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Important new feminist cause: Getting men to stop sitting like men on the subway

December 27, 2014

Because–horrors–“manspreading” is “male privilege”:

A feminist imagining she’s a man
I decided, for the length of one weekend, to become a slouch-and-spreader. To truly understand the phenomenon, I decided I’d act like the worst examples I had encountered in my own commuting life: I wouldn’t budge for a knee nudge or exasperated expression. I would hold my ground. I would embody the worst of slouch-and-spread assholery to the letter. I would try very hard to imagine that I had balls, and that those balls were desperate for air. And by the end of the weekend, I hoped to understand what made the slouch-and-spreaders slouch and spread.

And then, as my weekend wore on, a funny thing happened: I registered the fear and displeasure of strangers less and less. I went from faking being absorbed in my book as I maintained a nervously wide stance, to actually being absorbed in my book, forgetting that my legs were splayed out like I was holding a beach ball between my knees.

In other words, I became unconscious of my own manufactured privilege. As people viewed my leg spread as an act of aggression and possible instability and steered clear of me, I slowly began to stop even noticing them.

For the first time in my subway-riding life, I stopped worrying if someone was going to call me a bitch if I took up too much room. I didn’t feel powerful, per se. I just felt…relaxed. Was this what those leg-spreading men felt like all the time, I wondered? Relaxed, confident, cocky? I had always thought that there was no way those leg-spreaders could have “not noticed” the people who wanted to sit down. But as I relaxed into my ninth or tenth slouch-and-spread of the day, I realized that I neither knew nor cared who wanted to sit down.

So we need a government program to fight this travesty:

[B]ut while critics of anti-slouch-and-spread blogs claim that stopping slouchers is a frivolous issue, I’d argue that it’s symbolically very important: Public transit, like all public spaces, is a cultural battleground, and what goes on there sets the tone for the cultural standards at play in the rest of our lives. It’s worth it to make that space as welcoming and comfortable as possible for all people.

I’ve got some tips for you manspread-o-phobes:

1. Men generally sit with their knees apart. It’s comfortable, and it also looks manly. (Yeah, I know feminists can’t stand manly men.) Women sit with their knees close together because it looks ladylike. (Yeah, I know feminists can’t stand the idea of women acting like ladies.)

2. If a man is taking up too much room on the seat in a crowded subway, here’s what to do:

Forget the “knee nudge.” It’s aggressive and nasty, and who wants to play knees-ies with a stranger anyway? Instead, sit down next to him and politely but firmly say, “Excuse me.” Guess what? In 99 cases out of 100, he will move his knees out of your way! You will have inspired him to act like a gentleman. And if he doesn’t, you will have dramatized to the other passengers sitting nearby that he’s a jerk. They will be on your side, making up for your slight discomfort in having to adjust your legs to accommodate him.

There is actually a female equivalent of manspreading: purse-spreading. That woman who believes her purse deserves a seat of its own even though she hasn’t paid for two seats: Use the same tactic as for manspreading: Carefully sit down in front of the purse while politely but firmly saying, “Excuse me.” In 99 cases out of 100, she will move the purse. And in that one exceptional case, you will again have won brownie points with your fellow passengers.


Posted by Charlotte Allen

From → Uncategorized

  1. Lastango permalink

    I’m glad you mentioned purse-spreading. This has variations, including backpacks, coats, and other baggage intended to express her female presumption.

    Then there’s laptop-spreading… the art of consuming the available space on a table in the library at university. Or — as observed during my student days — talk-spreading: staying in a reserved room jabbering away until the last possible moment while a mob of people waiting to take it over bides their time out in the corridor.

    How about walk-spreading? This involves strolling obliviously along, secure in the knowledge that one’s female entitlement means men will divert around. Or just stand-spreading, partially blocking the way? Unlike some of the others, these styles of asserting oneself get worse and worse with age. There is no more entitled bitch than an old bitch in her 70’s or 80’s.

    That last one comes in variations. Ferinstance, I recall being on an indoor running track four lanes wide, with a designated fast lane. I’m coming up fast behind a 50+ mother trotting along in the fast lane so she can chat with her daughter jogging in the next lane. At about 10 yards I said loudly “I’m coming up behind you!”. She replied with a snotty “oh!”, but she moved.

    Now that I’m started on this, I’m recalling all the young women parked on the weight machines, reading a magazine between sets. Asking “Can I work in with you?” results in them unleashing a pre-prepared, standardized hissyface accompanied by suitable noises.

  2. Lastango permalink

    A writer at the National Post newspaper is using “manspreading” as a lever to discredit the movement for human rights for men.

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