A few weeks ago, I wrote an article about the growing awareness of the phenomenon known as "manspreading," i.e. the tendency of guys to take up at least two, if not three seats on a subway with their legs in a wide-open stance. Men's Rights Activists (I still cannot believe that MRA is actually a thing) have cried foul to the accusations, citing their delicate balls as reason enough to take up tons of room while everyone else stands uncomfortably around them.
Until recently, however, people have just seemed to accept manspreading as part of normal public transit behavior. As Liz Plank over at mic.com explains, "By virtue of being occupied by both men and women, space is inherently gendered. The way women and men interact is guided by norms and scripts that steer our behavior in a way that is so powerful that it is often unconsious." She goes on to cite research studies which prove that men take up far more room in public spaces than do women. While we sit with our legs crossed and try to be as small as possible in basically every public situation, guys assume a stance more akin to this one:
I can't even show you a proper counterpoint to this man's stance in a woman because Google images turns up literally nothing when I try to search "woman sitting like a man" "woman on subway" "woman lounging" (which just turns up women in bikinis and other sexual positions--telling!) etc. For an even more fun experiment to see the patriarchy at work, try googling "women spreading legs" versus "man spreading legs." Even the lead photo for this story is my actual ex-girlfriend who is now my friend laying on my actual couch because I simply could not find a picture of a woman taking up space (except of course the photo Liz Plank had taken of her doing it on the subway for her own piece). I would go do this on the subway myself if LA had a metro system that was even remotely close to my house, but alas.
So given the fact that women by and large do not manspread, Liz decided to see what would happen if she attempted the very same thing. She and a guy friend both boarded different subways and began manspreading like crazy to gauge the public's reaction. While her dude friend's space-taking was generally ignored and tolerated, Liz got strange looks, glares, and even people taking photos of her. See for yourself:
This video reinforces what we already know to be true--that when women try to exhibit traditional "male" behaviors, they get called out for it. Only by the very end of what was presumably several hours on subways did Liz's friend get asked to give up one of the three seats he was overtaking with a combination of spread legs and his bag. A woman asked him several times to move his bag and he finally complied (it was an act, but still there are plenty of people who do this).
Now I'm not saying women aren't guilty of taking up space with purses, coats, etc. I've seen it and I'm sure you have too. But in general, the male entitlement to public space (which includes air space--try listening in on a mixed-gender dinner conversation sometime and see who dominates conversation) is absolutely real. In my own life as I've come more into my own as a lesbian and just as a confident woman in general, I've even noticed myself exhibiting (and being chastised or called out on) these kinds of behaviors. People will point out how I sit "like a guy" (though I NEVER do it in public transit, only when I'm in my own single chair at a desk or table) or mention that I sometimes talk a lot (though again I'm always aware of this and give people plenty of time to respond)--and I doubt a guy who does whatever I did would even be noticed, much less reproached for it. I've also noticed that I can only get this much talking time when around my family or in groups of all girls. When guys are present, I find myself talking much less--I can't get a word in.
So I see two solutions--either we all start acting like entitled men to even the playing field (which I don't recommend because, obnoxious) or we continue to educate the guys on some of the subconscious things they do to make things uncomfortable for the rest of us.
For men who still need a visual guide as to how to accomplish this while still retaining every ounce of your perceived masculinity and swagger, I present you this:
If Don Draper can do it, so can you