Grace Dowling, ‘20
Picture this: You just got onto the train, on your way home after a long day of school. After a few stops, a person gets up, so you go and sit down in the tiny sliver of space next to a man with his legs spread wide enough that he was taking up practically double the width of his body. Despite feeling uncomfortable and irritated, you decide it’s best not to say anything as you are forced to press your legs closer together. Finally you get off at your stop, a feeling of relief washes over you as you step off the train. The next day on your train ride to school, your commute is relaxed as you listen to music and escape the world around you. But that afternoon on your train, there’s another man who sits next to you, spreading his legs and forcing you to sacrifice your comfort. The next time you take the train, another person is spreading their legs, if not on you then on someone next to you or across from you. Every other day–if not everyday, you are forced to make yourself small. You want to say something, but you’ve read online, you’ve seen the news about how dangerous some people can be on the train. So you say nothing, and continue to make yourself smaller. This is a struggle that is all too real for many women and people in New York City.
As defined by the Oxford Dictionary, manspreading is “the practice whereby a man adopts a sitting position with his legs wide apart, in such a way as to encroach on an adjacent seat.” This act of expanding one’s legs far apart forces those sitting next to or around that person to in turn, press their legs together, most often in an uncomfortable way. It is important to note that this practice is not exclusive to men; however, like the act of mansplaining, manspreading is named as it is because of the tendency of mostly men to spread their legs in that way. In addition, the act of manspreading is so offensive because not only is it a blatant invasion of personal space, but it belittles the women and people that it affects; it’s as if manspreaders don’t care that the spread of their legs may ruin someone else’s commute.
Manspreading is more than just a seemingly small problem that we all see everyday, it’s an epidemic. Although it is not the most pressing issue facing commuters today, it is still a very far-reaching problem. In fact, it was considered such a problem that it was banned in Madrid on June 7th, 2017; however, there are no laws surrounding manspreading anywhere else yet, which is absurd considering how common this issue is in big cities like New York. Not a day goes by where I don’t see someone manspreading on my train during my commute to and from Bard.
It would be easy to assume that the solution to this problem would be communication, many people may not realize that they are manspreading in the first place; however, the solution isn’t that simple which is something 37-year-old Sam Saia found out the hard way. On November 16th, 2017, Saia was riding the N train when she asked a man, Derek Smith, 56, to make some room for her to sit next to him, because he was manspreading. Smith proceeded to verbally harass Saia, then punched her in the face. However unlikely this kind of aggressive reaction might be, it is still better in general, to not address a manspreader if the situation might be unsafe. Instead, the real solution is to raise awareness for this issue. In 2014, the MTA unveiled it’s campaign to stop manspreading, with the slogan “Dude…Stop the Spread, Please” and a picture of a manspreader. There’s no doubt that we have all seen that poster on a train at some point in our lives as city-dwellers, but the effectiveness of it is questionable. The campaign was definitely a step in the right direction, but the real way to prevent manspreading begins with our generation. Whether it’s calling out your friends for manspreading when you’re on the train with them, or recognizing when you are manspreading, little by little, this generation can end this epidemic.