Manspreading: Why It Matters and How to Reclaim Your Space

I used to exclusively get to my classes on foot. I left my bike at home because I convinced myself that, should I attempt to ride it to any of my classes, I would either crash or run into another person, and I refused to figure out the bus system until I found myself in a situation where it was absolutely necessary. Regardless of the fact that walking, while beneficial because of the exercise it provides, takes much longer, I walked. It takes me 20 minutes to walk somewhere that someone on a bike can get to in seven minutes, and sometimes longer depending on the weather or how tired I am, and the fact that I am literally five feet tall and have tiny legs.

For awhile, I was proud of my walking status. Eventually, however, both laziness and necessity caught up with me, and I started to take the bus. Certain extracurriculars I’m involved in forced me to need a bus pass, but my bus rides became more and more frequent, and I decided to upgrade from the 10-ride CATA pass to the 31-day pass, and have since dubbed myself “Queen of the Bus.”

 Taking the bus, however, prompted encounters with scenarios that my scenic walks previously denied me. Most of these scenarios feature a common irritations for females on any method of public transportation: manspreading.

Most people understand manspreading to essentially denote a man sitting with his legs apart such that he occupies much more space, sometimes covering up multiple seats. A behavior like this one typically connotes dominance and masculinity, and feminists argue it plays into patriarchal power dynamics that teach men they are entitled to the space and world around them, including everything and everyone in that space. The root of the issue is entitlement, derived from the current patriarchal power structure. Women, unlike men, do not manspread. Critics argue that complaints about “manspreading” are ridiculous, and isn’t it worse for women to take up an extra seat with their purse or shopping bags? Why are we harping on men for simply trying to sit comfortably? So what if their legs are spread unnecessarily far apart?

The issue is rooted in patriarchy and the problematic ideas it promulgates. Men are not taught to worry about the space they occupy in the world, while women are berated for trying to assert equal room in the world. Women are taught to be aware of the space they take up, and to never try to take too much. That’s why women are taught to sit with their legs crossed, and are more likely to move their bags when they see other passengers get on the bus than men are to simply close their legs.

This is not to suggest that manspreading is intentional or laced with deliberate malice. Most men don’t even realize they’re doing it, but that’s part of what makes it problematic. It proves the existence of ingrained patriarchal ideas that teach men they are entitled to as much space as they want, while women must always adjust to meet the needs of others, even at the cost of their own comfort or safety. Manspreading is an implicit act of dominance rooted in patriarchal privilege.

So, ladies, how do we tackle it? How do we reclaim our space in a world trying to teach us to minimize ourselves as much as possible? How do we assert ourselves and remind men, even on a small scale, that they are not entitled just because they have a penis?

My advice: sit next to the manspreaders.

Most people would approach women first and sit beside them, potentially asking that they move their belongings to make room. Instead, sit next to the guy sitting with his legs spread apart and make him close them. Remind him that his male status does not entitle him to an extra seat just for his knee. Reclaim your space in the world by forcing him to get back in his lane and recognize that, as one man, he gets one seat, and that is all. You, as a beautiful and majestic woman, deserve to be here just as much as he does, and definitely don’t need to apologize for existing. Start taking back the space that is equally yours.

It’s a small-scale victory for feminism and a way to remind men that, hey -- guys, we’re here and we’re equals. And we’re not going anywhere.