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Manspreading and Space as a Feminist Issue

Via rebrn

As many performing arts majors do, I used my last spring break to explore the Big Apple. Despite the supposed glamour of New York City though, I spent a great deal of time underground with the rats and vermin of the New York City Subway system. However, the traveling didn’t come without its benefits. In fact it gave me ample time to people watch and analyze the gravity of manspreading on public transit.

With a couple variations, each story followed a similar track. The men sit down with their legs spread apart looking like they’re ready for an OBGYN exam. The women sit with their legs tightly crossed and uncomfortably rigid.

When the next bustle of people arrive, the women suck in their guts and try to become as small as possible. The purses are brought into their laps and their bodies tense inward as if trying to evaporate into thin air.Via Huffington Post

The people file in and sit next to the women as they squirm for air to breathe. The men keep their legs apart and nobody bothers sitting anywhere near them.

I sat watching this for my 15-stop ride and decided to test it out myself. Since women are considered more approachable by sociology studies, I consciously sat next to men on the subway. Not any men though…I sat next to the guy whose legs were spread out “Vitruvian Man” style. If he didn’t adjust his legs, I would proceed to spread my legs out as much as possible; thus forcing my legs apart and his legs together. Was I uncomfortable? Yes. Was he uncomfortable? Absolutely.Courtesy of Leila Mire

Of course, my experimentation to entertain the uncomfortable was met with opposition. Some women realized what I was doing and enjoyed the spectacle. The men on the other hand were less understanding. Some complained to me. They informed me it was easier for me to put my legs together than themselves due to our anatomical differences. Others would take pictures. Naturally, I would put my face where the camera was just to block the actual picture they were trying to capture.

What’s the big deal? It’s just a train ride. Men would explain their good bits needed the space. Seems like a reasonable explanation, right?


This argument alone is a major issue. Believing manspreading is an innocuous necessity for male comfort (rather than out of malice) reiterates misconceptions that permeate our patriarchal society. Pointing out gender differences excuses men in the same way that women were paid less due to their potential for childbirth.Via Huffington Post

While I admit I’ve never been a male myself, I have had my fair share of experiences with a vagina. I don’t know about you, but when it’s that time of the month, having a bit of extra breathing room would be highly desirable.

The fact of the matter is that manspreading is an illustration of how women and men are raised differently. Women are raised to sit still and look pretty. We’re told to cross our legs and take up as little space in the world as possible. We’re instructed to be hyperaware and self-conscious of how much space we take up. We’re taught that spreading our legs is scandalous and taking up room is repulsive.

Men don’t worry about these matters; manspreading isn’t some minor result of male anatomy. It’s the world teaching women that our existence in public spaces is a disservice to others. We’re taught to be skinny, submissive and to go unnoticed. So next time you’re on the subway, take a moment to consider who is in the space and how they are using that space. Remember that you’re entitled to as much space as anyone else and no one has the right to suggest otherwise.


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