There are two things we need to distance ourselves form when discussing the modern gentleman: masculinity and social class. The Knight of the middle ages is an excellent example of what I hope to get at. He embodies both masculinity and social class however he also employs an antiquated species of etiquette. To be clear it is not impossible to embody all three at once. However no one these is necessary for any other.

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 Masculinity boils down to competition. This is all well and good, after all without competition man might might well still be in the dark ages. The problem is that masculinity on its own can lead to chauvinism. Look at it this way: when a woman embraces her stereotypical gender roles she is seen, to her peers, as submitting to the will of patriarchy and giving up some of their autonomy. On the flip side men who willingly embrace their gender roles are, to put it mildly, aggressive, competitive and overly assertive. If Jersey Shore has taught us anything it is these types of men are deeply repulsive. But then why are masculine archetypes still accepted and even worshiped? Because they poses enough class and etiquette to reign in their masculine attributes. Do not get hung up on the man in gentleman, there is much more to it.

Social class has even less to do with gentlemanly etiquette. While the rules of formal etiquette originated in the clutches of the rich and powerful the true nature of it is not something you can buy. Certainly class helped one pursue etiquette in its infancy in the sense that the higher class you occupied the more time you had to dedicate to it. In the 17th century you could be a gentleman by class or by conduct. Today we can easily see, keeping in mind some confused etymology of the term, why this is absurd: the fact that you are wealthy does not make you a good person.

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 This means that even the most effeminate poor man can aspire to be the perfect gentleman. Doing so will not instantly grant him fame and riches but it will garner him the respect of his peers and those who he admires. Etiquette alone can get you through more in life than wealth, masculinity or both of them combined. In the end I think it is as simple as this: gentleman is the title for any man of any status or persuasion who follows the rules of etiquette in the same way that the title lady applies to a woman. It would seem that both titles are synonymous, and that’s alright by me.

 

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