When did Southern gentlemen stop being gentlemanly at all?
‘I told him I was a virgin’
I was 16 years old. I was leaving a lunch with friends after our Quizbowl tournament that morning. I had Mumford and Sons blasting and my windows rolled down as I drove my Volkswagen Beetle down the Andy Griffith Parkway in Mount Airy, NC.
As I rolled up to a stoplight, a truck pulled up beside me. I was looking at the light when they started honking at me, yelling at me. I panicked. I rolled my windows up, still looking straight ahead as they yelled things like “Fuck you!” and “Your p**** ain’t that good.” Their Surry County accents were strong – they’d probably lived here their whole lives.
I turned my music up, trying to not feel scared. I mean, I had maybe kissed three boys in my lifetime. I had only been driving a few months without my mom in the passenger seat. And suddenly, these boys I didn’t know, who looked years out of high school and who were probably sweethearts to their mommas, were yelling at me like I owed them something.
Fast-forward two years and a few months, and I’m at one of my first fraternity parties. I am with a girl who, although I don’t know it yet, is going to be my best friend. We are talking to some brothers. A lot of them are from Winston-Salem, a city 45 minutes from me. They talk to me about Winston and how they liked living there. One guy is particularly interested in my friend.
At this point, we are tipsy at best – we’ve had one drink, maybe one and a half. I’m talking to a boy, and she’s talking to another one. We get separated, but we text each other to make sure we’re okay. I end up on the roof talking to some more brothers, watching them hit golf balls into the parking lot. I go to the bathroom. As I walk past someone, they say, “Yo, your friend is passed the fuck out.” I feel my stomach drop.
I run to the room where I had just seen her 20 minutes before. She was lying on the couch in that boy’s shirt and her shorts off. The brothers said, “Let her just stay here, just keep her here, she’ll be fine.” But I didn’t. I took her to the hospital.
She had a BAC of .15, which meant she should be vomiting, maybe dizzy, maybe not making the best judgments. But she shouldn’t have been unconscious. She shouldn’t have been breathing so lightly. She was probably drugged. A boy decided he deserved 15 minutes with a girl who would be unconscious before he was finished with her.
These aren’t unusual occurrences for women. We walk down the street, drive in our cars, dance during a night out with our girls, always wary that some guy could come up behind us and make us feel uncomfortable in our own skin, our own homes. Catcalling on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill is rampant. You’re scared to walk home alone after dark. Which is where I wonder – when did our men, particularly men in the South, stop being gentlemen?
I asked my fellow Tab writers, as well as women in my sorority, for their own stories of Southern gentlemen not acting very “gentlemanly.”
Courtney, 20, North Carolina
“If a guy buys you a drink and they think that entitles them to sex.”
Jess, 19, North Carolina
“Guys at parties try to dance with me even after I told them I have a boyfriend and didn’t want to.”
Neha, 20, North Carolina
“Something I’ve noticed since moving to the South is the increase in racially motivated comments or remarks from white males. Even if they think it’s a compliment and acceptable, like, ‘You’re so pretty for an Indian girl,’ or ‘I thought Indians were usually (insert stereotype), but you’re so not.'”
Michelle, 19, Florida
“Southern guys have confessed their attraction to me in a way that is kind of, like, apologetic to themselves. Like, ‘I don’t normally like Hispanic girls but…’ or their families call me exotic. Yes, exotic. Stuff like that.”
Anonymous, 20, North Carolina
“When [my ex-boyfriend] broke up with me, I asked him if it was because of another girl. It was, but the excuse he used was that he was tired of pretending not to be racist because I’m very liberal.”
Harper, 19, North Carolina
“Guys at my high school would put huge Confederate flags in the back of their trucks and would catcall in the parking lot. If girls didn’t respond positively or ignored them, the guys would throw trash on their cars.”
Anonymous, 20, North Carolina
“A boy asked to walk me to my door. He then proceeded to sexually assault me.”
