Women, tired of squeezing themselves into small spaces while men unfold themselves comfortably on public transport, have taken up arms against manspreading in the past few years.
The seated posture has been banned on public transport in cities from Madrid to Boston, New York City (where two men have even been arrested for the act) to Philadelphia and Seattle. Paris is the latest to campaign against it.
Manspreading – the act of opening legs too wide and taking up too much space, particularly on public transport – even became accepted into the Oxford dictionary in 2015.
Tom Hanks accused
The Council of Paris has called manspreading a “pernicious form of violence against women”, admitting that sharing public space is often “not in favour of women”.
In Madrid, the leader of the anti-manspreading group Mujeres en Lucha (Women At War), Alejandra de la Fuente, says: “Women have always been told to occupy the least amount of space possibly, and men haven’t.”
Men are fighting back. Forrest Gump and Sleepless In Seattle actor Tom Hanks, who was accused of manspreading on the New York City subway, told The Late Late Show With James Corden that while, yes, he was taking up some extra space (he was splayed across a double seat with one leg crossed over the other, ankle on knee), the “train was half empty… there was plenty of room”.
Men ‘just adjusting’ for body size
While there are both “creepy” guys on the subway and those “hogging two seats”, Mr Hanks says, “I don’t think I’m a particularly creepy guy”. “I was not manspreading,” he calmly told Mr Corden. “I was just enjoying a pleasant ride on the number 2 train.”
Some science has even been released to explain men’s predicament. According to data scientist Mark Skinner and EconoMonitor writer Ash Bennington, men are just adjusting for their body proportions, especially their “high shoulder-to-hip ratio”.
“Proportionally, a man needs to secure more seat space using his legs than a woman would need to, in order for the man to maintain enough room to sit up in his seat,” writes Mr Bennington.
Other anti-social public transport behaviours
Some of the research the duo points to shows that the average man’s shoulders are 28 percent wider than his hips, while the average woman’s shoulders are only three percent wider. Sitting with legs together is therefore a physical impossibility, they say, as “his torso likely won’t fit on the top half of the seat”.
Mr Skinner even claims that manspreading is a man’s attempt to “avoid collisions” in aisles on crowded trains. Here’s the science behind that argument: manspreading to a 30-degree angle apparently allows the male passenger to reduce the distance his knees protrude into the aisle by 3.1 inches.
It is worth noting that, while manspreading is hitting the headlines, it is not the only antisocial behaviour being targeted. Madrid is also targeting thoughtless passengers who put their feet on seats and listen to loud music on headphones while, in Boston, people carrying large, heavy backpacks are being asked to take them off when boarding the train to avoid banging into people.
My view on #manspreading
You should practice common courtesy throughout the day, wherever you are: do as you would be done by. Manspreading can be chauvinistic – but women putting large handbags to bag the spare seat next to them on a busy train are being just as rude. Few people would be brave enough to ask you to close your legs so if you must stretch out, be gentlemanly by apologising as you do so to the people sitting nearby. As the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority says in its anti-manspreading video campaign: “Courtesy counts.”