So I was just asked this the other day, but before I answer the question, let me set a scene for you.
So it’s 6 p.m. and the post-work rush is still going pretty hard on your preferred mode of transportation. You’ve had a pretty long day, and after clinging on to a high bar for dear life because the jerk in front of you has their body wrapped around the convenient long bar like they’re about to put on a Magic City show, you get excited when the seat in front of you opens up. You plop down and get ready to pull out a book/magazine/whatever and enjoy the ride home. That is until you notice a woman with a belly the size of a beach ball waddle on the train looking tired and in need of a seat. So what do you do?
I can’t tell you how many times this scenario has played out in my everyday life. The moment I reach into my bag and grab my book of the moment, someone pregnant, with a bunch of tiny kids, or seasoned (aka, OLD) comes on the train with a helpless look in their eye that is searching the car for relief in the form of a seat. When this happens, I often look around my damn self, hoping someone else will for once step up and help this passenger out. Instead, the Oscar contenders come out. Just the other day this happened and a man with his eyes glued to his iPhone kept his head down so he didn’t have to be bothered, people pretended to be asleep or too glued to their books, newspapers and magazines to notice, and another man looked straight ahead, not giving a damn. Sometimes a guy will hop up quickly and ask the woman to sit, but these days, and in this particular story, that’s not the case. So there I was, bags on my forearm and a book in my hand, taking a deep sigh, standing up, and motioning for this particular person (an elderly woman) to take my seat. With a “thank you” and a “no problem” exchanged, I was back to the high bar, waiting impatiently for my stop so I could sit my behind down at home.
When this scene comes to life in front of you, how do you respond? Are you the first to jump out of your seat, the last to reluctantly do so, or the mug who plays crazy in the hopes that someone else will step up? I can often look in the faces of many women and see that they hope that a man will pull a chivalrous one and offer his seat, but these days, you’ll be lucky to get a seat before a man boxes your a** out for it like you’re on the court together playing basketball. I’ve seen a man viciously brush past a woman looking to get to the same seat, so hard that a back and forth of snark and vitrol ensued. And I’ve also heard some people talk about how irritated they get at teenagers with two good legs and young lungs taking seats from those who could use them. The test to see who will be the one to do something nice for someone else now been narrowed down to gender, age, and whoever can be made to feel bad enough to stand up first by stares from strangers.
But that’s not to say that the answer to the question I posed in the title is “Men,” or “Teenagers.” They aren’t the only ones who should be helping folks out who need a seat because they might be more physically fit to do so. In the same vein as being charitable, if you want to give up your seat, you should, because in reality, it’s more about doing what’s right for you as opposed to doing what others expect you to. And if you want to give up your seat, more power to you, and if you always fail to do so, I hope people are more giving to you when you get pregnant, have kids, age, or get hurt than you were to those before you. I just know for myself, as a woman, I often feel for those carrying a child and having to deal with all the horrid smells and attitudes on public transportation, so I’ll give up my seat. Seeing an elderly person hunched over and looking like they might fall over at the next stop always makes me sad, so if no one has done so already, I’ll give up my seat. And the sight of a child with their parent licking the public poles just grosses me out, so I’ll give up my seat (uh, but that baby has to be three years old and under, and barely three feet tall or they’re just going to have to stand like everybody else). But hey, like everyone else, there are days when I just don’t feel like being the good Samaritan and I’d rather sit because a headache is on its way or my feet are just tired. So I try my best not to fault other people for feeling the same way and staying put. So I guess, when asked who should give up their seat on public transportation for others, I’d say, “whoever wants to.” If it’s not you voluntarily, then you probably shouldn’t start pointing fingers, because you shouldn’t be expecting anybody else to do what you’re not even willing to yourself.