The idea and controversy behind ‘manspreading’

Recently, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority issued advertisements about the very real idea of manspreading. The adverts say “Dude…Stop the Spread, Please. It’s a space issue” (Fitzsimmons). Responses to the advert vary from exhales of relief from both male and female passengers, to petitions that wish to stop the ban of manspreading in Canada.

We have all seen manspreaders: a man spreading his legs, taking up unnecessary amount of extra seating and space, and essentially acting as the bane of all public transportation riders. As a long-time bus rider and recent subway rider, it is just plain rude for anyone to take up extra seating. As a feminist, the idea that a man feels the need to take up space is basically all about ego, and the unconscious (or in some cases conscious) idea of male privilege.

For example, the Canadian Association for Equality believes that banning manspreading would be a “‘big blow to men’s rights’” (Morrigan). Though I believe that banning manspreading is a little extreme, the issue is still about male privilege. Men already have the advantages of society that others, like women and the LGBTQ+ community, are fighting for every day, and they have these rights based on their gender.

Manspreading is male privilege. The idea permeates a belief in a man’s right to spread his legs simply because he has the ability and, and privilege, to do so. It also permeates a belief in a man’s right to pick and choose who he will sit next to, and a man’s right to touch others, unwanted or otherwise. For example, one man on the subway stated he would move his leg, but only if it was for the elderly or for an attractive woman (Fitzsimmons). Another man would not move his leg when a woman sat down simply so he could sexually harass her (Fitzsimmons).

In both instances men thought they had the right to do as they pleased. It was their privilege to spread and their privilege to determine the status worth of seating arrangements. If we want to go further into the psychology behind male privilege and manspreading, the author of Heroes, Rogues, and Lovers: Testosterone and Behavior describes a male animal that wants to look dominate will “spread their tail feathers (and) control space” (Morrigan). Thus, insecure men need to dominate their surroundings with animalistic displays of control and sexuality.

This insecurity was shown by some male passengers of the New York subways stating that they were not going to sit with closed legs because they were not women. For those who protest on the grounds of medical reasons, Dr. Marc Goldstein, a director of male reproductive medicine in New York, says that in fact a train ride with crossed legs would not cause any damage to a man’s virility (Fitzsimmons).

Even if you do not take my own feminist standpoint, take the standpoint of a fellow traveler: it is rude to take up extra space when there are other passengers around looking for seats or enough room to be semi-comfortable in an already uncomfortable, enclosed area. So Grand Valley commuters be kind, courteous and respectful of thy neighbors.