additional boon that many women still regard gentlemanly behavior highly in their quest for the perfect (and equal) partner.