Should Men Give Up Their Seats For Women On The Tube?

By Londonist Staff Last edited 6 months ago
Should Men Give Up Their Seats For Women On The Tube?
Photo by Ged Dackys from the Londonist Flickr pool

It's common courtesy on public transport to give up a seat to a pregnant woman, elderly persons or those less able to stand — and for the latter two categories, gender is irrelevant. But what about men giving up their seats to women, is this still acceptable? Should it be?

It's a social minefield and here's what it feels like for both men and women:

A man's perspective

That woman who just got on looks shattered, maybe I should offer her my seat. But will she take offence as it will look like I'm offering the seat just because she's a woman? Would I have done the same if it was a man who looked tired? Probably not — does that make me sexist? I never thought I was, but maybe I am.

Do I sit here and be inconsiderate, or offer my seat and possibly be branded sexist? I can pull this off as long as I make it clear that I'm not offering the seat purely because she's a woman. But what does that sound like 'Excuse me, you look terrible. Would you like my seat?'. That isn't going to go down well.

You know what, I'm getting off in two stops anyway. When I get up, it'll then become the problem of all those men standing near my seat as to whether they let her go for it or not.

Tabish Khan

A woman's perspective

Mate, it's fine. Chill. Would you do the same for a man? Either way, there's your answer. Sorted. Oh, and I'm getting off next stop anyway, so don't be offended when I say 'no, you're OK, thanks'.

Rachel Holdsworth

A pregnant woman's perspective

I've commuted while pregnant, and to help everyone through what was a potential minefield, I asked for a seat. Out loud. Every day. Sure, inside, I was burning with embarrassment (talking to strangers! In London! Before 9am!), but I took solace from the following: first, you know the seat that's designated for 'those less able to stand'? If you sit in it, you should probably be ready to hop up at a moment's notice for someone less able to stand. Otherwise, don't sit there. Second, the embarrassment lasted for less time than my journey. Finally, if you're pregnant and anything goes wrong while you're on public transport, you trip, or faint, or the train pulls to a sudden stop and you fall, that's a full ambulance crew on the scene, immediately. Which is significantly more awkward than simply asking a stranger for their seat.

Zoe Craig

What do you think is the right approach to this dilemma? Let us know in the comments.

Last Updated 04 October 2017

Continued below.


I love the black-and-white TV sketch where a young woman given a seat on the tube is asked by the woman next to her "how long have you been pregnant?" - "Twenty minutes, but it doesn't half make you tired ..."

I think tube courtesy is to offer a seat to someone obviously burdened - either with parcels or pregnancy - and to make a decision based on their frailty compared to your own. But automatically because they're female and you're male - no.

Oh, and young persons in the 'designated' seats pretending to sleep, or absorbed in your book/phone/iPad so you can ignore people who might have a claim on it is nothing short of c*ntish and needs pointing out at every available opportunity.

Headphone Puma

If she's young, she's a strong, independent woman that don't need no man to offer her a seat, and I shouldn't insult her by offering her one. Period. Congratulations feminists, you've won.

If she's old, I'll offer my seat out of respect for her being an elder. Being a woman has nothing to do with it, I'd do it for an older chap as well.

If she's pregnant, I'll offer my seat because I know what a 90 pound rucksack on my back feels like...imagining that being attached to me 24/7 is enough to make me give up my seat just out of respect for having to deal with that!


I often give up my seat for other people. Their gender is irrelevant. Too many people fight their way to a seat instead of pondering whether someone else might need it. And sometimes I need one (leg injury) and don't appreciate the dirty looks if I don't happen to stand up on that occasion. Women should stand up for men; men should stand up for women.
(Oh and PS: since when to adults have to stand up for children? Pretty sure it used to be the other way around)


There is no dilemma here. Pregnant, old or infirm, of course. Otherwise, no... they're not some inferior thing that can't stand.


We spend too much time sitting. Unless I'm on the train for a million stops I generally stand anyway, then any social Faux-pas is entirely avoided. I also enjoy train-surfing, where you don't hold onto anything and bend your legs slightly and try not to fall over (not recommended on a crowded train ;-) )

Steve Chilton

I'm only 60 years old and still pretty fit. I figure there's usually someone who needs a seat more than me so I always stand. Well, unless the train is empty, obviously. In two years of commuting I have twice had young women offer me their seat. I declined but I wasn't embarrassed and I thought the gesture was very nice.


PEOPLE should give up their seats for PEOPLE who need them more that they do. FIN.


