Of all the small examples of male entitlement we encounter every day, manspreading has to be one of the most infuriating. If you’ve ever travelled on public transport, you’ll likely have witnessed this phenomenon: men sitting with their legs spread wide open, casually invading the personal space of those around them. It’s rude, thoughtless and totally unnecessary, and it’s disappointingly commonplace.
There are several routes available to you if you decide you want to tackle manspreading. You could politely ask the bloke in question to move his legs, in the hope of embarrassing him into respectfulness. You could enter into silent physical warfare, wordlessly ‘womanspreading’ in retaliation until he gets the message.
Alternatively, you could lobby your hometown to take a leaf out of Madrid’s book – and ban manspreading altogether.
The Madrid Municipal Transportation Company (EMT) has announced that it is introducing signs across all trains, metros and buses in the city, warning men against taking up more space than they need to.
The sign, which has been shared on Twitter, shows a red stick man sitting with his legs wide apart, with the words “Respect the space of others.” It will be posted alongside signs banning passengers from smoking, dropping litter and putting feet on seats.
“The new information icon indicates the prohibition of taking a seating position that bothers other people,” said the EMT in a statement shared with Spanish news agency The Local.
“It’s to remind transport users to maintain civic responsibility and respect the personal space of others.”
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The move came shortly after the launch of a change.org petition by Spanish feminist group Mujeres en Lucha (‘Women in Struggle’).
“Manspreading is the practice of certain men sitting with their legs wide open on public transport, taking up other people’s space,” reads the petition.
It continues: “It is not something that occurs sporadically, if you pay attention you’ll see that it is a very common practice. It’s not difficult to see women with their legs shut and very uncomfortable because there is a man next to them who is invading their space with his legs.”
The hashtag #MadridSinManspreading (‘Madrid Without Manspreading’) went viral on Spanish social media shortly after the petition was launched.
Madrid isn’t the first city to move to address the problem of men sitting discourteously on public transport. In 2015, two men were arrested on the charge of ‘manspreading’ on the New York City subway, according to police documents. The previous year, the city’s Metropolitan Transit Authority had launched an anti-manspreading campaign, including posters on the subway reading: “Dude… Stop the Spread, Please.”
And contrary to what men’s rights activists might have you believe, the campaign against manspreading didn’t originate with the internet – or even with the mainstream acceptance of feminism. An exhibition at the New York Transit Museum last summer showed that cities including Tokyo and New York have been trying to stamp out the phenomenon for at least 70 years, with anti-‘space hogging’ posters on display from as far back 1947.
Images: iStock, New York Transit Museum