Underground Ethics: Pregnant on the subwayBy
Lynn Harris wants you to know that she, while eight months’ pregnant, offered to give up her seat to an old man, and the old man refused. It has become such a part of her New York City identity that she felt obliged to put it in her bio to her latest online entry in The Times’ Complaint Box series of rants about Big Apple life.
As with most entitled New Yorkers these days, Ms. Harris, a native of Lexington, Massachusetts, lives somewhere near me in Park Slope. Her piece was about her sheer inability to find a seat on the subway while she was pregnant. Of course, she blames everyone else but herself in a scathing passive aggressive indictment of the supposedly selfish behavior underground:
Thank you so much, everyone, for offering me a seat on the subway when I’ve got my daughter in her stroller or my son in his Bjorn. (Or both.) I would like to rest for a moment; it’s awfully kind of you, indeed. And yes, by all means, you can help me get the stroller up the stairs. Thanks again.
I have just one question: Where were you people when I was pregnant? Oh, right. You were sitting comfortably in your seats. While I stood. In August.
It happened every time, with both pregnancies. When the train arrived, I’d exaggerate my waddle, brush a sweaty wisp from my forehead, emit a weary sigh and enter, gazing around for a seat or a good Samaritan. What I’d see: blank stares, bald spots, newspaper headlines. Headlines held up to hide faces. (Headlines that might have read “Chivalry Dead.”) No one budged. Time and again. No one budged.
If anyone did give up a seat — which, O.K., did happen, on days when there was a partial eclipse, a unicorn sighting and alternate-side parking suspended, or when I finally started asking for one — the donors appeared in this order of likelihood: (1) older woman, (2) younger woman, (3) minority man.
That’s right, folks: No white man every offered to give up his seat to Ms. Harris even during the sweltering months of August when temperatures on the subway cars are routinely held at 70-72 degrees. As you can tell from the tone of the first four paragraphs, the rest of the piece is just as tedious, but it does raise one of our many interesting underground ethics questions: Should people give up a seat to a pregnant lady or should the pregnant lady ask for a seat?
In the comments to Ms. Harris’ piece — mostly devoted to the millions of New Yorkers who do actually give up their seats — the jury is out. Many seem to believe that straphangers should willing cede seat space to someone visibly pregnant. Others though warn about the pregnancy faux pas. What if the woman in question is rather rotund but not pregnant?
Instead, the solution rests in the hands of the pregnant woman who should ask for a seat. “Excuse me, but may I please sit down?” Who could refuse that from someone potentially pregnant? Not I, and not the vast majority of straphangers I know.
In the end, Ms. Harris never ventures into this territory of underground behavior. She is content to simmer passive aggressively while supposedly few subway riders gave up seats for her. She brings out her frustration in a snark-filled column online, proving that she is no better or worse with her underground manners than those who sit with their noses buried in books and ears deep in iPod while the pregnant ladies all must stand.