Is it our fault men won’t give up seats for moth­ers-to-be?

Daily Mail - - sandra Parsons - by Carol Sar­ler

WHEN it comes to ex­cuses, I like to think I’ve heard them all. But this one beg­gars be­lief: ac­cord­ing to a new sur­vey, the rea­son why a tired, aching, heav­ily preg­nant woman is left to stand on pub­lic trans­port — and, yes, we’ve all seen her — is be­cause those healthy young men, sit­ting so very com­fort­ably nearby, are just too em­bar­rassed to of­fer her their seats.

They are, ap­par­ently, tor­mented by the thought that she might not ac­tu­ally be preg­nant. Just fat. So bet­ter by far not to risk in­sult­ing her.

OK, chaps. If that’s your story, you stick to it. But now tell us this: why do you also ne­glect to of­fer your seat to a woman where there’s no room for doubt? Be­cause, say, she’s el­derly? Or car­ry­ing a child? Or strug­gling with shop­ping?

Or — if this isn’t too rad­i­cal a thought for you — sim­ply be­cause she’s a woman?

Af­ter all, if you rou­tinely gave up your seat to women, you’d be saved all the bother of work­ing out whether they are pre-natal, post-natal or just plain porky.

My fa­ther did so, as a mat­ter of course, as did my much older brother; it would not have oc­curred to them to do oth­er­wise. Yet such cour­te­sies have no cur­rency what­so­ever in the charm banks of to­day’s gen­er­a­tion of men — and what makes it that much more shame­ful is how no­tice­ably this ap­plies pe­cu­liarly to Bri­tish men.

My fam­ily and I live fairly cen­trally in London, which means a daily ne­go­ti­a­tion with the Un­der­ground. Dur­ing my daugh­ter’s re­cent preg­nancy, she reg­u­larly stood through rush hour jour­neys as, in­deed, do I.

Both of us, mer­ci­fully, do get of­fered the oc­ca­sional perch — but, ev­ery time, the of­fer comes from a tourist from Ja­pan, Italy, Africa or Aus­tralia. The home-growns just carry on slump­ing. Obliv­i­ous, or at least pre­tend­ing to be.

Nor is it only seats; it’s all man­ner of lit­tle chival­ries. Two weeks ago, I flew home from the U.S. with a suit­case I knew I could never lift off the air­port carousel. I con­sciously thought, upon land­ing: thank good­ness it’s an Amer­i­can flight; at least I know that a fel­low pas­sen­ger will of­fer to help. (One did.)

In the house, the fridge was empty, a Tesco trip loomed and my arms were pulled from their sock­ets car­ry­ing the bags home — un­til, oh bliss, they were taken from me and gen­tly laid in my porch. By a Turk­ish neigh­bour whose name I don’t even know.

How many Bri­tish men had I walked past? A dozen, per­haps? None had in­tended to be rude; it just would not have crossed their minds.

The ques­tion i s, how­ever: why wouldn’t it cross their minds?

HOW

have we come so far, so quickly, from my fa­ther’s in­stinc­tive gen­tle­man­li­ness to this self­ish bunch of slug­gards who treat women with, at best, dis­re­spect or, at worst, dis­dain?

I have a nasty feel­ing that some of the blame for the mod­ern in­stincts of the Bri­tish male lies with the Bri­tish fe­male; that, in the end maybe, we got the men we de­served.

A friend of mine, in his late 30s, is a well-man­nered enough chap; suf­fi­ciently so, at any rate, that he re­cently did stand to of­fer a Tube seat to a girl who ap­peared ex­hausted, ill, or both. Lucky her? Not a bit of it: ‘Why, do you think I need it?’ came her churl­ish re­sponse.

His story re­minded me of an­other, told by Richard Neville — the Oz edi­tor and en­fant ter­ri­ble of the Seven­ties hip­pie set — as he en­coun­tered the early days of fem­i­nism: he opened a door for a woman, who de­nounced him as ‘a chau­vin­ist pig!’ (we talked like that, hon­estly we did!) and stamped stoutly on his foot.

Was that, I won­der, when the rot set in? Did we, my com­rades in (un­shaven) armpits, ac­tu­ally raise a gen­er­a­tion of women who are, now, just as re­spon­si­ble as any man for the down­fall of ba­sic good man­ners?

If we did then, boy, did we throw the baby out with that bath­wa­ter.

I can dis­tantly re­call the rea­son­ing of the time: some­thing to do with equal­ity and any­thing-he-can-do and not show­ing weak­ness — of any kind — lest we ap­pear to be in­fe­rior.

To which end we strug­gled into our own coats, car­ried our own weighty bags and point­edly walked on the splashy out­side of the pave­ment while he stayed dry on the in­side. We didn’t need to be ‘walked home’, thank you very much, we had legs of our own and we’d man­age — or, maybe, treat our­selves to a pass­ing mini­cab.

We pit­ted our oe­stro­gen against his testos­terone, re­gard­less of the brute strength re­quired for the task in hand. We won. Well, of course we did. How many times is a man go­ing to be snarled at for his ef­forts be­fore he capitulates to the mer­its of not both­er­ing to open a door or give up a seat?

So there we have it: women, by and large, got it wrong. Men, by and large, have cashed in on our mis­take in favour of an eas­ier, lazier, more loutish life for them. Net gain? When I walk into a room, many men won’t even stand in ac­knowl­edge­ment. Net loss? I miss it so badly it hurts.

What I see now, years af­ter de­rid­ing it, is that when my fa­ther tipped his hat to the head­mistress as she passed in the street, he wasn’t pa­tro­n­is­ing her — quite the re­verse; he was pay­ing trib­ute to the sta­tus that, rarely for those days, she had earned her­self.

When he pulled back my mother’s chair, he wasn’t defin­ing her as in­ca­pable; he was mak­ing a pub­lic ges­ture of his re­spect­ful re­gard.

As for him even con­tem­plat­ing women strap-hang­ing on trains, heft­ing their own bags or be­ing left alone in the dark to find their way home: don’t be ridicu­lous.

What he and his kind gen­uinely in­tended to be — cher­ish­ing, ad­mir­ing — was ridiculed into obliv­ion by daft bints who chose to see it as un­der­min­ing, di­min­ish­ing and be­lit­tling... an ar­gu­ment which, in the end, served only to high­light their own in­se­cu­ri­ties.

I sup­pose you could say count your bless­ings and off­set the loss of those funny old val­ues against our great gains. Nev­er­the­less, it re­mains true that some­times we re­ally should be more care­ful about what we wish for.

Bumpy ride: Bri­tish men are no longer chival­rous to­wards women

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