Why “gentleman” with a Y?
Because I believe the world needs an updated concept of what it is to be a man.
I don’t have a complete definition yet. My intention is for this site to become a living interpretation through words, images and art.
To get the ball rolling, here’s the story behind the word: “gentlemyn” is a combination of the words “gentleman” and “womyn.” First, let’s bisect, and look at each word separately.
I’ve always understood a gentleman to be a male who can embody any number of upstanding traits but must be, at a minimum, courteous and chivalrous — especially towards women.
Merriam-Webster ties in class. When not used as a “courteous reference” (i.e. “Welcome, ladies and gentlemen!”), gentleman refers to a man of high social standing — typically through birth — whose “conduct conforms to a high standard of propriety or correct behavior.”
I’m not in love with the concept of a gentleman. I believe it’s patronizing towards women (e.g. viewing women as “ladies” requiring special attention) and aristocratic at its core. The rules attached seem to place more emphasis on surface level manners and action than depth of character — like a hollow shell. It lacks substance, vulnerability, spirituality. For my purposes, though, I like that it establishes an ideal mode of behavior for men to strive towards. I like the idea of upholding virtuous conduct, regardless of social standing. So, let us keep the ingredients that make a gentleman ethical, fair and good, and do away with the class and patriarchal connotations.
Now what’s missing is some zest. Some soul. I’ll come back to that.
I first encountered the term womyn in college. It’s a term that has been adopted by feminists and gender-equality activists to affirm, symbolically, that women are not a sub-category of men. This has always made sense to me. We clearly have been and are still living in a male-dominated society. It’s the gender gap. It’s in the wage discrepancies, the music videos, the omission of women and female pronouns from our religious, government and primary texts. I think alternate spellings of women, whether you agree with them or not, are legitimate linguistic tools to aid in the mission to create a more egalitarian human society.
Of course, I can’t define myself as a womyn. I’m more-or-less the antithesis: the man. But I’m a feminist, and I’m neither proud of nor a proponent of the male-dominated world we live in. I want a world with balance. A world with stronger women voices and more women in leadership positions.
And what do men look like in this new world? Creating a more humane, egalitarian society should not imply a “stepping back.” Rather, it’s an opportunity for us to grow. To not be limited by stale, shallow and old-fashioned ideas of what it is to be a man, but to become more in touch with the world, with each other, and with ourselves. To be open, in-tune, loving, and colorful.
WOMEN GET IT
My partner, Ally, has recently been turned on to a few organizations whose mission is to open and connect women to their beauty, nature and power. Their vehicles? Spirituality, health, and community. Ultimately, these groups preach self-love. They strip away harmful social perceptions of what a woman ought to be (perceptions that have been defined by men for centuries) and replace them with what a healthy, strong, powerful woman is.
These organizations (Spirit Weavers being an example) provide transformative, liberating experiences for women. Accompanying them are whole communities that provide diets, lifestyles and products encouraging women to focus on the internal for a life that is rich, healthy and fulfilling. They carry the message: all you need is within you, you just need to find it. Through reflection, inner truth-seeking, and cutting away the negative, you can become healthy, happy and whole. This is a movement created, marketed and championed by and for women.
I have yet to find a parallel movement for men.
In contrast to the quest for inner well-being and improvement, in the men’s camp I see an over-emphasis on the external. Get bigger, faster, stronger. Make more money. Climb to the top. Win.
Such maxims share a common thread: they’re all rooted in a mindset of lack. Their ideas for self-betterment carry the hidden, weighted message that you’re not there yet. You don’t yet have what it takes to be fulfilled. Do this workout, get these abs, grow this beard, buy this watch, and only then will you be a man.
Ironically, most of these ideas are based on an interpretation of women will find most attractive. But when you compare what men think women’s “ideal man” looks like with what women actually picture as attractive, the difference is surprising.
Either way, just as women’s self-worth ought not to come from men’s perceptions of them, so it should be with men. Men need to open up, look inside, and find their spiritual core.
The rare times I do encounter a focus on men searching deeper within, it usually has to do with finding your “inner warrior,” or some other rudimentary form of masculinity. There’s little emphasis on spirituality or self-love. Health, according to mainstream men’s media, is more about aesthetics than feeling balanced, healthy and whole.
So the idea of a “gentlemyn” is an attempt at concocting a new image of what “being a man” is all about. Just as women created “womyn” to situate themselves as separate from the history and connotations of men, so I feel that men today can define themselves apart from and beyond outdated conceptions of what “man” has been. Men beyond man, if you will; to strive for greatness without arrogance, growth without ego, and a deeper, richer life experience.
Originally published at gentlemyn.com.