Manspreading is an Important Feminist Issue, Not Just Bad Social Etiquette

by | February 13, 2016
filed under Feminism


It’s no secret that manspreading is a hot topic of late, especially when it comes to feminist discourse. Many list it as one one of the problems to be tackled on the Feminist To-Do List, but it turns out that few actually know why.

Then there are those who don’t see it as an important feminist issue at all. On one side is the argument that that manspreading is mostly harmless and it’s just men needing some extra space for their cocks and balls. Others argue it’s just a matter of someone being an asshole vs. not an asshole. Many of my feminist friends—male and female alike—fall into the second category.

But what all these people fail to realise is that they are adopting the same false arguments that we have all been raised with in this patriarchal system.

On a heated Facebook discussion about manspreading, many of my male feminist friends chimed in to state that they sometimes manspread, and they do it simply to let their cocks and balls breathe a little. They assured me that they make room when someone needs the seats around them, and that by sitting with their legs spread, they are simply doing it for the sake of comfort – not out of some malicious attempt to prove that men rule and girls drool.

There are so many problems with this argument that I’m overwhelmed just trying to decide where to begin.

I’ll acknowledge, having never had a cock and balls myself, I don’t know if men really need all that extra space for their man-parts. But if they do, how come women don’t claim extra room as well? I don’t know about you, but when I’m on my period and I’m wearing a pad, I literally want nothing more than to spread my legs wide when sitting anywhere—the last thing I want to do is keep them tightly shut, which scrunches up the pad and often causes leaks. Not to mention when I get up after sitting with closed legs, physics does its job and the newfound air sucks out large clumps of period blood and makes me feel like I’ve dropped a load from my pussy. All because I sat with closed legs and then got up and opened my legs a little.

Alternately, even when I’m not on my period, I like letting my vagina have extra space. With the hair down there and various vaginal fluids constantly dripping out, and panties, which can be restrictive in themselves, keeping my legs closed is a pain in my ass most of the time. Dropping my knees to the side and letting my vag get some space is a glorious feeling.

And I bet I’m not alone in that thinking. Yet, rarely do we find women relaxed on any public property with their legs spread wide. And if we do see women taking up more room than they’re conventionally entitled to, we see them more willing to give up the extra room when someone else needs it. I rarely ever see men do this.

Then there are men who make the argument that women will take up an entire extra seat with just purses and bags, and somehow that is the same as manspreading to them. But imagine walking into a subway train and seeing two empty seats: one beside a women whose has set her large purse partially on it, and the other beside a man who is sitting with his legs spread, totally relaxed. Are you more likely to go up to the woman and say, “Excuse me, could you please move your bag so I can sit down?” or are you likely to go to the man and say, “Excuse me, could you close that gap between your legs so I can sit down?”

Chances are, you’re most likely to ask the woman to move her purse than ask the man to close his legs. In fact, more often than not, the woman will remove her bag when she notices new people entering the train while men will not be aware of the space they’re taking up unless explicitly asked to move. And rarely do they explicitly get asked to move.

Therein is illustrated two truths: the first is that women are generally considered easier to approach. I’ve noticed this when riding any sort of public transit; when given the choice between sitting beside a man or sitting beside a woman, people—regardless of gender—tend to sit beside the woman. It could be that women are seen as less intimidating or easier to dominate. I really don’t know, but it annoys the hell out of me as a woman who rarely ever gets to sit alone, while men enjoy empty seats beside them regularly.

The second truth that hypothetical situation reveals is that, generally, women are hyper-aware of how much room they take up. We are raised like that: we are raised to sit with closed legs, to not talk or laugh too loudly, to not be seen or heard, to take up as little space in the world as possible.

Men are not taught this: men are not taught to sit with their legs closed or to dress modestly or not laugh loudly in public. They are not discouraged from being seen and heard in the world. So for women, whom society has raised to to be aware of the room they take up, when a subway car begins to fill up, we’re a little too aware that our bags or feet or even a corner of our coats are taking up more room than we need and we are usually quick to fix it and dissolve back into the background.

This is the patriarchy for you: raising girls to feel like they are doing the world a disservice by existing, and raising boys to feel like the world is their oyster—both of these even if the individual doesn’t realise it him- or herself. And this trickles down into every aspect of the lives of all genders: from how we sit and where we choose to sit, to what we say and how we decide to say it, to what we wear and how we’re treated when we walk down the street.

Seldom ever will a man and woman have the same experience in any of those situations, and more often than not it’s the male-identifying cis men who will have it easiest, and that will allow them to sit with their legs spread and often be totally unaware of anyone else until someone pointedly asks them to adjust themselves to accommodate those around them.

This isn’t to say that men who manspread and claim it’s for the sake of their cocks and balls are assholes. When I encounter a manspreading man, I rarely ever suspect that he’s doing it out of malice. More often than not, I get angry that in this day and age, they’re not “woke” enough to either realise that they are not entitled to the world. Or I get frustrated that they have been brainwashed by the patriarchy into making excuses for seemingly minuscule things like manspreading.

Because manspreading it’s not a minuscule thing at all; it’s an act of dominance that is the result of deep-rooted societal privilege borne of our patriarchal society. It may not seem like something worth talking about when there are so many more crucial problems that feminism needs to tackle first, but I see becoming aware of and amending small inequalities to be nearly as important as the bigger ones.

Only by changing our everyday habits can we become enlightened enough to better understand and find solutions for the bigger, “more important” issues.

Photo of manspreading on a Stockholm Metro by Peter IsotaloOwn work, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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