HERE I AM three-quarters of a century old and if there’s one thing I’m sure of it’s that if I fail to be a gentleman in the presence of a lady (woman), my mother will rise out of the grave and spank me.
Chivalry and gentlemanliness are dying if not already dead and buried. It came about with the liberation of women several decades back. Now, that’s not to blame women. Certainly some women used “lib” as an excuse to be more assertive and independent, but a great many men also used it as an excuse not to act gentlemanly.
I am all for equality of the sexes. Half a century ago, as a newspaper editor-publisher, I hired women and paid them the same salary as men because no one told me there were two wage scales. It seemed to me if someone did a job, then that job had the same requirements whether a man or a woman performed them. Thus, I figured the pay was for performing those duties no matter the gender of the jobholder.
I can credit that attitude to my late mother. She would not have considered herself a libber. As I’ve expressed many times, the lib movement caught me off guard. It’s not that I believed there should be two pay scales but I was taught to treat people equally. If someone performed a certain job, it seemed that the job requirements were the same whether the position holder was male or female. So, the pay should be the same. I’d always done it that way.
And, while Mother quietly expressed support for her beliefs, she was unaware that they were much the same as women’s liberation espoused. As a matter of fact, I seriously doubt if she ever gave lib a thought. Her beliefs were just based on her sense of fairness. After all, isn’t that what equality of the sexes is about? It’s assuredly what being a gentleman is about.
MOTHER WAS also a staunch believer in men acting as gentlemen. If questioned on the matter, she would say that a few women didn’t deserve to be treated “like a lady” and she wasn’t bashful about describing such an undeserving female.
And, she didn’t ever comment when I took a job as a secretary-receptionist.
Yep. I had to work to pay my college expenses. After two years at Sam Houston State, and a year working to earn more tuition money, I transferred to the University of Houston and was given a scholarship and a job. The job was secretary-receptionist in the journalism and graphic arts department. I could work where I went to school and there were enough lulls, I could study and do homework.
Naturally, that thing of “certain jobs are for a certain sex” raised its head.
One morning the department phone rang and I answered as I was supposed to do: “Journalism and Graphic Arts Department.”
A male voice asked, “May I speak to Dr. Underwood (department head)?” I explained that he was off campus. So, the voice asked for the next in command and I revealed he was teaching a class. So, the voice went down the entire pecking order of professors and instructors. None of them were available.
THEN, THE caller asked, “With whom am I speaking?”
“I’m Dr. Underwood’s secretary,” I replied.
“Ho, ho, ho. I didn’t know he had a male secretary.”
“Well, he @#$%^&! sure does,” I replied and slammed the receiver down.
The caller, I later learned, was the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences of which journalism was a part. The dean still thought it was funny and I kept the job.
However, I vowed that I would not only be a gentleman to the women but to men as well. That would ensure, I figured, that I would stay completely out of trouble.
While being a gentleman doesn’t seem to mean as much to the male sex today, I believe it is still the best policy, particularly with women.
So, no it’s not passe’ to be a gentleman. And, most women do love being treated like a lady, er, uh, woman.
Willis Webb is a retired community newspaper editor-publisher of more than 50 years experience. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.