The Search for America's Top Gentleman

Conservative group aims to show chivalry isn't dead.

March 30, 2011, 4:58 PM

March 31, 2011— -- Move over, college basketball. Now there's March Madness: Gentlemen's Edition.

Come spring each year, a college organization called the Network of enlightened Women (NeW) sets out to prove that chivalry is still alive on campus by organizing a "Gentlemen's Showcase."

"We're focusing on the positive things men are doing while making sure gentlemen don't become an endangered species," said Karin Agness, the founder and president of NeW, a national group that promotes education and leadership skills among culturally conservative women.

With more than a dozen men nominated from colleges and universities around the country, NeW's Gentlemen's Showcase is now down to the final six nominees competing to see who will be named "America's Gentlemen" tomorrow morning.

Voters are asked to visit the NeW Facebook page and "like" the man who best exemplifies gentlemanly behavior.

Jimmy Ragland, a contender from the University of Florida with 83 "likes" on Facebook, was nominated for thoughtful acts like leaving a sunflower on his girlfriend's scooter or bringing her colored pencils for an art exam. Adam Hall, a nominee from Kansas State University was nominated by his girlfriend Shelby Danielsen for being "a true gentleman." Danielson wrote, "He treats women with respect by opening doors, making sure they are back in their apartments safely and giving them flowers on a bad day."

But it's Bryant Condrey, a junior at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Va., and Matt Smalbach, a student at the University of South Florida, who are in the lead.

Condrey found out about his nomination only after his girlfriend Alyssa Richardson had submitted a video montage of photos showing Condrey presenting her with a rose, helping her with her coat, opening a door for her, and even pulling up to her home in a horse-drawn carriage.

"I didn't tell Bryant about his nomination before I submitted it because he is so modest and I wanted to surprise him with my heartfelt thank you for his chivalry," Richardson told

Competing To Be America's Top Gentleman

Condrey said he felt honored by the nomination.

"I didn't really think about … being honored for being a gentleman, I had always assumed this behavior was right and expected of men," said Condrey, a government major at Patrick Henry College.

He says the showcase is a great conversation-starter about chivalry as it exists -- or doesn't exist -- in today's culture.

When asked what distinguishes him in this competition, he said it's his "healthy view of man's proper role in society, in a family, and in church."

And it's not just about winning the title, Richardson says.

"More than simply recognizing one individual, it is refreshing to be honoring chivalry in our modern society where it is often overlooked."

Agness founded NeW in her junior year at the University of Virginia in 2004. After a summer internship in Washington, D.C. with Senator Dick Lugar (R-Indiana), she began seeking an environment similar to the one she experienced on Capitol Hill.

"In Washington, I was surrounded by women right-of-center who wanted to talk about politics and policy and how it affected us as women," said Agness. "They were smart, ambitious and conservative women, and that is what I was looking for at UVA."

NeW started as a book club for conservative college women. In addition to the book club, many NeW chapters engage in activities such as hosting speakers, holding debates, participating in philanthropic events and hosting the "Gentlemen's Showcase."

Since Agness founded the first chapter of NeW at UVA, chapters have spread to more than 20 campuses, including a NeW chapter at Arizona State University where the Gentlemen's Showcase originated in 2009.

Blayne Bennett, an ASU alumni and the 2010 vice president of ASU's NeW chapter helped spearhead NeW's first Gentlemen's Showcase.

"I was so often hearing women say, 'There are no good men out there,' and I started to think, 'Why are women saying good men don't exist? I know a ton of great guys.' So our chapter of NeW decided we wanted to do something that would highlight the good guys," said Bennett.

March Madness: Gentleman's Edition

In addition to the national Gentlemen's Showcase, NeW chapters on college campuses, such as ASU, are hosting showcases for their own male peers. Most notable is the University of Virginia showcase.

"We wanted to spice up the showcase to make it fit our school culture," said Hannah Wagner, NeW's current chapter president at the University of Virginia. "So we came up with March Madness: Gentlemen's Edition."

After three weeks of nominations, the chapter selected the top 16 nominees and placed them into a March Madness Sweet 16 bracket, similar to college basketball. A gentlemen nominee is placed against another nominee; students then vote for their favorite in each bracket, which determines who moves to the next level.

This year there were more than 50 gentlemen nominees.

"Just having an event like this has spurred a conversation about where all the gentlemen are. What we're showing students is that they're out there, they're active, outgoing, interactive and can be anywhere on the social spectrum from a jock to a punk rocker," said Wagner.

At UVA the competition will continue into April until the final round is complete.

Visit any university around the country and you'll probably find a young woman, or even a young man, who thinks chivalry is dead.

"I'm constantly asking myself if chivalry even exists anymore, could someone just be kind enough to open a door for someone?" asked Crystina Milici, a senior at Hofstra University, in Hempstead, N.Y.

Lizzie Post, the great-great-granddaughter of Emily Post and spokesperson for the Emily Post institute, said she believes chivalry is not dead; rather there is confusion about what chivalry actually means.

"After the women's liberation movement in the 1960s, men didn't know what was safe to do or how to act," she told "They were told what they learned from their mothers was wrong; thus began this confusion around when and how we want things from a gentleman."

If confusion is to blame for the lack of gentlemen on college campuses today, Post said she believes there is a way women can encourage chivalry's revival.

"You can bring chivalry back by addressing something that you really appreciated a man doing, like praising them for doing something kind or recognizing them for doing something considerate for you or another," said Post.

Is Feminism to Blame?

So why is chivalry in short supply these days?

"For so long radical feminists have questioned if there is there even a place for men in society, even in plays like the Vagina Monologues, there are no strong men in the play and men are constantly degraded as they are presented as creepy jerks," said Agness.

A degradation that Agness, like Post, said she believes is rooted in radical feminism that began during the women's liberation movement.

Stephanie Coontz, a professor of history and family studies at The Evergreen State College in Olympia and author of A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960's, said she believes blaming the feminist movement for the lack of gentlemanly behavior in today's society is inaccurate.

"The notion of behaving in a gentlemanly way towards women is associated with the late 18th century movement to get women to stay home while men supported them. A movement where a man's politeness to a woman had the expectation that in return they would receive all of these extra privileges," Coontz told

"I'm all for more politeness in society, but not if you're referring to that kind," Coontz added.

Jeff Herman, a senior at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., also blames radical feminists for the loss of chivalry and the endangered species of the gentlemen.

"Some women see chivalry as a sign of weakness. They take it that when you act as a gentleman, it's a sign that they can't do it themselves" said Herman.

But Coontz said her research shows women who identify as feminists are no less appreciative of kind acts, as long as they are treated with respect.

"Women who became feminists were happy for people to be polite to them. It was the politeness from men that was used in a demeaning manner, like the way you are polite to your cat, but then push them when they're in your way, that women objected too," said Coontz.

Regardless of why chivalry has taken a backseat in today's culture, Gentleman's Showcase contender Condrey says being a gentleman isn't all that complicated. It's about "constantly putting others before yourself, taking on things other people wouldn't want to do or couldn't do in effort to make others more comfortable."

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