My co-worker rides the bus to work and sees all kinds of things. The other day he told this story. It’s an interesting snapshot of cultural and social change.
This co-worker commutes on the bus and one day recently a pregnant woman got on. The bus was pretty full so she went back to the middle of it. A young man was seated in the general vicinity. An older woman, maybe middle-aged, pointed her finger at the young man and in a snotty voice demanded to know if he would stand so the pregnant woman could sit. He did give up his seat. Then the woman looked at the older man who happened to be sitting across from her and made some remark in a huffy voice about young men and their lack of manners. To his everlasting credit, the man looked at her and said in a level voice “Not my kid….” That didn’t sit well with her at all.
Some observations. One is an aspect of the female role that activates when a woman gets to an age where she thinks she’s everyone’s mother. This licenses them to dictate behavior to everyone because everyone needs their direction to behave properly. There is a good expression of this kind of parental concern for society in general, but this isn’t it. (By the way this is why I will not have a female dog of any herding breed in the house. They can be insufferably officious and directive.)
Another is the lopsidedness of expectations around [degenerate] chivalry. Did you notice that the older woman never offered her own seat to the expectant mother, and that even so she felt entitled to order a stranger around to do just that?
Another is a cultural expectation that all men have some kind of duty of accomodation and solicitude to all pregnant women (which apparently women do not.) This is enough of a cultural expectation that the older woman felt she could invoke it to the desired effect, and in fact that worked.
And finally another is that the winds of change are blowing, however faintly. When the older woman called on a bystander of her own generation for moral support – ganging up on a stranger is always so satisfying, isn’t it, and when it’s in the service smug self-righteousness, it can be truly sweet – she didn’t get it. Her supposed back up shut her down.
This is progress, and it’s not isolated any more. By way of context, this is Seattle, liberal, forward-looking Seattle, so this may be happening here a little sooner than elsewhere. More than once, several times in fact, I have had young women offer me their seat on the bus. I’m only ever going a few blocks so I don’t take them up on it, but they seem genuinely pleased to be doing this small courtesy. I think it is a generous and gentle way of reminding me of my age. Miss Manners predicted this more than thirty years ago, that we were passing from a gender-based system of deference to one based on age (just as we had passed form a class-based system of deference to the gender-based one earlier.)
So perhaps the decaying wreckage of traditional chivalry and [benevolent] sexist deference to women by men is truly starting to crumble.
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