Never heard of “manspreading”? Well, it is exactly what it sounds like. This is when men on public forms of transportation, such as subways or buses, sit with their legs widely spread apart, taking up the seat or seats next to them. Passengers who share this public transportation space are either forced to find another seat or squeeze in, leaving them with little to no personal space. While I don’t doubt this can affect men in finding a place to sit, “manspreading” is inherently a gendered issue and something most women have experienced. Due to patriarchal norms in our society about how women and men are “supposed” to sit based on their gender, women are supposed to just deal with this “normal” spreading posture associated with being a man. The problem is that passengers typically don’t speak up because we have been conditioned into seeing it as normal behavior, which perpetuates the cycle of men who feel permitted to “manspread” as much as they please. But now that silence has changed.
There is a Tumblr called ‘Men Taking Up Too Much Space on the Train’ dedicated to calling out “manspreaders” that has finally made the world realize this is actually an issue affecting riders everyday. Because of awareness from social media and internet campaigns, it has finally become a serious enough issue that now the NYC MTA has even invested money into starting a campaign to advertise on subways about stopping “manspreading.” But still, “meninists” are on a mission to continue defending “manspreading.”
Seemingly, “meninists” have decided that “manspreading” is not something our society should make an issue, as their viewpoint has been constructed by the sexist belief that it is their “right” to sit how they please. According to “meninists,” men should be able to “manspread” even if it means disturbing other passengers. In response to this anti-manspreading campaign that “meninists” insist is sexist against men, MIC uploaded a video that had a woman and a man both “manspread” on the subway while secretly filming other rider’s reactions. Interestingly enough, Nick is able to “manspread” without anyone saying anything. On the other hand, Liz notes how when she “manspreads” she couldn’t help but feel people were looking at her, with some even taking pictures of her “unusual” posture. A group of four people however chose to stand right in front of Nick, who is clearly taking up three seats, rather than question his posture because they accept it as natural.
The most notable takeaway from the experiment is how both Nick and Liz felt afterwards. Liz felt uncomfortable, as she is used to always crossing her legs because she is a woman. On the other hand, Nick felt normal and even felt empowered. This is the reason “manspreading” is not just a transportation issue, but also a feminist issue; it speaks to how women generally feel self-conscious about sitting with their legs spread apart. “Manspreading” is essentially part of rape culture. Women are taught from a young age to keep their legs closed because otherwise men will feel entitled to sex. However, women should not be held accountable to monitor their posture because men will think they are “asking for it,” just like it is not a woman’s fault for being raped because she drank alcohol or wore certain clothes. Women do not have the freedoms men implicitly possess in a patriarchal society when it comes to posture. Women must continually be conscious and aware of how they sit because of rape culture.
You can look everywhere, not just subways, and see “manspreading” in full effect. For example, I was sitting in UCLA’s student area Ackerman just observing the people around me. Men who were at their own chairs were still “manspreading.” In contrast, every single woman who had their own chairs and space to spread out either had their legs crossed or took up little to no room. There is a gendering of posture, no question about it. Whether we do it unconsciously or consciously, it shows how women still feel pressure to sit “ladylike” even if they have all the room in the world. While “manspreading” needs to be stopped, at the same time women should be able to sit as they choose. As an experiment, I tried to “manspread” in my own chair, but I still felt weird, emphasizing how much the “correct” gender posture has been ingrained into our heads without us even realizing it. I challenge you to look around and you will notice significant differences. Simply try changing your posture and see what happens.
Nonetheless, “manspreading” is a problem because it perpetuates the notion that it is perfectly acceptable for men to control access to space, reaffirming public space as male-oriented. In the end “manspreading” merely excuses rudeness as a trait of being a man. We need to call out acts of “manspreading” while simultaneously redefining how a “normal” woman is supposed to sit. Woman should not be ashamed or feel a sense of vulnerability for sitting with their legs apart. Rather than the objective being for women to take up all the room they want, the ultimate goal needs to be for women and men to think about respecting each other’s space while also making sure that they personally have the space they need.