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Chivalry Is Dead On the Busses of Melbourne

So, this didn’t happen to me, but my eldest sister, who was – at the time – seven months pregnant. She was used to rude people on public transport, but this was a new low for the collective intelligence and manners sector. On a bus, on a hot day in Melbourne, there was no were to sit. there was, however, a whole lot of blokey-bloke guys (you know the kind – short hair, play football, totally neckless?) there, probably half-drunk on awful Victorian beer. So there was my sister, bulbously pregnant, ankles swollen, uncomfortable from the warmth. How many people offered her their seat on the hour-long trip?

Not one. Not one, single person. She tried the whole “discreetly-lean-pregnant-belly-in-til-they-just-move-already” trick, and no, no one got it. She asked outright for a healthy young man to move so she could take her weight off her feet – and my sister is a small girl, that is a lot of extra weight on her small bones. Everyone refused to move for a pretty, pregnant woman – except for one elderly lady that smooshed up next to one of the beefy men (after telling him off to no avail with what I suspect was a lot of “what would your mother think”) to make room. My sister now shares my adoration of old women. 0709-11

What is with this cultural epidemic of healthy, able men refusing to yield their seat to an obviously more needy person? But on a another level, aren’t we happy that men can display their true selfish colors in almost billboard like fashion so sensible, considerate females can avoid them altogether?


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Purslane July 12, 2011, 9:59 pm

    I was taught to give up my seat and open doors for the elderly or people who are weighted down with various parcels and such. Yes, many times I have watched the younger generation take a “me first” attitude with others. However, last spring, I took a busload of junior high kids to a museum in the Big City. On the way home, we stopped at McDonalds to eat just as the place was filling up at rush hour. I put my kids in lines to efficiently order and get out of the way of others. One kid back around from the line towards me. Exasperated, I told him to get back in line. He says: “I let that lady in front of me. She looks really tired and I figured she wanted to get home.” Maybe we’re not so doomed after all.

  • Guinevere July 12, 2011, 11:14 pm

    We have been taught since childhood it is rude to stare. So, perhaps this laid the groundwork for generations of people who go out of their way to mind their own business. I think that people really just don’t pay attention to anyone else when they are on something as uncomfortable as public transit – no one wants to be called out for “staring”. Along that vein, no one wants to offer their seat to a “pregnant” woman who just happens to be a regular overweight person by mistake, and insult them. People want to avoid confrontation, so they hide behind books, under headphones, with their texting, etc. I don’t think people are all rude, just oblivious. Just ask for the favor you need, don’t assume it and get annoyed when it isn’t offered. Don’t take it personally; it’s not personal. Ask sweetly; then call them a jerk if they refuse! 🙂

  • Alice T July 13, 2011, 1:31 am

    I’m from Melbourne and had to catch a train to and from the city when I was 8 months pregnant. In was fine as it was early afternoon, out was just at peak hour so every seat was taken and standing room was packed. I had a fairly easy pregnancy so could have, albeit uncomfortably, remained standing for the 40min journey home until the carriage had cleared out enough for me to sit, however a lovely woman probably around my age waved to get my attention and gave up her seat for me. I was so grateful as even though I could have ridden standing, it was a great relief to get off my feet.

    Not all Melbournians are evil 😉

  • anonymous July 13, 2011, 3:59 am

    I agree that it is not a gender issue, it is a health issue (pregnancy is not an illness but I agree, it can make one feel ill, even if it doesn’t make everyone feel ill. Just because one person had an easy pregnancy doesn’t mean another will, so “oh at 6 months pregnant I was fine, I don’t see what the big deal is!” really does not work).

    Healthy men and women should give up seats for people who clearly need them (small children, clearly sick people, the disabled, the elderly, pregnant women), EVEN if they’re not specially designated. So sorry Stace, I disagree with you.

    I would not judge any one individual on that bus, because that one person may have had an invisible disability – I had a nasty slipped disc (but still had to work – could not afford to take leave. Fortunately now straits are not so dire as they were then) for the longest time, and could not have given up my seat on a lurching bus or for a long subway ride. I looked young and healthy, but in fact I really needed the seat (when the bus/MRT was full, I would not ask for a seat, because I didn’t want to have to explain my condition or attract pity, and it was pure torture to stand). I also get migraines: if one is coming on, I may look OK but inside my brain is throbbing and swimming.

    But as a group? Surely not all of them had invisible disabilities. Someone could have and should have moved.

