Wordcount 684

Seat of Power
by Ronald Bruce Meyer

I don't normally see Jane on Chicago's L, the elevated train system. Today Jane looked more harried than usual. A man just got up from the seat next to me, so I hailed her when she looked my way.

You were lucky to get a seat, I said. It's pretty crowded this morning.

"My car's in the shop, so I had to take the train."

But you've commuted by train before, right?

"Yes, but I'd rather drive my car."

So you don't like being crammed into a narrow seat on the train?

"The seats are OK for me, but why do guys have to take up a seat and a half? They slouch, open-legged, like they have a melon in their pants!"

Well, some of us do, Jane. (I was trying to lighten her up.) She ignored me and went on.

"And the other thing I don't understand-- Why don't men give up their seats to women on a crowded train?"

In my father's day, in the 50s and 60s, that was pretty routine. I must have been taught that little snippet of chivalry when I was very young, because I sometimes feel a little guilty. But I don't do it.


Well, I'll give up my seat to a senior citizen or someone who's handicapped.

"But not to a woman. What happened to your chivalry?"

Two things. One, most of the women I see on the train look healthy and fit to me -- in fact, people-watching is one of the fun things about taking the train -- and they could probably kick my butt.

"Probably. And the other thing?"

Beyond not needing the seat? I look at these women and I think to myself, `She's probably competing for my job; she can compete for my seat, too.'

"So you're kind of a Darwinist of train commuters?"

Survival of the fastest? Not really. If she grabs the seat first, she's welcome to it. But if I grab it first, then lucky me. But it's just a seat. Hey, our stop is next.

"I'll bet you don't open doors for women, either."

Actually, I'll open doors for anyone, man or woman, if I'm the first one to the door. Especially if that person is carrying something. But that has nothing to do with chivalry. There's no limited seating involved, no competition. It's just polite. I was brought up to be polite.

The train's doors opened and we relinquished our seats to two standees, both men. As we climbed up from underground, we continued our conversation.

"But isn't it polite to give up your seat to a woman?"

You're still talking about chivalry, Jane. Historically, chivalry was something invented by superiors to `bestow' on inferiors. Sure, it was polite, but it was also condescending.

"I can't believe I'm hearing feminist talk from you."

Not at all. But you keep telling me the world has changed and I'm not so sure. Let me give you an example: I'm a secretary in an office, which is traditionally a woman's job. You're an executive in that same office, but that's traditionally a man's job.

"I see your point, but--"

Wait, I haven't made my point yet. I'm also a commercial actor. Yesterday I had an audition for a TV commercial. There were two characters, an executive and a secretary. Now which sex do you think the client wanted to see for each role?

"But I don't understand. So commercials are lagging behind reality. Would you rather the advertising world catch up to real life?"

Actually, I'm afraid if they do, there will be even less use for us men in any job. Hey, men are an endangered species. Women should be giving up their seats to us!

"Well, listen, I have to get to my desk. Do you want to grab a beer or something after work and talk some more?"

That sounds like you're asking me for a date. Are you asking me for a date?

"Maybe. Is that OK?"

I'm not sure. An executive dating a secretary... Has that ever happened before?
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Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance writer.