London Life

It’s not gender, it’s selfishness

TUBECOMMUTEesBarbara Ellen has a pop at men who sit on trains with their legs too far apart in today’s Observer. She calls out men who sit as if they’re about to give birth to a live mammal, impinging on the available seating space for their fellow passengers.

And she’s not wrong here – I’ve seen many men do this on the Tube.

First, this idea that these men have “no choice” but to sit with their legs splayed, dominating-alpha-style. The justifications I’ve seen range from the differences of the male pelvis, and the threat of overheated sperm, to having their “stuff outside” and not wanting to put their “junk in a vice”.

Then there is size, nature having been so over-generous in its provision that the men are unable to sit normally on public transport. Judging by the number of men who manage to sit perfectly normally, there seems to be a modicum of delusional bragging going on here.

This isn’t about bodies. You don’t see women with large breasts flopping them over seats or people’s shoulders, saying: “Sorry, this junk’s outside – I’m going to need some of your space!” Nor do women sit with their legs splayed, crying: “Ever heard of thrush and cystitis? I’ve got to cool this baby down!” If women don’t ask for special consideration for their physique on public transport, why should men? It doesn’t make sense. Then again, when it comes to zoning, maybe it does.

However, the fault doesn’t lie with men alone, something that the many comments on her article are quick to point out.

I’d argue that a lack of consideration for your fellow passengers isn’t gender-bound, but is instead something more fundamental: pure selfishness. 

Most seats on tubes and trains are just plain uncomfortable. When on the tube, I don’t even try to get a seat, but prefer to stand. The seats are – amazingly – covered in fabric and just a breeding ground for every kind of filth imaginable. I’d rather take my chances touching other surfaces and save the need to burn my trousers in a purging fire each evening.

But that’s just me. Other people – with different body shapes, leg lengths and varying physical abilities, need to sit. The seats force them into all kinds of strange contortions, even if they are trying to keep within an appropriate personal space.

I’ve lived in Central London for over a decade and also spent a while commuting in and out of the city on mainline railways. My day job entails a fair bit of travel, which I do via trains for the most part.

I think it’s fair to say I’ve seen a fair bit of selfish behaviour from passengers on public transport and it’s not at all the preserve of one gender. If you go looking for men with their legs akimbo, you’ll definitely find them. But that’s simply confirmation bias in action.

And while I’ve definitely been the victim of leg-splaying men (not being an “alpha-male”, I know my place and keep my legs firmly together), I’ve also been on the receiving end of some pretty anti-social behaviour from women.

There are a multitude of ways passengers can demonstrate a lack of consideration for each other, including:

  • Demanding sufficient space on a packed tube to read a broadsheet newspaper. Frequently a male behaviour, but I’ve definitely seen women do this too. Opening the FT or Telegraph to its full width basically takes up two seats on most trains. Folding is definitely possible – the hint is in the name: newspaper.
  • Failing to “move down the carriage” and allow people to get on an already busy tube. This kind of selfish behaviour is normally associated with being completely oblivious to one’s surroundings and holding on – come hell or high water – to the pole providing support, no matter what. We’re not being evacuated from Hanoi, you will be able to get off at your desired stop.
  • Banging elbows into fellow passengers on each side as make-up is applied. (I know!). Over the years, I’ve seen an increasing trend for women to wait until getting on the tube before applying make-up. This ranges from a quick touch-up of the lip-gloss to full on application of mascara and eye-lash curling. The latter would surely result in blindness if things went amiss. These charming individuals take up more space than is required by placing their arms out at right angles to their body as they squint/stare into a handheld mirror.
  • Wearing back-packs on the tube. Another gender-independent behaviour, which means others get walloped by your over-sized baggage every time you turn around.
  • Insisting you’ve paid for two seats and taking up the second with a bag. Again, I’ve seen both men and women do this. Either way, it’s plain rude and can deprive someone else of a seat – unless they specifically ask for the bag to be moved. Which is awkward, as nobody ever speaks on public transport in London.

Basically, there is a multitude of ways we can be inconsiderate to each other on public transport and it’s not helpful to just focus on the old boys who insist on sitting like they’re defrosting a turkey between their knees. There’s a need for everyone to be more considerate, which will make each journey just a little bit more pleasant.

So let’s give each other a break. Think before you act and public transport could be just a tiny bit better each day.

2 comments on “It’s not gender, it’s selfishness

  1. Caitriona O'Kelly

    Hear hear! Some of my pet Tube hates are:
    – the pole-hogger who needs to lean his/her entire body against the pole leaving other passengers hanging from the roof poles;
    – the sneezing nose picker. There’s never any need to sneeze without covering your mouth or to root around for gold in your nostrils. Perhaps unless you were raised by wolves.
    – The rush hour dawdler. Why are you walking like you’re lost when you clearly take this route everyday. And if you are lost, don’t stop at the top of the escalators wondering where you should go!!


    My bike is now fixed so I’m hoping that the only bad manners I’ll have to deal with most of the week will be taxi drivers who aim for cyclists.


  2. Month Hacker

    She should listen to the speech titled – ‘This is water’


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