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