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Chivalry is dead

September 29, 2009 2 comments

Even as a young boy, I knew what chivalry was about. Men are supposed to hold open doors for women. They’re supposed to bring in the groceries. They should help women out of the car.

Chivalry is dead.

Maybe that statement is a bit extreme, but it’s hard not to notice that chivalry is, at the very least, on its deathbed. Sure, you see men doing those things for women every so often, but think really hard and try to remember the last time you saw it with your own eyes.

It’s no more apparent to me that chivalry is on its last legs than when I’m on the mass transit systems in the New York City metropolitan area.

I take the PATH (Port Authority Trans-Hudson) train system to and from work every day. One of the basic rules of etiquette on any mass transit system is that people be chivalrous with regards to who gets to sit down during a trip.

It’s a given that if you see a disabled, elderly or pregnant woman board your subway car, you offer them your seat so long as you yourself are not disabled, elderly or pregnant (I take it a step further and include young children as well). It doesn’t even matter if you’re a man or a woman. This is just common sense and decency.

Unfortunately, I see pregnant women, elderly people and the obviously disabled (never mind that not all disabilities are visible) standing for minutes after boarding the train. I make it a habit to look up at all the entrances at each stop to see if there is anybody whose comfort is a priority. Most people don’t care and don’t want to be bothered.

This sad, pathetic behavior affected me and my wife personally over the course of the year.

I recently had a mishap involving my basement stairs that resulted in a rather nasty sprain of my left ankle and put me on crutches for a few weeks. During the short period of time in which I was commuting to the office (I ended up just working from home for a little while because the commute was too difficult), I was offered a seat on just one occasion. Most of the time, I just stood in the middle of a relatively crowded train, two crutches in one hand with all my weight on one leg, silently praying that the train would not lurch.

But I’m a guy and I can deal with it. What I can’t deal with is my wife being able to count on one hand the number of times she was offered a seat during the 6 months in which she was very obviously pregnant (she commuted up to the day before she delivered). She told me that the worse part was that there were always young, able men who saw her condition but just didn’t care to offer her a seat. She’s not the type to ask, so she just stood during almost all of her commutes. Actually, she didn’t mind standing at all, but the situation bothered me nonetheless just on the principle of the matter.

The worst behavior came one day about halfway through her pregnancy when we were commuting home together. At one stop, a woman seated nearby got up to exit the train and the young woman standing in front of the seat was kind enough to offer it to my wife. However, before my wife could make her way over, the lady – if you could call her that – standing next to the young woman nudged her aside to sit down.

When the first woman informed the second woman that my wife was pregnant and that she intended to give her the seat, the second woman said, “It’s okay because when I was pregnant, nobody gave me a seat so it’s karma.”

That’s an almost exact quote (it was several months ago so I can’t remember every last word). I was too shocked at first that my reply – that if she wanted to be a jerk she should just admit it instead of hiding behind the concept of karma, which she clearly didn’t understand – never left my mouth. I couldn’t believe that someone would compete with a pregnant woman for a seat on a crowded train and then try to justify it in such a ridiculous manner. If she really had that bad an experience, should she not have been more sympathetic to other pregnant women?

If I was still the brash, hot-tempered person I was in my younger days (I’m still hot-tempered but not as brash), I would have said and possibly done some things that I would later have not been proud of, but instead I just left the woman to her seat and talked aloud with the decent woman and my wife about the death of chivalry.

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