    What I usually do when I don’t know if a woman is pregnant or just heavyset (or a person who looks older but it’s not totally clear – which happens a lot in Asia where you get 75 year olds who could pass for 50) is I get up anyway if I am within a meter of her, but do not specifically offer her the seat: if she is pregnant, she’ll take it. If not, she may or may not, and if she takes it and is not pregnant, I don’t really need or want to know. Whatever.

  • anonymous July 13, 2011, 4:09 am

    This reminds me, by the way, of why I stopped reading a certain section of a Washington, DC message board. Once every few months there would be a rant about having to give up a seat for a pregnant lady – the idea being that she *chose* to get pregnant, unlike a disabled person, so she doesn’t deserve a seat because of her *choice* and if she didn’t want to deal with that she shouldn’t have gotten pregnant or should get a ride in a car. (The same people said the same thing for small children and their tired parents). One person said “I wouldn’t give a seat up for a morbidly obese person so why would I give it up for a lady who got knocked up?” or “Women won the battle for equal status, now they have to deal with it” (umm…we haven’t quite won that battle yet, and anyway nobody said that a healthy woman shouldn’t offer a seat to a pregnant woman).

    My goodness.

    I’m happy that I now live in a city where people generally would be horrified by this attitude.

  • Leigh July 13, 2011, 8:22 am

    Congratulations on raising a little gentleman!

  • anymousie July 13, 2011, 5:14 pm

    “She asked outright for a healthy young man to move so she could take her weight off her feet”
    “She tried the whole “discreetly-lean-pregnant-belly-in-til-they-just-move-already” trick, and no, no one got it”
    These two things, on the part of the pregnant woman were quite rude. Shoving a pregnant (or fat) belly into someone until they move is VERY rude and would not make me likely to want to give up my seat. And asking a SPECIFIC person to move is also quite rude- he appears healthy, but you don’t know if he actually is, NOT ALL DISABILITIES ARE PHYSICALLY OBVIOUS.
    If you need a seat, ask for it, but in general, don’t single out people as you are putting them on the spot and they may need that seat more than you. Directly asking a single person (not the general group) is basically trying to guilt them into giving you what you want, even if it will hurt them as they need that spot for their own reasons.
    That being said, I will OFFER my seat to those who appear to need it, but only when I do not need it for my own reasons. I sometimes can’t stand for long periods, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at me.

  • Sarah July 14, 2011, 9:10 am

    I remember being pregnant and being in an OB-GYN’s office. There were several men who were there with their wives. The problem was that the office was very full, and there were three pregnant women in their last month or so of pregnancy (I was one of them and a week overdue at that point) standing, while several men who were there with their wives sat. I thought that it was really inappropriate, of all places, for a man to be taking a seat in a full OB’s office at the expense of the some of the pregnant patients. However, while standing was uncomfortable at that point, I was capable of it, so I didn’t say anything to a receptionist, but it did seem like a breech of good manners on the part of those men. Yes, perhaps one or two had some sort of invisible disability, but I think it unlikely that all three or four did (and this was an OB’s office, no chance that any of them were patients or there for any other reason than to be with their spouse).

    However, I do think the pregnant belly lean is very inappropriate. Definitely retaliatory rudeness.

  • The Elf July 14, 2011, 9:42 am

    Anymousie, asking the general group instead of a specific person is difficult to do under some circumstances. But if someone does ask a specific person to give up their seat and that person also needs a seat, all they have to do is say so. Disabled people and others who need a seat are kind of between a rock and a hard place. The best solution is to just outright ask, and sometimes that means asking a specific person. I’m not going to call that rude, unless they “ask” by demanding.

  • Enna July 15, 2011, 9:48 am

    @ anymousie: it depends on how the OP’s sister asked, if she was rude and if she was “playing for pity” whilst drawing attention to her tummy. If she was acting to embelish her condition and emphasise it that is one thing.

  • Kai July 16, 2011, 11:17 am

    Well, I’ve only read the first page of comments but wanted to post my own before going to bed.

    I’m 25, short and chubby, and look younger than my age so I get a lot of older people whinging at me or younger kids refusing to move for me. Problem is, I have a dizziness problem (still trying to find out the cause). Sometimes for no reason the world will just start spinning around me and I can’t keep my balance. For that reason I try to sit down whenever I can. I will of course offer my seat to someone clearly in need (and luckily the bus I take doesn’t get very full except for school hours), but sometimes I just can’t and it frustrates me when some people assume I’m just being selfish.

