Everyday Ethics

Our fellow Beliefnet blogger and editor, Valerie Reiss, just sent me a link and a question: Is chivalry dead on the subway? 

Why is she asking? Apparently, NY Times city blogger Lynn Harris has had a hard time getting a seat offered to her on the train both times she was pregnant. She blogged about it this week, and, man! Did she get a backlash in the comments. While some argued “Oh no, I always give up my seat for “preggos”…” (commenter’s term, not mine), others yowled nastily along the lines of “Hey, you CHOSE to get pregnant, what’s it to me…”  One guy even said, and I quote:

“If women will not give up their seats for a pregnant woman, why should I? I believe in equality – not female superiority. If they want a seat then take an earlier or later train or bus. That is what I do to guarantee me a seat when buses or trains are crowded. Most important: Don’t bug me or give me dirty stares to give up my seat – I won’t!!!”

While my own experience on the train has generally been that people seem to leap to their feet with alacrity whenever an obviously pregnant woman approaches (though there are times when I’ve seen folks eyeball a less obviously pregnant woman while clearly wondering, “Should I…? But what if I’m wrong…?”), I don’t question the blogger’s experience. New York City is a cutthroat town, and never more so than on the subway.
That’s why I decided to post this occasional “Underground Ethics” series on Everyday Ethics. The subway, with its mass concentration of humanity, its cramped conditions and stress-test environment, showcases the best and the worst of our human behaviors – all on the fly. Some of us find it exhilarating. Others of us just find it exhausting. 

Me, I’m among the latter. My ennui and disgust often get the better of me when I see people simply failing to give a darn about one another, i.e., when empathy is at its low ebb, as it so often seems to be underground. It’s as though all our exhaustion, our aggression, and our self-serving need to get on with it, damn it, just increases exponentially as we hurtle through the flourescent-lit tunnels of our baser natures.
However, I did think the Times commenters made some interesting cases against assuming chivalry is in everyone’s best interest. Their arguments fell generally into four categories: a) it’s anti-feminist to assume pregnant women can’t hold up as well as everyone else, b) “elective ailments” don’t deserve special treatment (again, commenters’ words, not mine!) c) strollers are a safety hazard, d) if you want a seat, don’t be passive-aggressive, ask for what you want directly.
Fair points, and when it comes to ethics, generally speaking, aren’t we talking about the greater good as opposed to one individual’s comfort? (Yet pregnant women are carrying the future of humanity, so that argument tends to backfire…)
For myself, while I’m as yet child-free and not a great fan of strollers blocking exits or giving me footsie-flat-tires, I generally do make a policy of hopping to my feet for gestating women. I don’t know if they need it, I don’t know if they want it, but what could it hurt? I’m rarely, if ever, so weary I can’t make it a few stops standing up. And there’s a decent chance they are that weary – or at least more weary than I.
Now, if we were talking about chivalry toward a woman wearing 4-inch stilettos at the end of a long work day, I might make a different choice, though I bet our hypothetical high-heeled lady friend might actually be suffering more. (Now there’s a truly elective ailment. Remind me one day to share the story of the lady who landed full-force on my instep in a pair of spike-heeled sandals… youch!) Yet I bet there’d be more than a few of the ‘young white men’ the Times blogger claims were the worst seat-hogging culprits ready to offer up their coveted seats for the lady in the sexy Manolos…
Anyhow. I digress.
At the risk of reigniting the mommy wars (and I shudder at the very prospect), I’d like to ask: What do you think: Do “preggos” automatically deserve first crack at a seat?

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