Considered Conduct: What Makes a ‘Gentleman’ Anyway?

This story originally appeared on the Gents Cafe Newsletter. You can subscribe here.

Broad shoulders; narrow hips; cool detachment, and a steely glare: in the war-torn 1930s, Marlene Dietrich expressed that most ‘masculine’ ideal: “I am at heart a gentleman.” Close to a century later, she makes more sense than ever. Plus ça change…

‘Lena’ was, of course, referring to her on-screen image – a carefully-curated subversion of stereotypes that foretold diversity and LGBTQIA+. As film critic, Kenneth Tynan puts it: “She has sex but no positive gender […] Her masculinity appeals to women and her sexuality to men.”

Ambiguity was all part of the act. Switch the pronouns, and it’s a game that Cary Grant would play in reverse.

Today, Dietrich’s statement echoes in some big questions:

What does it mean to be a ‘gentleman’ at heart?

Why is the term still loaded with such cultural baggage?

How does it feel to live as a modern man – or indeed, ‘people with penises’?

Where can we look for inspiration and advice?

These themes coalesced in my initial talks with Gents Cafe – hence our new series on ‘considered conduct’.

As I wrote recently: showing up with humour and humility; dignity and discernment; kindness and consideration; resilience and (most attractively) generosity of spirit is a personal and conscious choice every individual can make.

I’m sure you’d agree.

But not everyone does: from Donald Trump to Andrew Tate, ‘toxic masculinity’ lives large and loud – not solely among men.

In response, Mo Gawdat (@mo_gawdat), former Chief Business Officer at Google [X] and best-selling author of ‘Solve for Happy’ shares an interesting view:

“I think it’s important to start by defining what is masculinity and what is femininity. [That] concept is really misunderstood. At a point in time, we started by associating those with biological parts. [But] feminine and masculine are qualities, they’re traits – they are the way through which we deal with life.”

Where does ‘gentlemanly’ behaviour fit? Right in the middle of that inherent tension.

Deconstruct the adjective, and you’ll uncover ‘gentle’ snuggling up against ‘manly’ – with age-old conditioning driving them apart.

Balance is everything, as Mo explains:

“Doing is the ‘masculine’; ‘being’ is the ‘feminine’. […] Because we want more ‘doing’, we end up in a place, where we prioritise the masculine. [As a result], we don’t live true to our self. [None] of us is showing enough of our feminine.”

So there you have it, ‘gents’: we’ve got some digging to ‘do’…

Never miss a story – subscribe now to the Gents Cafe Newsletter, a bite-sized read about men’s lifestyle to enjoy over a coffee or a nice cocktail.