I was in London last spring. I'm 65 and quite active, so I was a bit taken aback when on two different occasions a nice young man gave up his seat to me. I didn't really need it, but I appreciated the kindness. A little bit of chivalry is very nice.


I usually give up seats, but usually it's hard to judge when giving it up to the older generation, like how old is old? Sometimes they get offended when you give up your seat, and sometimes (when they look rather young) they get offended when you don't give up your seat- forever a dilemma

For pregnant women, it's not just the extra load they carry, but also the nausea, morning sickness etc so if someone is wearing a badge and doesn't look "that" pregnant, don't judge her, she might have the worst nausea

And I've never had anyone give me their seat-even when I once had to sit on the floor and passed out.......


Old or pregnant I'm getting up.
Although large, well weathered former goths need a sign or something.

Andy Brice

Those (Mind The Bump) badges, they're the answer.
Or just politely, directly asking whoever's in the designated seats.


I really love when a seat becomes available and a man offers it to me, but I don't expect someone sitting down to get up for me!

Jimmy Coltrane

What a lame discussion.

Greg Tingey

Most amusing, actually.
I quite often get offered a seat on the Tube, because I'm 69 & walk with a stick - which is a habit acquired when I really needed it, to be able to walk more than 50 metres, nearly 40 years ago. However, 90% of the time, I politely refuse, as I'm OK.
But then I keep fit through various activities, none of which involve a Gym, I hasten to add.


In the words of Jimmy Carr "I'd prefer to see a pregnant woman standing than a fat girl sitting down crying."

dianne tanner

I think anyone should give up their seat to anyone who looks like they might need it, regardless of sex. Dude in his 20s with a broken leg? Have a seat mate. Nice old lady with lots of shopping? Have a seat dear. Why does sex have anything to do with it - its straight up kindness either way. If I've had a shit day and am knackered, and a nice gentleman offers me his seat I would not be offended. I'm tired, and live at the other end of the Northern line. You sir, are a good one. This question is stupid.


I open the door and let people pass.

Observe when elderly persons are climbing aboard a local bus.

Most people are polite.

Except in Brentford.

Paul Gittins

All I'd ask is that people bear in mind that not everyone who is less able to stand, looks less able to stand. I'm a 36 year old man, outwardly I look fine and mostly I am. I won't bore you with the medical details but my collagen doesn't work, so the connective tissue that is your body's 'scaffold' doesn't work, my joints are hypermobile, my skin is circus-freak stretchy, I easily dislocate, I've got slipped discs in my neck and have to be careful to not knacker my joints even more. But I'm mostly fine, I work, I go out and I have to commute in rush hour like everyone else. But on a busy tube it's difficult to stand and hold on, particularly the high handrails as my nerves trap and my arm goes numb, it hurts a lot and if the tube jerks or stops suddenly that's my shoulder out of its socket. The other day, somebody used me as a handrail when the tube jolted and my shoulder partially dislocated. Fine, it popped back in. I carried on. A lot of the time I'll wait for 3 trains until I see a seat. But then someone will feel the need to come over and have a go about me not giving up my seat, usually to someone I haven't even seen, who just happens to look like they need a seat more than me. Which then leads to me explaining my medical history to a bunch of total strangers on the way to work. Of course, I totally understand that on the face of it I look fine so people make assumptions. But next time you see someone looking uncomfortable in their seat, or wincing as they hold on to the handrail, spare a thought for people who really struggle on the tube, but don't have a badge that explains it to their fellow commuters.


Pregnant or not: Just don't get involved with women. You will regret it.

Julia Charles

I am 49 and have had substantial surgery for breast cancer which means I've had breast, underarm and stomach surgery (my stomach muscle is now my left breast and my abdomen is held in with mesh... imagine a Picasso painting brought to life if you will. I work full-time and often stand up (loaded with bags) while young, healthy men and women are all seated. There is a 'baby on board' badge but no 'Despite appearances I am beyond uncomfortable swinging from this overhead strap, please put me out of my misery'. I've put up with this for 10 years which is good as I'm still alive, but bad as I am frankly exhausted and now menopausal to boot so sweaty as well as tired. I would probably embrace anyone who gave me a seat on the basis that I look like I'd appreciate it. Which I would, very, verymuch. Despite this, I have stood up and given my seat to both elderly people and pregnant women more times than I care to remember over the past 12 months, often while young men continue to look at nothing but their phones and be blissfully aware of their fellow commuters. It makes me mad as hell.

