Will Millennial Men Please Stand Up?
The results are in: women are far more likely to give up their seat for someone in need on public transport.
Like millions of Australians, I catch public transport to work each day. Every morning, I join other peak hour commuters on an overcrowded tram into Melbourne’s CBD.
As a person with a disability -- a form of dwarfism -- catching a train or tram has meant minor pain from standing, the ever-present danger of elbows to the head and an inability to follow the constant reminders to “hold on” to the handles above my head.
This year, at age 32, the pain from standing became too much to bear. The strongest pain killers the pharmacist could provide just weren’t getting me through a brief stroll, let alone a 30-minute standing commute.
So in May, I started using crutches.
My life became easier overnight. There were a few noticeable changes to people’s reaction to me. People started holding doors for me. There was less staring by children. It was an instant conversation-starter with other people with disabilities.
But there was one phenomenon that really grabbed my attention, in part because it was directly related to my own peers -- Millennial men. I began to receive offers of seats on public transport, as you would hope. But it quickly became apparent that most of the seat offers were from women.
When talking about this with women, I would often get a knowing nod -- particularly from those who had been pregnant. In one of these discussions, we formed the idea of an experiment: every time I got on a tram without available seats, I would take a note of what happened. The one rule was that I could not request seats, as this could bias the sample.
The hypothesis was simple -- more women would get up than men.
In the four months of the experiment, that initial prediction was correct -- the number of women offering me seats far outweighed the number of men. Out of 97 journeys, I was offered a seat just under half the time, with 32 women standing compared to just 11 men.
But another thing quickly started to become clear -- men in my own generation were not getting up.
Of the women who offered me their seat, my guess was that about half were in their 20s and 30s. However, it took the full four months for a similar aged man to offer me their seat, with a kind man who looked in his mid-30s offering me his seat on Monday.
Of the men who did stand up, five were in their 50s. The same number of women have offered to stand. I refused seats from these women on principle.
This is not just some rant about young people. In fact, young people were quite polite. Despite most of my fellow commuters being working age people, three teenagers got up for me.
For older generations, it is a drilled-in courtesy to stand up for someone in need. And perhaps the younger generation have become battered into submission by the cyclical abuse of ‘the young people of today’.
I am aghast to say that it is my own people who are failing.
There are clearly reasons for this.
One factor is that people’s heads are now firmly buried in their smartphones. But there have certainly been times when people use this as an excuse rather than an oversight. I have stood in front of rows of four younger men, leaning over my crutches so my eye level is directly at theirs, and got about as much attention as a white crayon.
There is also no doubt that sometimes my lack of height means people simply cannot see me. But then again, it also tends makes me stand out in a crowd when I am visible.
Then there was my rule of not requesting a seat. Maybe my peers were less likely to offer to stand because I had not actively asked.
But none of this explains why others stood when they did not.
What is more likely is that men aged between 22 and 37 have by and large not had to think about what it means to need a seat on a train, tram or bus. They are most likely in the physical prime of their lives and have grown up in a world that has at times sent mixed messages about the difference between formal equality and substantive equality.
True equality is not first in best dressed.
READ MORE: How To Get The Best Seat On Your Train Trip
Women, who are more likely to be carers, will often say to me they are conditioned to be aware of their surroundings and to know that others might be more in need of a seat than them.
Admittedly, my experiment was not scientific in its results. But clearly there is a broader issue here.
So far this year, not a single fine has been issued in Victoria for failing to vacate priority seating, despite an astounding 61,258 fines being dished out for other offences.
Anyone who needs these seats understands that this is no indication that people are always giving up their seats.
As governments move to decrease the number of seats on public transport to pack more people in, the signs supporting the disabled, the aged, the pregnant and those with children are slowly slipping out of view.
Our politicians need to better understand seating requirements while they fix our transport woes.
In the meantime, this is my call to my fellow Millennial men -- that seat is not for you. If you do not need a seat, do not take it. If you are on a seat, look around for people who might need it. Do not wait to be asked.
It is time for you to just stand up.