    It also annoys me those times when someone does single me out because I am young when there are plenty of other people who could move. I once had an older woman pinch me and tell me I should change seats because I had sat in the first seat because some older people like this seat for some reason (not sure why, because it’s on a raised platform so they have trouble climbing up into it). She actually tried to imply my seat was solely for the elderly but it was not, and the seats specifically marked for the elderly/disabled/pregnant women were the middle section of the bus where the seats folded up and down and the floor was flat.

    As I stated above, the bus I use tends not to get too crowded except for the school kid rush. And for the most part, the kids who get this bus were clearly never taught manners. Quite a few adults will try to get the bus immediately before or immediately after the schooltime rush just to avoid these kids. They take every seat, throw their bags in the aisle so you can’t move anywhere anyway, and talk at the top of their voices (I know kids are noisy but they really do take it to a whole other level). They don’t get up for adults despite the fact that as the government subsidises their travel, the rules are they MUST give up their seat for any adult no matter what, and give up their seat for any paying customer (including other youngsters who pay) or they risk having their travel concession revoked. Once in a while once of these kids will give up their seat for an elderly person, but they never give up their seat for me because as I mentioned, I look young for my age, and despite my asking them for a seat. The last schooltime trip I got stuck on, I couldn’t move far in the bus as the bags were in the aisle, so I stood at the front holding the rails on either side of the aisle (I was in the midst of a dizzy spell so I was on the verge of falling over). A rude highschool girl wanted the next stop, so rather than ask me to move aside (which I was planning to do as soon as the bus stopped so that it was safe for me to do so without falling), she hit me in the back and shoved past me while we were still twenty metres away from the stop. By the time enough kids had gotten off so a seat was available, I saw my own mother at the next stop, so of course I let her have the seat (and teased her later about it). I ended up snapping at the kids to get their bags out of the way so that my mother could even get to the seat.

    As for the OP – I take issue with the assumption that the men were probably drunk. There’s no evidence in the letter to suggest this, just an assumption from a person who was not even there. That’s not defending their decision not to give up their seat, but I don’t like thrown out assumptions like that. Also from the way the OP described it, it sounded to me too that asking outright for a seat was the last resort. I too would have felt annoyed at some woman thrusting her belly in my face rather than ask outright first (though I would have already given up my seat). It’s passive aggressive and rude. One of the key lessons on this site is that we should not repay rudeness with rudeness, which I think she did in this case.

    That said, feminism/equal rights etc or no, everyone should do the right thing and offer a seat to a pregnant woman, elderly person or disabled person. Not because they are somehow lesser citizens who need to be treated like children, but because we’re all (hopefully) decent human beings and recognise that sometimes some people are in pain, in need or just doing it tough at the moment and giving up your seat can be a small sacrifice that makes their day a little easier.

  • Yvonne July 22, 2011, 3:16 pm

    Just in reference to “pregnancy is not an illness”, what about women who are at risk for pre-term labor, or have signs of pre-eclampsia? These women require extra rest, and can not safely remain on their feet for long periods of time. Just a point I wanted to make.

  • Tori August 1, 2011, 10:26 pm

    One time I was an a week long trip to San Francisco with my family. I was 11 at the time, my little sister K was 6. When we got on a bus to head back to the hotel there was plenty of seating. Only the 4 of us and a young couple in the back(making out on a bus—IN FRONT OF STRABGERS). Anyways a couple stops later all the seat are taken. We were taking up 3(K was on my lap). We come to another stop. 3 people get on, a man who looks like a hippy and 2 little old chinese ladies with their shopping bags. Dad gets up and gives one of the ladies his seat. I get up transfer K on to moms lap and when I was offering the seat to the other lady, hippy dude dodges in and sits down. I had a ‘WTF just happened’ look on my face. The lady said thank you anyway because she understood that I was trying to give her the seat. Dad the awesome guy that he is tells the hippy dude that he should give the seat to the lady. Hippy dude starts rambling about medical condtions he has(I looked them up-NONE of them were real. 2 stops later the ladies get off along with several other people. But more little old ladies get on so dad and I continue standing. K meanwhile falls asleep and her hair barely touches hippy dude and he FLIPS. He start listing his medical conditions and how she could kill him by doing that. Im thinking ‘Dude you are on a public bus…there are things way more dangerous than K hair touching you’. Next stop we got off even though we were still 4 blocks away. We wanted to leave. So we walk the rest of they way. UP A HILL. I let K piggyback the first block. Then dad took over the rest of the way. I mean at that time I was 11 and had more common courtesy than a fully grown man. And that was 2 years before I started comming onto Ehell.

