Wednesday 28 September 2016

Bad manners are still in rude health in modern Ireland

Published 11/09/2016 | 02:30

No manners: A woman was outraged that her pregnant daugther was left standing
No manners: A woman was outraged that her pregnant daugther was left standing

Let's get a few things straight.

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The news that a pregnant woman was forced to stand on the Dart this week because nobody would give up their seat for her is not actually news.

No, as our American friends might say, it's an anecdote is all. But it's an instructive and rather depressing one.

After all, there was a time when there wouldn't even be a debate about whether a bloke should give up his seat for a woman - whether she's pregnant or not, by the way.

You just did it. That was part of the job description of being a gentleman.

According to the mother of the eight-month pregnant woman who was left to stand: "I know if me and my husband have travelled on public transport, and I know if he sees any lady of any age, pregnant or not, he always gets up and gives away his seat."

That's an entirely reasonable stance - if you'll pardon the pun - and one which most of us were brought to adopt.

In fact, there are some rules for life which didn't seem like rules at all, they are merely ways in which you can get through the day without being a complete jerk to everyone.

So I was brought up with some rules which I thought were universal: always hold the door open for a woman. Never sit down before her. Always walk on the outside when you're with a woman in case a car goes by and splashes the pair of you. The last one is particularly pertinent in a country with the kind of rainfall we endure.

All very basic, all very obvious. Just. Common. Sense.

But this being Ireland 2016, everything got lost in a fog of stupidity, recriminations and defending the indefensible.

The mother of the lady in question then pointed out that her daughter "took photographs of the people", before adding rather ominously that: "I'd love to put that photograph up on every billboard in the country."

A mother's ire can be a formidable thing and if I had a kid and she was left to stand while pregnant, I'd be rather less than gruntled as well.

However, tempting as it may be, you can't simply go around taking pictures of everyone who offends you. Let's put it this way: if we were all to take that approach, no work would ever get done, because the entire country would be too busy taking pictures of each other to do anything else.

Frankly, the only time surreptitious pics of someone should be publicly used is if they litter.

But there's a far more interesting, and worrying, side to what should have been a non-debate. That revolves around the growing rise of men who say they shouldn't have to give up their seats. Ah, if women want equality they'll have to stand like everyone else, is usually the smug refrain.

Even the comments section of this paper was replete with men blaming feminism for the lack of male manners.

This argument - and it's one which has a nugget of logic to it - states that because so many women now seem to get their Spanx in a bunch when a man opens a door for them, we should simply drop our old, patriarchal habits.

I used to think that was an urban legend, but it's not. I've experienced it a few times, when I've held the door open and been replied to with a scowl and a muttered grunt.

People who respond like that don't do so because they are women, they do so because they have no manners and you'd think blokes would have been able to figure that out by now.

I doubt the men who refused to stand up did so as some backlash against third-wave feminists who look on all men as potential rapists. No, they did it because they were jerks - but that doesn't explain the levels of support their obnoxious actions have received.

Has our society become so Balkanised that even the act of giving your seat to a pregnant lady is fraught with socio-political traps?

The thing is, it hasn't. Not really.

What these incidents reveal is not some weird guerilla warfare between the sexes.

It just reminds us that the rude, the obnoxious and the selfish will always be with us.

I just don't understand why some men feel the need to defend them.

Can we just leave religion out of it for once?

There are few things quite as baffling as being loftily informed about the motivations for your own beliefs by someone you've never met.

I get it a lot whenever I write about Israel - I'm dismissed either as Jewish (I'm not) or being secretly in the pay of the Israeli embassy (not as long as they insist on paying in shekels, I'm not).

The point is that some people are too dense to understand that we can all form our own opinions without having a particular, personal stake.

It is, I admit, an occasionally irritating occurrence but if the worst thing that ever happens to my day is someone saying I'm Jewish, then I can live with that.

The latest presumptuous meme to gain traction is the spurious notion that only religious people are against abortion.

This fatuous nonsense has been peddled by the usual useless worthies in The Irish Times this week and it's an absolute master-class in arrogant ignorance.

The problem with too many of the squawking lunatics on the pro-choice side is that they simply cannot fathom why anyone would disagree with them. Therefore, someone who holds a different opinion is, variously, a bigot, a homophobe, a racist or, in this case, a swivel-eyed religious fundamentalist.

Thing is, I'm an atheist who is pro-choice, but I know plenty who are not. There are plenty of people who don't believe in a God but still think abortion is murder.

I don't particularly agree with them, but I can see their logic and the idea that these people are closet Christians is probably the most asinine assertion I've seen from Irish journalists this year - and that's quite the achievement.

Ultimately, this is down to the tiny world these people inhabit. Meanwhile, the rest of us make up our own minds on the issues like grown-ups.

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