Man-spreading: “Stop the Spread”

By Evelyn Gonzalez
Feminism Columnist

Suspicious smells, unusual noises and cramped spaces are all the charms that come along with using public transportation. For those of us that have had our fair share of less than desirable encounters on public transport, we know how difficult and sometimes outright uncomfortable it is to share our spaces with other people. What makes it even more difficult is trying to navigate very small spaces with people who are not always considerate of those around them.

Man-spreading, for those of you unfamiliar with the term, illustrates a sitting posture in which the legs are widespread, often at an exaggerated angle, so that the body is extended and as a result takes up a greater expanse of area. The term emerged not as a result of acknowledgements towards a new phenomenon but as an attempt to put a name to such commonplace situations occurring in shared spaces like buses, subways and trains. While we can all be guilty of taking up a bit more space than we should be, such as when we leave our bags on the seats next to us, it is often male-bodied individuals who are the repeat offenders.

By addressing man-spreading we are not only focusing on issues of space or comfort. While it may be just a minor inconvenience to some, I think it hints at some of the larger issues in our society. The stigma that follows women in all realms of everyday interactions are most apparent when looking at the double standards found between the female body and the public space. Mic, an online news source, crafted a social experiment in which they sent their female correspondent, Liz Plank, out into a busy subway to see whether her participation in man-spreading would garner a different response from their male employee. In many cases it warranted a double-take involving disapproving eyes from onlookers and even the occasional sneaky photo, showing how natural our society deems it for males to occupy more space. Females are not afforded the same luxuries. When a female sprawls out she becomes “unladylike” and inappropriate. Men are taught to make themselves larger to create a more domineering and assertive attitude while women are taught to always make themselves smaller and to take up less space. This sexist approach often translates to almost every other aspect of a woman’s life and therefore makes it difficult for women to be authoritative because of the reproach it often gathers. Man-spreading is a manifestation of the ways in which male privilege works.

Talking about man-spreading and recognizing the different ways in which it is harmful is going to remind us that we should be mindful of the ways in which we are interacting with others in closed spaces. While it may be a more comfortable position for you to stretch yourself out, it’s important to try to exercise some common decency and keep those around you in mind. The next time you find yourself taking public transportation, remember that you are in a shared public space, emphasis on “shared.”  While those who were male bodied were the main focus when discussing issues surrounding public space it’s important to be conscious of how much space you’re taking up and keep your spreading to a minimum regardless of your gender.
If you’d like to see how others are using social media to expose man-spreading, check out yourballsarenotthatbig.tumblr.com for a humorous take on the man-spreading taking place on New York City subways.