Barbara Miller

I'm one of those "less able to stand" and I often have to ask people to let me sit in those designated seats. Everybody wants to sit there! It amazes me that those are the first seats to fill. I got frustrated one night and told a guy that "I had to get crippled" to earn the right to sit there. He ignored me. All the way back to Newbury Park. People don't care if you're disabled or pregnant, they're just rude sometimes. BTW I fell 3 times this year, always while clutching my walking stick, my bag and whatever handhold I could use, on the commute.


I would only give up my seat to someone who looks like he or she really needs it. It is something for the individual to decide regardless what gender they are.

PBS Rules

I lived in NYC for 10 years and most men offered their seats to me and to other women on the subway. They just do... the 18 year old kid and the 40 year old suit. I was surprised when I moved here, but hey, it's your custom so I adjusted. Though I correct my American friends (who watch Masterpiece, Downtown and Poirot but have never lived here) and think Londoners are the most polite people on Earth with the most manners. Maybe 50 years ago. Definitely not today.

jan johnson

I've been offered seats on the underground and buses for some time now as I am over 60. At first I was upset but now I accept the offer in the spirit in which it i intenede. I have also given up my seat to those who I felt needed it more than me. My biggest annoyance is children not givining up seats. When I travelled with mine one would sit on my lap and the other stand so adults could sit.

Avishek Chaudhury

Why in the hell should a man have to do anything for a woman? You are not entitled to a more luxurious comfortable lifestyle than me just because of that slimehole between your legs. If you wanted a damn seat, tough shit. Should have got on at an earlier stop. As for the pregnant women - it is not my problem who you spread your legs for, and I don't give a damn about that disgusting little crotchturd you've got bubbling up inside of you. Your problem, not mine. Should have used your birth control if you're too poor to afford a car.

iGO eBooks ®

Someone in need, irrespective of gender - yes! Outside of this, it is the era of emancipation!


I'm a feminist, but I sure do appreciate a man who offers. I don't think it has to be one or the other; I know some people think it does. Mostly, I think a lot of people misunderstand what feminism is, but that's another story. Additionally, I have invisible illnesses, so standing just hurts me tremendously, but no one else would know that. I still would offer a seat to someone who looks like they need it more than I do.


Thank you but no, that is not necessary...not to mention it would be extremely inconvenient for everyone.

Tristan van Oosten

I haven't been in London for some time now but I encounter this problem here in the Netherlands and my take on it is this:

Would I give a seat to my fiancee (when she visits me here in this sad place) and remain standing ? Yes. I love her and I cherish her.
Would I get up for any strong young woman ? No. This is the age of equality and with many women here in the West treating men with such disrespect I couldn't be bothered to do so as I believe in reciprocity.
Would I get up for a pregnant woman ? In the age of contraception, pregnancy has become a lifestyle choice and people should be held responsible for their own lifestyle choices.

If she is old or handicapped, I would gladly offer her my seat out of respect for her condition. The same goes for any men that are old or handicapped.

When I am in Asia, the picture is, of course, completely different as people treat each other with much more respect: there the old rules of civilised conduct still apply and since I know will be treated with a modicum of respect , I will treat them with the same: yes I get up for women, for expecting mothers and for the handicapped and elderly.

lawrie o'keeffe

So I am 70 and use the tube 4 or 5 days a week to go to work - I have been working in London for almost 6 years now and have NEVER had anyone offer me a seat. My knees and back hurt but I will never ask for a seat, even the one designated - perhaps one day someone will notice me; I am not going to hold my breath tbh, as people stop noticing you once you get past a certain age imho.

Ian Selby

Men and women should be treated equally, so if a pregnant woman gets on then yes definitely I would offer my seat but if either a man or woman gets on and is clearly out of breath (possibly suffering after having raced to get on so as not to miss another connection, or picking up the kids etc etc) or a clearly elderly person gets on then yes I'd happily give up my seat.If you just wanted to give up your seat to another person it shouldn't be seen as sexist but rather gallant


I'm old, or old school perhaps. I feel obliged and happy out of courtesy and good manners to offer my seat in the Tube, or on a train or bus, to any lady at any time if there are no convenient seats available for her; and, indeed, to any man I perceive as more burdened by age or encumbrances than I am. If my offer is rejected, that's ok but I could not be happy unless I have made it.

Dani Andreea

Its called being a gentleman... is chivalry dead? .... obviously if the man is sick, tired or needs to sit down then he should be offered a seat if not women should be offered a seat.

Jack Spencer

Sad that civilly and common courtesy has come to be thought of as sexist. I choose to be a Gentleman. Forgive me, if you find that offensive.