When It Comes to Public Transportation, Women Are the More Chivalrous Sex

The least likely person to stand for me on a subway train was, in fact, a young white man.
Publish date:
May 29, 2014
public transportation, manners, subway, chivalry

When I slipped on “black ice” in February, the way my ankle shattered -- I am told -- was something of a fluke. I am relatively young (32), was relatively sober (only one drink, I swear), and have relatively strong bones (despite being a smoker), so I was relatively surprised to learn that I had fractured my left ankle in six places. It took three steel plates, 15 screws, and two full months indoors to put me close-enough-to-back together.

the time I emerged from my cocoon, everything had changed -- the polar vortex had lifted, 10 new bars had opened in my neighborhood, and, so it seemed at first, all forms of civility had disappeared from the streets of New York City.

The first time I tried to hail a cab –- crutches, cast and all -– I watched as car after car was stolen right out from under me. Maybe it was partly my fault -- I lacked the range of motion to fight the good taxi fight -– and maybe I was just unseen by the able-bodied bipeds who repeatedly took my ride.

Then, one day in April, it started to rain just as I needed to leave for physical therapy. After 20 minutes of hovering on crutches (and 20 pained seconds of watching a man hop into a cab yards from me), I started to cry, feeling ever so helpless in the pouring rain. Within moments, it happened -– my knight-in-shining-armor had come to save me.

From out of nowhere, a cab pulled up and lowered its windows to reveal a near-mythical creature in the NYC taxi world -- a female driver. In the back seat was her passenger, a beautiful fashion model, visiting from Atlanta and en-route to her go-sees.

“Come in!” they insisted, offering me immediate shelter from the storm. It was like a double unicorn had emerged from skies -– at last, someone had shown me cab kindness. And then it hit me –- all the images came flooding back, like the final scene in a broken-ankled version of "Memento," and I realized: The people before, who had stolen my cab? They had all been men. Interesting.

After a month of taking a car to work, I was broke. By late April, it was time. Subway time.

My trek to the subway entrance has always been filled with anxiety about exactly how manhandled I will be on my trek to work each morning. The thought of replicating the same path, but with crutches and a cast, sent shivers down my spine. But I had to get to therapy on the Upper West Side, and the thought of spending that much money on another cab was just more than I could handle.

I slowly hobbled down the steps to the uptown 1 train, dodging people rushing to the station, and entered the sliding doors to meet my fate. Instantly, a lovely young man jumped up and insisted that I take his seat.

Turns out that was a fluke. Not the fact that someone stood -- in fact, I found that each time I boarded the train, within 10 seconds, I was offered a seat. And the seat offerings came across the board, from people across all ages, races, ethnicities, and –- oh wait. I came to realize after hours and hours of field research*, that the fluke occurrence was the single, solitary time that the person giving me their seat was a man.

At first I thought it was me. Let’s be honest, my face at rest can be stern and I have gained some weight from my sedentary months -– maybe I was looking too sturdy and unapproachable to 50 percent of the population? But I asked around of my friends, and my findings, they agreed, were accurate. Well, sort of. All of my pregnant -– or formerly pregnant -– pals concurred: women of all types always stood to offer them a seat.

With roughly three months of visibly pregnant straphanging, each had far more data sets to analyze than me and, according to them, men definitely stood and offered seats. Not nearly as often as women, they assured me, but enough. It just wasn’t all men. The trend they noticed is that the least likely person to stand for them on a subway train was, in fact, a young white man. That was also my experience.

The last time I took science or statistics was in high school, but even I know that my field research is flawed. I was looking at a handful of subways, at a specific time of day, in a specific area of town, over a specific time period. I primarily categorized by male/female, and even that binary could be questioned if gender identity were thrown into the mix. And I can't forget the visual of two large men running toward me on the ice, trying to help me up when I fell.

But the subway has certainly become center stage for displays of chivalry’s demise –- most notably in the photo Tumblr “Men Taking Up Too Much Space on the Train.” With changing gender roles and the death of antiquated notions, have men finally earned their full right to sit down on the subway and just never looked back? I don’t know. I just know that it took a broken ankle on the NYC subway to show me that civility, maybe even chivalry, is truly alive and well, it’s just that women are its most committed stewards.