Oh GOD, can you IMAGINE the awful, choking embarrassment of it all? I am SO glad I wasn’t there. Just think – there’s Equalities Minister Jo Swinson, seven months pregnant and arriving late to a parliamentary session to find that all the seats were filled. So she stands. Ripples of realisation run through the crowd as the men who notice her gravid state begin to wrestle internally with the conundrum.
Should a modern man – or a Tory MP with pretentions to modern manhood – offer a seat to a pregnant woman? Is it polite? Is it chivalrous? Is it sexist? Is pregnancy a disease, a handicap or a natural state of being? How will it play among his peers? Or hers, if they’re not the same thing? The media? The public, if they’re not the same thing? Will good intentions be inferred or will he be assumed to be, and damned forever as, a chauvinist pig? Will someone else offer her a seat so everyone can breathe again, stop looking fixedly forward and move on with their lives? Why are we so frightened? So confused? So paralysed? So altogether hopelessly, uselessly, utterly British? And where’s Debrett’s when you really need it?
So, I suggest, ran roughly the thoughts of the poor, pregproximate MPs last week. And then an adviser from Swinson’s office further muddied the waters by saying it WOULD have been sexist for anyone to have assumed she was incapable of standing and offered her a seat, especially when she was perfectly capable of asking for one herself if she had felt the need.
It was clear to many what the problem was. Feminism, certain people and parts of the media thundered, Had Gone Too Far.
Feminism, cartain parts of the media thundered, had gone too far
Two things: I understand why, as pregnancy is a condition that affects only women but which usually brings with it an array of physical unpleasantries that mean special accommodations are often desired and warranted, the issue may not be clear in some minds – especially those caught on the hop in parliamentary session. So: IT’S OK. You are not offering her a seat because she is a woman – ie, because you perceive her to be inherently weaker and more vulnerable than yourself. You are offering it to her because she – as a person having a large portion of her personal resources siphoned off by the succubus inside her and giving a whole new meaning to the word ‘multitasking’ for nine months (“Oh, you’re checking a spreadsheet on your iPad? I’m GROWING A NEW PERSON IN HERE!”) – is likely to be physically worse off than you are at the moment. Her gender is incidental to this main event. Et voilà – all claims of sexism fail.
Therefore, just as if you saw a woman with a broken leg standing on the train or Tube, you would offer your seat (I hope – unless you are just a sh*t), please do feel free to offer it up to a pregnant – let’s call her ‘person’.
Pregnant people: accept such offers graciously and gratefully OR decline, smile widely, thank him profusely and explain that you’re actually feeling OK at the moment, thus officially recognising it as Jolly Decent Behaviour, falling under the heading of, “Embrace of Common Humanity” rather than “Vile Sexism” and encouraging repetition of said behaviour.
So it is nothing to do with feminism. But for those who seize any chance to confuse the issue and try to sully the good name of a social movement that tries to eradicate pointless, unfair, damaging, cruel disparities between the treatment of one group of people and another based on their chromosomal differences, listen up.
Are women, who constitute 50% of the world population, proportionately represented in business at executive level, in politics, in exalted positions in the financial sector or anywhere else where money and power habitually reside? No. Are they over-represented among the low-paid, the unpaid (carers, for example) and people on benefits? Yes. When they do exactly the same jobs as men, are they paid the same money? Not often. Do they make up the overwhelming majority of rape and sexual assault victims? Yes. Is every rape and sexual assault reported, investigated thoroughly and without judgement or bias? No.
Has feminism gone too far on this occasion? No.”