Manners & Misdemeanors

Could 2018 Be the Year of the Gentleman?

What if civility and self-control were actually the norm?

In one of the best-known love songs from The Sound of Music, Rolf, the 17-year-old telegram delivery boy, officiously warns 16-year-old Liesl about the lustful intentions of “eager young lads and roue?s and cads.” (He left out Hitler Youth members since he was one.) Now, of course, we’re on the lookout for predators who try to intimidate and grope women of any age, including girls well under 16.

If the events of recent months have taught us anything, it’s that men who sexually harass the less powerful have lost their footing—and whatever invulnerability they thought their position gave them. Maybe it was the 2016 presidential election, maybe it was just karma, but a society that for so long blurred the line between sexual freedom and exploitation finally hit a wall.

All of a sudden women recoiled, the ethos tilted, and now the tumbrel is moving briskly through Hollywood, Silicon Valley, Capitol Hill, and beyond, carrying lechers, perverts, and boors into job-threatening disgrace.

Amid all this sexual reckoning and career carnage, what happens to flirtation, seduction, and courtship? If bad boys and toxic bachelors have lost their allure—and immunity—could 2018 turn out to be the Year of the Gentleman? Will the next “Sexiest Man Alive” chosen by People magazine have manners, not muscles? Nothing comes from nothing, to borrow again from The Sound of Music, so maybe something good will rise from the ashes of male presumption—like goodness.

There is still value in highlighting behavior that serves the public good rather than simply offering personal gratification. Imagine a world where decency is more enticing than decadence, respect and reticence are sexy, and courtesy has more cachet than a Cessna and a winery in Sonoma. Okay, that sounds a lot like the code of the Victorian Age, and pretense and hypocrisy were the bitcoin of that realm. It is possible that for some, Woke Era puritanism will only heighten the temptation to wallow in rakish misbehavior. But, still, what if civility and self-control were actually the norm?


We know to expect a backlash—hello, Susan Faludi—but even when the pendulum swings in the other direction, it doesn’t necessarily travel all the way to its starting point. e distance between extremes narrows with time and experience. When Anita Hill testified about Clarence Thomas’s workplace lewdness in 1991, Democratic senators on the Judiciary Committee (all men) tried to ignore her, and Republican senators (all men) did everything they could to discredit her. Fast-forward to Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell cudgeling the alleged molester Roy Moore, the Republican Senate candidate from Alabama, with these words: “I believe the women.”

Men won’t really change, and social mores are mutable, but at the moment the prevailing moral compass seems to be pointing to a gentler, more equitable place. So now is the time to praise and make famous some eligible men who are not infamous—not yet, anyway.

This story appears in the December 2017/January 2018 issue of Town & Country. 

This story originally appeared on
* Minor edits have been made by the editors.

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Alessandra Stanley
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