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Pregnant or fat – what bloody dilemma?

October 3, 2010 2 comments

I had a random conversation on Facebook recently about public transport seating, and the horrible middle-class dilemma of whether to offer your seat or not

Please give up your seat for someone less able to stand

New tube priority seating signs.

and I had to hold back from just shouting at people, especially when I read some of the comments on the BBC article about it. This one, for instance:

I will gladly offer my seat to an elderly person , I believe that you choose to get pregnant , but aging is one thing you cant avoid! I’m 31 and anyone that is obviously older than me gets offered my seat , but pregnant people … not !
Kevin, London

I hope Kevin never gets close enough to a woman to be able to make her pregnant – he has clearly forgotten/not been taught biology well enough to realise that he also is of woman born, and therefore made her back ache too at one point. Enough of misogynistic ignorant wankers, however, as their existence, though annoying, is incidental to this story.

The prevailing thought seems to be that as it’s sometimes difficult to tell whether someone’s pregnant or not (or fat, yes, just say it), there are legions of otherwise altruistic people out there who would jump at the opportunity to offer their seat to someone less able than them, but they’re traumatised at the potential of embarrassing someone by offering them a seat, as if they’re not actually pregnant, this will inadvertently be calling them fat.

To this I say utter bollocks.

I’ve stood there, heavily pregnant (and obviously so), and been looked straight through, and I’m neither surprised or offended at all by it. There’s no reason that pregnant women, old people, or anyone else should have the automatic right to a seat. Others may be suffering far more discomfort from an outwardly invisible knee injury, other illness or even, heaven forbid, an hangover.

What I am saying is that this fake guilt to cover up the fact that none of us really want to give up our seat, is exactly that – fake.

I’ve been commuting in London for 17 years and it’s a war out there – nobody enjoys the squeeze of the tube or the rush hour trains & buses, it’s thoroughly unpleasant, and I daresay we are all sometimes guilty of “I thought I could get away with it and hoped they wouldn’t notice me looking shiftily away.”

It’s not surprising that involuntary close contact with hundreds of strangers makes us guard our personal space so carefully. One of the methods we use is to have a book to read, or studiously avoiding eye contact – not surprising then that we sometimes miss the tell-tale signs of someone else’s greater need than ours.

That said, I am amazed when the occasional man tells me a story of a woman who has rudely refused an offer on the basis that it’s old fashioned/patronising – both at the woman that supposedly threw the offer back in their faces (sister, what are you doing??!!) and the man for taking this as a sign that all women will henceforward be like that. Is it ungenerous to suspect they’re slightly relieved to have an excuse never to offer again? 😉

My feminist sisterhood hackles are also raised by women who remain glued to their seat (older women are actually the worst offenders) in the face of a pregnant woman in obvious discomfort.

In reality we just have to accept that it’s supremely arrogant of us to expect anyone/everyone else in the same carriage/bus to a) notice us or b) care.

I know only too well that it’s hard to think of anything else when you’re pregnant, and it does sometimes feel like the entire planet wants to queue up and coo, guess the gender and stroke the bump, uninvited; but there remains a huge percentage of the population who are untouched by your own personal miracle, and just want to get to work on time without interacting with anyone too rude or smelly.

Baby on Board BadgeSo, take responsibility for yourselves, ladies. For a start you can now pick up from any underground station, a badge that says “Baby On Board. That takes away any excuses of those that do actually look at you.

For the people who don’t notice/hope someone else will stand up, there is always the tried and tested way that I used – walk up to a set of 4 or 6 seats (giving yourself the best chance by not putting just one person on the spot) and say “Excuse me, I’m heavily pregnant and uncomfortable, would anyone mind me sitting down?”. Not once did this fail me, and was usually met this choruses of “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t notice.” True or not, they have an excuse, and you now have a seat. Win:win 🙂

For those who still have a slight quandary, just bloody well offer your seat will you – if you’re really that bothered by it, why not offer your seat and not make it obvious why? A simple “Would you like to sit down?” doesn’t bear any social stigma for anyone, and will spare you the non-existent cringe factor.