University of Brighton student Laila Laurel won a top award for her feminist design - but it turns out not everyone was so happy about it.
Let’s be honest: if you’ve ever taken a crowded train, tube or bus journey, you’ve probably experienced - or at least been witness to - an incident of manspreading.
Defined by Oxford Dictionaries as “the practice whereby a man, especially one travelling on public transport, adopts a sitting position with his legs wide apart, in such a way as to encroach on an adjacent seat or seats,” manspreading has become a common turn of phrase among frustrated commuters.
And after experiencing the problem first hand, University of Brighton design student Laila Laurel decided to use her design skills to shine a light on the behaviour - by designing an anti-manspreading chair.
She says that after reading about women’s experiences with manspreading around the world via Laura Bates’ Everyday Sexism Project, she decided to conduct some observations of her own.
“I decided to spend an hour riding trains on Southern Rail between Brighton and Portslade - a journey I make frequently for my commute to and from work - walking up and down the train to see if I could find any examples of men ‘man-spreading’ and encroaching onto women’s space first-hand,” she writes on her website.
“In such a short time I found multiple cases. One of which that particularly stood out to me was a woman having to sit sideways on her seat with her legs in the aisle due to a man stretching his all the way over into her foot-well.”
In response to the behaviour she decided to design two chairs - one which encourages women to sit with their legs apart in a traditionally masculine position, and one which forces men to sit with their legs together. The project, titled “A Solution for Manspreading” won the Belmond Award at New Designers in London, a showcase of work from universities across the UK - but the reaction Laurel faced online wasn’t so positive.
“The online backlash has been quite unpleasant, and I have received a lot of explicit messages nearly entirely from men who seem to be under the impression I am trying to castrate them and that I hate all men which honestly couldn’t be further from the truth,” she told the Standard.
And despite the fact that the chairs were not designed to be particularly hard-hitting or serious, it seems some people on Twitter didn’t quite get the message.
Whilst some opted for the classic “women take up space on trains too with their bags” comeback (because that’s an exclusively gendered behaviour, right?) others decided to get super original and call Laurel a “kitchen dweller”.
One person even felt the need to point out that the chairs look “uncomfortable” - because comfort and useability was definitely what Laurel had in mind for this conceptual, symbolic, one-of-a-kind design project.
Instead of the offensive attack many social media users have interpreted the chairs to be, Laurel’s project shines a light on how men often feel entitled to take up space in society, while women feel the need to make themselves small and unobtrusive.
The project demonstrates how the way products are designed dictates the way we live our lives - and is especially important when you consider how much of the world has been designed with the comfort and needs of men in mind.
Laurel’s project is a funny, clever reminder of how our day-to-day behaviours are shaped by our attitudes and approach to the world.
And it’s bloody brilliant.