Emma Cowing: Offering pregnant woman a seat is polite

Jo Swinson said the outcry over MPs failing to offer her a seat was sexist. Picture: Robert Perry
Jo Swinson said the outcry over MPs failing to offer her a seat was sexist. Picture: Robert Perry
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THERE is a page on Tumblr called Men Taking Up Too Much Space On The Train. It’s full of pictures of cats.

No, wait, that’s every other page on Tumblr. Men Taking Up Too Much Space On The Train features pictures of men. On trains. Taking up too much space. There they sit, on railway carriages from London to Montevideo, legs out, elbows akimbo, forcing the passengers around them to huddle up like clams in a shell. Sitting is what men do, particularly in the House of Commons. It’s what women in the House of Commons do too, unless they’re the pregnant equalities minister and late for Prime Minister’s Questions. Then they stand for 18 minutes, go back to the office, and find themselves the subject of an almighty Twitterstorm which demands to know why they weren’t given a seat – a move they then brand as sexist. I don’t know about you, but I’d be in need of a sit down after all that.

Jo Swinson’s decision to label the outcry over the fact that not one MP offered her a seat during PMQs on Thursday “quite sexist” is quite odd. While I understand that she is doing her bit for pregnant women everywhere – the subtext being “just because I’m pregnant doesn’t mean I’m incapable” – I still fail to see why pointing out that someone should have given her a seat is sexist.

In fact, the counter-argument goes that she has done a disservice to every woman who is pregnant, making men already fretting over the correct protocol for such situations (see also: holding open doors for women, helping women on with their coats, pulling out chairs for them and so on) even more nervous about inadvertently doing the wrong thing and being branded “SEXIST”, when all they are ­really trying to do is to be nice.

The fact is, whether you’re a man or a woman, not giving up a seat for a pregnant woman is rude. It’s unthinking and selfish behaviour that suggests the actions of a person who routinely excavates the contents of their nose during intimate, one-on-one conversations, holding up a snotty hand mid-anecdote in order to examine the findings. On the bad manners scale, it ranks just below spitting in public.

Whatever happened to good manners? Offering a pregnant woman a seat is merely polite. It’s got nothing to do with men or women, or the debate about sexism. There are plenty of women MPs who could have given up their seat for Swinson, and none of them did so. It’s what civilised people do, and one thing us Brits are supposed to be relatively good at. 
Instead, we appear to have turned into a nation of selfish oafs, content to lumber through life with our elbows permanently out, our legs akimbo, taking up too much space on the train.

BEHOLD! This month’s Vogue cover features the Creature From Planet Photoshop. Also known as Kate Winslet. Or Kate RockNRoll. Or “the one out of Titanic”. Whatever. Really, the woman on the front of the magazine could be anyone, so airbrushed beyond recognition has she been. Every wrinkle has been smoothed, each crow’s foot digitally amputated. The effect is eerie, and not quite human. A while back, Winslet publicly complained when GQ airbrushed her normal-sized thighs into matchsticks. It was a brave and unusual move, and one she was highly applauded for. Will she do the same with Vogue? There are few Hollywood women who would dare to publicly admonish Condé Nast, and indeed few 38-year-olds who wouldn’t enjoy a few years being shaved off their mug thanks to a little technical trickery. But if the subjects of ludicrous levels of airbrushing don’t challenge the practice themselves, how will it ever change? Given Winslet’s form in this department, I do hope she pipes up.

THE highlight of the year is almost upon us. Yes, it’s the last episode of The Great British Bake Off on Tuesday and, shock horror, it is an all-woman final. Not that you’d know that by reading most of the coverage, which has focused instead on the far more fascinating fact that Paul Hollywood might fancy one of the contestants, a woman named Ruby Tandoh, who just happens to be young and pretty. The sex lives of forty-something bakers have never much interested me before, and 
I can’t say that this is an exception. I suspect poor Ruby feels the same. Whatever happened to focusing on the cakes? «

Twitter @emmacowing