Chivalry? Fat Chance on Metro

By John Kelly
Thursday, May 11, 2006

I do not make a habit of following pregnant women around town, but there was no other way to assess a complaint common among the gestating: that chivalry is dead.

Eager to test this thesis, I had arranged to meet Giselle Zimmerman outside the Farragut West Metro station one afternoon last week. Spring was busting out all over and so was Giselle, a 31-year-old who works in international development. Due June 19, she was 33 weeks pregnant when we met. More often than not, she said, she doesn't get a seat on the crowded Orange Line train she takes to and from Virginia Square/GMU.

"It's been an interesting dynamic," Giselle said. "Todd has taken it up as a cause because he's appalled that no one offers seats."

Todd is Todd Zimmerman , Giselle's husband and the father of the child percolating in her belly. Giselle has been compiling informal statistics for the last few months.

"Young women in their twenties are the worst [at offering a seat], absolutely the worst," she said. "They maybe look at you and then try not to make eye contact."

Better are men in their forties. Best of all are tourists.

Giselle has discovered the lengths to which people will go to nab a seat. They have shoved her out of the way. They have stepped on her foot. Once seated, they have ignored her distended stomach as it hovered mere inches from their faces like a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon torn from its handlers.

"One time, a woman came on holding a child, and like four people offered their seats," Giselle recalled. "I thought it was interesting: Holding the child outside your body gets you a seat versus holding it inside your body."

Giselle and I boarded a rush-hour train and watched as the four nearest handicapped seats were quickly filled. A young man sat next to an older man with a cane. A young woman sat next to a fiftyish woman.

It was the older woman, Barbara Buckingham , 53, who offered Giselle her seat.

"She obviously should have preference," Barbara told me. "I've been there. It's the right thing to do."

Two days later, I rendezvoused outside Metro Center with Kara , who is due June 4. Kara has been conducting her own informal sociological survey.

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