Anonymous, 20, North Carolina
“I had a guy who told me he was really proud of his Southern values and gentility. This was the same guy who repeatedly told me that he was all about women’s rights. When I was seeing him, I was a virgin and told him I didn’t want to have sex because I wasn’t ready. We agreed we weren’t exclusive, but he was angry when I wasn’t jealous about him sleeping with other girls.
“Once I agreed to hook up with him – everything but sex, and I was very clear about that – he tried to have sex with me anyway. I realized how alone and vulnerable I was in the moment because it was just me and him and no one else to help me. I looked at him and said, ‘please don’t rape me.’ And he backed away saying that’s not what he was about.
“I made him leave and I didn’t speak to him after that. A few months later, one of his friends, unknowing of what had happened, told me that said guy had made a list of things he has to do before he finished college, one of them being taking a girl’s virginity. Doesn’t really sound like any kind of gentleman to me.”
Anonymous, 19, North Carolina
“When I was in high school, I had a group of about four guys friends that I would always hang out with. They were always super nice and never made me feel unsafe. As we got older, they got more comfortable making ‘gender related’ jokes around me and most of the time, I would just brush it off because they were guys and it was ‘guy time.’ I didn’t want to sound like a prude, so I kept my mouth shut.
“Finally, one night when we were all hanging out, I could no longer handle the severity of the jokes. I stood up for myself and the girl they were discussing – someone they were also supposedly friends with, yet talking about her like she was a piece of meat – and basically told them they sounded like ignorant assholes, and no wonder all of them were single. They all started picking at me, saying more stupid things like, ‘Oh, like you actually care. Come on, you’re just one of the guys, it’s no big deal. We’re just joking around.’
“I told them their jokes weren’t funny now and never were. The next day, they asked me to come hang out again and I said sure. Not going to hold a grudge. That night when I went over, they started making those jokes again, but when I voiced my opinion this time, they lashed out at me. They started verbally assaulting me, calling me a ‘little whore’ and making claims that I was always ‘slutting around.’ These guys were supposed to be my best friends.
“On the verge of tears, I decided it was best for me to just go. As I was about to walk out the door, one of the guys (who I have known since I was three and comes from a really good family) ran over to me and yanked up my dress so the rest of the guys got a little ‘show.’ I turned and pushed him away from me and kept walking, but he grabbed my arm before I could get out of the door. He shoved me into the wall and claimed that the way I behaved around them made it seemed like I wanted it.
“He was holding me down, calling me an attention whore and repeating, ‘You want it, stop acting like you don’t, quit playing around.’ All the while, the three other guys sat there and were laughing. Finally, I started screaming and crying and panicking. Once he could tell I was actually scared of him and this was not a joke anymore, he let me go. But he looked me in the eye and said, ‘get the fuck out,’ and laughed. I left and never told anyone except my mom and best friend. The next day at school they acted like nothing happened. I did too.”
These are all real stories from real girls who have seen this sort of thing in the South, in North Carolina, at their high schools, at prestigious universities. We live in a world where catcalling is an appropriate way to get a girl’s attention. We live in a world where boys like Brock Turner are allowed to walk away with no repercussions after brutally raping someone.
We need our men to understand that being a “Southern gentleman” is not just something you call yourself to get a girl to sleep with you. It means treating women like they aren’t just objects for them to project their desires upon. It means standing up for your female friends, or offering to walk home the girl you just met because you’re legitimately concerned for her safety.
Anonymous, 20, North Carolina
“My boyfriend now is the absolute epitome of the Southern gentleman. Opens every door and car door he sees, pulls out my chair, all that crap that as a really independent woman, I thought I’d find annoying. But it’s really nice. When we started dating, he denied sex with me a couple times before we actually had it because he wanted to make sure we were good in a relationship first.”
Sarah, 21, North Carolina
“One time, I was so blackout drunk that two of my best guy friends carried me home, took care of me while I got sick – like held my hair while I was puking – put me in bed and waited until I fell asleep. They then came back the next morning to make sure I was okay. I honestly have no idea what would have happened if I wasn’t with them. They literally saved my life.”
Boys, stop saying you’re Southern gentlemen. Start acting like it.