The spread of androcentrism in our society goes far and wide – from a seated position to more toxic behaviour
Aquestion for all the guys out there: “Are you guilty of manspreading?” You might well be, but aren’t aware of it or, worse, do it knowingly, as you think it is your right. Women, especially those who take public transport, may be more aware of it, as it is a notso-subtle battle of the sexes using body language.
For those unfamiliar with the term, “manspreading is the inelegant, impolite sitting posture that some men seem to feel is their natural right”, according to Ashley Maas of the New York Times. These men spread their legs wide, into a V-shaped slouch, in effect occupying two, sometimes even three, seats on public transport.
You might think that this is a petty problem for urban commuters, but it is one that has become so endemic that Madrid’s municipal transport company, EMT, launched a campaign last month to discourage the practice, and remind people to respect the space of all passengers. EMT launched the initiative in partnership with Madrid city council’s equality department and the Microrrelatos Feministas collective, a women’s group that launched an online petition about the growing problem. The petition, which received more than 11 500 signatures, states that room needs to be made for “pregnant women, people with buggies, older people and those with disabilities, but there’s something that affects all of us practically every time we use public transport: manspreading”.
Madrid is not the first city to tackle this problem. In 2014, New York began a crackdown on it with a campaign called “Dude, stop the spread please. It’s a space issue.” With 6 million passengers a day, personal space quickly becomes a sensitive issue.
In South Africa, where the most common form of public transport is the minibus taxi, the problem is less pronounced, but only because there is no option but to be squeezed in alongside your fellow passengers.
Those who fly frequently in economy class would have had a taste of manspreading. Here, the battle is both for the armrest and the manspreading of legs under the armrests, encroaching on a neighbours’ space.
While we might not have the same manspreading problems that Madrid and New York have on their subways, we have a different form of manspreading, which is far more invasive and endemic: emotional or psychological manspreading.
South Africa is a patriarchal society. That message is broadcast loud and clear to every tier and corner of our society. It is embedded into our different cultures, and even our politics, and that manifests itself in the shameful fact that the femicide rate in this country is five times higher than the global average.
We have a serious psychological manspreading problem that goes way beyond personal space on public transport.
The month before Madrid embarked on their manspreading campaign, South Africa reacted to the disappearance and gruesome death of 22-yearold Karabo Mokoena. Her murder spawned the hashtag #MenAreTrash, which created more viscerally honest conversations about femicide than our (largely ineffectual) annual campaign of “16 days of activism for no violence against women and children” could ever have.
Social media, as always, documented the mood. Author, marketer and social media influencer Khaya Dlanga waded in and tweeted: “A woman’s daily life: Is he going to hit me? Kidnap me? Rape me? Cat call? Swear at me for this skirt? Kill me?”
Like I said, the hashtag provoked an honest and visceral conversation that had many men either squirming in their seats or (somewhat predictably) going on the offensive, which, in many cases, simply led to more psychological posturing and manspreading.
Sadly, social-media storms are short-lived, as people move swiftly on to new click bait, troll gatherings and hashtags, but the impact of psychological manspreading remains as a daily grind for many women. Hopefully, last week’s AntiFemicide Imbizo, hosted by the Moral Regeneration Movement and the department of arts and culture, will keep the problem at the forefront of people’s minds. It needs to remain there.
This week, a minibus taxi skipped a light and smashed into the car of a friend of mine. It was not her fault but she was made to feel it was. He was an older black man, and she a young black woman.
Not only did she have to contend with the frustration of cultural patriarchy, but when she went to open a case at a police station, she had to endure “being macked on” by the policeman. Instead of empathy and respect during a stressful time, she had to tolerate more manspreading.
It’s got to stop. It’s not pretty, whichever way you look at it. Chang is the founder of Flux Trends. For more
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