MANSPREAD

The spread of an­dro­cen­trism in our so­ci­ety goes far and wide – from a seated po­si­tion to more toxic be­hav­iour

CityPress - - Voices - Dion Chang voices@city­press.co.za

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

trends, visit flux­trends.com

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