I feel like my whole life I was taught that it was the gentlemanly thing to do to give up your seat to the young, elderly, and members of the opposite sex. Two of these make sense but I’ve realized that the lumping of women into those categories seems super sexist but the thought still persists and I do see this behavior on the bus quite frequently. Usually the woman just says no and everyone goes about their business but still every time a bus gets full I feel like I should find the closest woman that’s standing and offer my seat. What do I do?
Generally speaking, offering your seat to a person who might benefit from it is a thoughtful (as opposed to gentlemanly) thing to do, as long as you’re also okay to stand. At the same time, I don’t think you should assume that just because someone is a woman, she’ll definitely be more in need of the seat than you are.
Instead, I suggest that you use your judgment and apply this reasoning: if someone looks like they might really appreciate that seat more than you, then offer it. Someone with a mobility challenge (like a broken leg) is an obvious example. Another one that pops to mind is that sometimes a woman will be wearing extremely uncomfortable shoes that make standing for long periods of time unpleasant if not downright painful.* That’s obviously not as dire a situation as a tired parent with two little ones in tow, and you’re not a jerk if you don’t pop out of your seat when a person in stilettos gets on board. At the same time, I don’t see it as sexist if you say something like ‘would you like to sit down?’ They can always decline.
Which leads me to the other part of this: if you offer a seat and someone declines, just accept that and move on. They aren’t being rude; no one is required to accept an offered seat. Some people appear elderly but could kick your ass in a 10K. Some people might appear pregnant but aren’t. Some people might have been sitting all day and enjoy the opportunity to stretch their legs.
Basically: offer your seat if you think someone needs it, and graciously accept their response either way.
*I’m not going into the fashion issues (and sometimes dress codes) that make such shoes seem like a necessary choice for some women but not men.