Yesterday, I stood cramped on a rush hour A train headed home. The sweltering heat was only exacerbated by an army of over-worked NYC dwellers and a non-functioning AC. In the middle of the crowded train stood a mother and her young son. The wailing child was uncomfortable, and the mother tried unsuccessfully to calm him.
As if by fate, there was a row of three men sitting in front of her. Not one offered their seat.
This is a situation I’ve seen time and time again. A struggling mother who could use a moment of relaxation, only to be met with rudeness. I’ve seen pregnant women standing, while men pretend she is invisible. Women who navigate between screaming children and bags of groceries, only to be ignored.
That’s the thing about trains… you’ll learn a lot about cultural mores and social norms if you dare to pay attention.
When I bring train behavior up to my guy friends, they all look at me in bewilderment. The resident Black feminist, my friends all proffer uneven understandings about feminism. They say things along the lines of: “Well, doesn’t feminism mean that men and women are equal? So why should I give up my seat to a women, if it’s not expected that she give up her seat to me.”
I suspect that such opinions are rooted in most men’s misunderstandings about feminism. In it’s crux, a high volume of men believe that feminism and chivalry are completely incompatible. This view is further highlighted through dating culture; some men refuse to pay a women’s way on a date because of “feminism.”
But feminism and chivalry actually follow the same line of reasoning; showing respect and support to women who are inherently vulnerable thanks to centuries of patriarchy and gender based violence. Of course, early chivalric traditions are tied to patriarchy and oppression. However, as society has evolved and progressed, chivalrous deeds aim to ensure female success on even the most micro-level.
Hence, when a man gives up his seat on a packed train to a pregnant woman, he recognizes the complexity of pregnancy, and offers his minute form of support to a woman who is literally carrying life. Or when a man gives up his seat to a mother, he especially recognizes that the trials of motherhood are gratuitously challenging.
Feminism does not excuse or negate basic decency. Feminism is not a blanket cover for “equality” without acknowledging power and the inclusion of choice. Feminism is not a handy tool for continuing the era of patriarchy and disrespect, despite many attempts to make it so.
When people refuse to give up their seats to a pregnant woman or mother, they’re only perpetuating disrespect to the unique needs of women.