Chivalry on the bus

MARK SAWYER
Last updated 05:00 05/02/2013
bus
JANIE BARRETT

STANDING ROOM ONLY: Should gents stand up for ladies on the bus?

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OPINION: The sun is not yet high in the sky but the bus is already warming up. Another peak hour, but still something of a novelty for me.

After two decades working nights, I returned to the day commute last year as the proverbial Rip Van Winkle. I swapped the joys of the haphazard daytime service for the morning rush.

Same buses, but a very different world, the world of standing room only, for ''a licensed 15 passengers''. Luckily, today I am not one of them.

The bus creaks past the roundabout and waits for the lights to change. I have secured a place on the back row.

A gaggle of people are standing near the middle doors, and there are others standing in the passage. From my vantage, the closest person to me is a woman of about 30 to 35, in a smart work suit and wearing heels. She is texting someone.

I figure the shoes aren't too comfortable and wonder whether I should offer her my seat.

The same thought has apparently not occurred to my fellow males. They are lost in their laptops, phones and suchlike.

If this woman was nearer, I'd offer her my spot, but she is five rows away and I feel absurd beckoning her to my spot.

Anyway, why should I? Having commented on this dilemma to friends and family, I have been given the impression that I am way out of touch.

''Is that because of Mad Men?'' one son asked, having listened to one too many (I hope humorous) rants about how much better (some) things were in Don Draper's day.

The bus hasn't got any more comfortable and I can't help but wonder what it's like to stand in those heels. It's no surprise many women (and some men) change shoes at the office; those things look like killers.

But who am I, some country bumpkin who asked the driver if he could tie a cage of chooks to the roof?

The plight of the standing lady - and that of another woman, more comfortably shod - remains a matter of supreme indifference to the 15 men (and five women) I count occupying the five rows between me and her. She won't be lecturing the men on misogyny if she wanted to; their earpieces wouldn't let them hear her.

And what is it with me? Why do I care? I want to sit too. She's younger than me. And most of the 15 seated guys are younger than me. If they're not bothered, and the woman herself isn't pleading for a seat, or, say, pregnant, why am I getting het up?

I can only answer that it doesn't seem right that men sit and women stand in a bus. I'm sure someone will accuse me of self-serving chivalry and of being patronising; hadn't I heard the sexes are equal now? And isn't it the dumb fault of anyone who wears those pinchy shoes?

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And to be honest, I have made the gesture far less often than I have promised I would.

But I suspected I was on the right track in offering up my seat, where appropriate, when one woman, roughly 30, replied with what sounded like delighted surprise: ''Are you sure?'' and took the seat.

Back to that sweltering morning bus. I wonder what might happen if I am to lumber down the aisle with my ''oh so generous'' offer. Most likely, I'll be politely rebuffed, and do a kind-of walk of shame - if not shame, then sheepishness - back to my seat.

I can't entirely blame the younger guys. They would have grown up with those messages of equality between the sexes. In all probability most of them are on their feet for a woman who looks over, say, 60, which nowadays probably means she is over 70. And some indeed do offer a place to a woman, no matter her age.

But in the case of the majority, it seems pretty paltry that your average bloke can't cop half an hour of mild stress on the legs. Especially fellas of the kind I see on lunchtime workouts in the park outside my office - the ones who shape up for a sparring session, or who go for a run or a bike ride after work, in between crunching abs.

Stand up and be counted, fellas, we're better than that.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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