  • See August 7, 2011, 1:01 am

    Yeah asking POLITELY is the way to get what you want need. I can’t stand for long periods of time because when my feet start hurting it sends pains up my legs and makes my back hurt. Yes I know that’s what happens but I have a bad back and that just makes things worse and I can do less for days.

    Anyhow after a 6 hour shift I got on a bus to travel across town when this older man gets on with a walker shoves a peice of paper that isn’t even official at the bus driver demanding space for his WALKER. Now 1 the walker was collapsible but to make room for the walker took up 3 seats. Then he demanded a seat looking straight at me. I know that paper’s not official and if the bd had actually looked/read it he would’ve too. Doctor’s papers aren’t full sheets of pure writing. They would have the doctor’s information, the doctor’s signature but anyone near him could see this paper did not. Yeah I wasn’t going to stand up for a rude selfish man who wanted 4 seats for himself when his walker had a seat on it. Oh and he could’ve sat down and fit his walker with him very easy as that’s how most people used it.

  • Fraenzi August 11, 2011, 3:42 pm

    I’ve gotten lots of dirty looks from little old ladies because I didn’t offer them my seat.
    The thing is, I do offer my seat to people who need it, when I can get up.
    I don’t have some kind of medical problem, I’m just a “normal” university student with a bag that weighs around 20 pounds and slight joint problems, so after a long day at university (the main building being uphill and all together I have to walk around 2 kilometers a day with my bag, not much, but enough) my back is killing me.
    If I see someone who seems to be in pain or if someone tells me they’re in pain, I will offer my seat to them, but if not, I prefer sitting in the bus than standing all the way home.

    Yes, I know, not all conditions are visible, but looking at me and seeing that I’m young and assuming I must be healthy is the same problem.
    If you reall think you’re entitled to a seat, please ask politely and if you seem to be worse off than me, you’ll get the seat, but I’m in pain, too.

  • Stacey Frith-Smith August 18, 2011, 10:22 pm

    I know there are different opinions on offering seats to the very young, very old, infirm, or women, but I think that in general we need to plan our commutes as carefully as we can and realize that a seat may not be guaranteed you. A favor is at the discretion of the party being asked, and no reason is needed for a refusal. In addition, while we may have our own private opinions about who merits first priority in seating or choice of place, the truth is that first come, first served is the most egalitarian approach. None of us knows all of the reasons why an individual may wish to give up or retain a seat on a given day, and even pregnant ladies or tired young children are not special snow flakes to whom all others must defer. They are simply people trying to get home or get to their destination…exactly like everyone else on the transport. That said, the glow of having done a good deed is hard to beat, and the lovely nuances of chivalry and courtesy that still exist and are played out enrich our culture and ennoble those who both exercise the better standard of conduct and refrain from being too self-righteous about those who do not.

  • penguintummy September 2, 2011, 8:10 am

    On the bus the other day it was quite crowded. An elderly man got on the bus just as another person vacated a seat. Unfortunately the older man couldn’t see that the seat was vacant from where he was standing and keep periodically glaring at everyone over his shoulder for not giving up their seat. I got up, tapped him on the shoulder and pointed out the vacant seat. He was a bit embarassed and sat down immediately. If you’re too busy judging then you won’t see what’s being offered

  • Sugaryfun January 13, 2012, 12:47 am

    Once when I was heading home from work on the bus at about 7 months pregnant I got about halfway down the crowded bus before a man stood up for me. He then proceeded to loudly lecture the passengers who had stayed sitting as I passed. Cheers mate! Closer to my due date when I had really swollen feet at the end of the day I got to the point where if no-one stood up for me would just politely ask someone in the designated seats for elderly/disabled/pregnant passengers “excuse me, but would you mind if I sat down?” It is tricky since you can’t always tell to look at someone whether they have a disability of some sort but I see no harm in asking.

    Mostly people do give up their seat for me when I’m obviously pregnant or carrying a child in a sling, and I will stand up for elderly or disabled people. I don’t really see why some people still expect men to stand up for (able bodied, non pregnant) women though and some get offended if they do.