Men's Rights Activism Takes To Public Transit: The Great "Manspreading" Debate 

You may not know the term "manspreader," but if you've ever taken public transit, you most certainly know what it describes. For the uninitiated, manspreading is not the slight parting of the legs which may be required for men by biology, but the ensconcing of oneself in widespread, let-it-all-hang-out fashion. In its extremes, the manspread (so named because, quite simply, men do it far more frequently) takes up scores of valuable seat space.

So ubiquitous is this indecorous positioning that it has given rise to entertaining Tumblrs like Saving Room For Cats, which also provides some useful visual aids like this:

And this:

The practice of manspreading has long annoyed public transit passengers—so much so that a controversial new poster from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is explicitly calling it out:

Naturally, this poster has sparked outrage among a group known to take umbrage at anything that deigns to challenge male entitlement: mens rights activists. CAFE (the Canadian Association for Equality) has sponsored an online petition that so far has generated nearly 1,000 signatures. The organization—which seems milquetoast compared to its boisterous buddies and those who clearly identify themselves as men's rights activists—lists its mandate as the desire to achieve equality for everyone, with a particular focus on the "status, health and well-being of boys and men." It's uncertain whether manspreading falls under the "health" or "status" section of the mandate. In any case, the petition declares:

"This [banning] sets a very bad precedent as men opening their legs is something we have to do due to our biology. It's physically painful for men to close their legs and we cannot be expected to do so, and it's also a biological necessity for us to do so."

But Mark Shrayber at Jezebel disagrees, writing, "as a proud owner of a set myself, I can tell you that I've never had to take up anyone else's space on the bus just to keep my testicles happy."

The petition also, but of course, takes a dig at women, posing this question:

"We can't force woman to stop breast feeding on buses or trains and we can't force them to stop bringing strollers on, why should we force men to close their legs?"

This decree, though, ignores the outcries women face in public for breastfeeding—aka, feeding their baby in the way they were biologically intended to. Meanwhile, I'd wager there have been far more incidents of a staff member controlling a woman's right to breastfeed (which is, by the way, protected under equality rights in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms) than of men being asked by a person of authority (or anyone, really) to not take up excessive space on the bus. And this is to say nothing of the insulting suggestion that only women bring strollers on trains, or that they should be scorned for deigning to bring their children with them when they travel places.

The petition also glosses over the socialization that causes men to take up more space through territorial, and comfort-driven, man sprawl in the first place—while the women around them fold themselves up in order to be accommodating. As Soraya Chemaly, a feminist writer for RoleReboot, says:

"Visualized gender and race stereotypes represent, reflect, and create societal norms and interactions. And power dynamics. The way bodies take up space are territorial displays."

From weight to body positioning, those who want to be considered feminine have long been encouraged to take up as little space as possible. In the book What Every Body in Saying, author Joe Navarro discusses what he calls "splaying behavior." While on a couch or chair in your own home, he says, splaying is a sign of comfort. However it's also a non-verbal way of dominating your environment.

When defenders of the ball-sprawl feel their rights are infringed upon, I wonder if they have ever been exposed to the rules women have been subjected to about leg placement. Entire etiquette lessons are devoted to the virtuousness of the ankle cross and the vulgarity of the "European leg cross." A woman can be labeled a whore simply by the positioning of her legs.

In this sense, manspreading is a manifestation of gendered territorial entitlement; it taps into, if you will, the male privilege of taking up physical space.

This petition isn't going to do a whole lot to help with the high suicide rate that men face, or the plight of homelessness. Nor will it do much to fulfill the mandate that CAFE lists. But I don't think that's its purpose. It's little more than knee-jerk reactionary whining from a small population of people who are used to wallowing in entitlement. No petition needed—just move the hell over and stop with the splaying, bro.

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