D.L. Stewart: ‘Baby on Board’ buttons may be a sign of the times

Probably the most disturbing news item I read this past week that didn’t involve pro football concerned Baby on Board signs.

The story wasn’t about those yellow signs that decorated the rear windows of cars a few decades ago — a phenomenon I never understood. What was I supposed to do, I always wondered, only have collisions with cars that DIDN’T have babies on board?

As reported Tuesday in The New York Times, the current Baby on Board notices are buttons being worn by pregnant riders of the city’s subways in hopes of encouraging other passengers to yield their seats to them. Because the vast majority of pregnant persons tend to be female, the buttons are intended to be worn only by women, but in these times of gender flexibility, you never know.

I suppose what disturbed me about the story was the fact that there was a need for the buttons because I’d like to think giving up a subway seat would be instinctual for any person who had a mother who was ever pregnant. But maybe that’s because I’m a product of a time in which not giving up my seat to a woman would have earned me a smart rap on the back of my head from my mom. (Parents didn’t worry as much about concussions back then.) And the woman didn’t even have to be pregnant. She could have been an Olympic weightlifter and I still would have had to give her my seat.

We had all sorts of rules about how guys were supposed to treat women back then. Stand up when a woman came into the room. Tip your hat when you encountered a woman. Walk on the street side of the sidewalk when accompanying a woman.

I’m not quite clear about why we had to do that last one. One theory I read was that the woman would be shielded if a car passing in the street splashed through a puddle of water. Another was that, in the really olden days, people in the upper floor of buildings had a tendency to toss their garbage out the window and it would arc onto the heads of the person walking farther away from the building. That’s probably why so many men wore hats.

But the whole male-female courtesy thing took a U-turn in the ‘70s. I personally trace it to the day a co-worker and I were boarding an elevator.

“After you,” I said to her.

“Oh, no,” she replied, “after YOU.”

“Chivalry is not dead,” I declared.

“No,” she snapped, “but it’s mostly useless.”

Maybe she was right. But at least pregnant women didn’t need to wear signs to receive the consideration they deserved.

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