Originally published at Everyday Feminism.
A few weeks ago, I was having a meeting with a friend at a coffee shop. It was hot out, I was slouching a bit, and without my really noticing, my legs were sticking out into the aisle. A woman who came by had to walk around them to get inside.
My friend laughed. “Dude, are you manspreading right now?”
“Am I? Maybe. I don’t think so. Maybe…”
I totally was.
In truth, at first I was defensive and had assumed that I wasn’t mainly because I’m not “that guy” – you know, the super entitled jerk who takes up more space than he deserves.
But that’s the thing about manspreading. It’s not about men actively choosing to be jerks or trying to be sexist and ableist (since the outcome of our manspreading not only takes up space under the guise of our needing more room, but also often makes space less accessible for some people with disabilities).
It’s entirely about our socialization – about how we’ve been taught (in subtle and overt ways) never to consider how entitled to public space we may act or feel.
So when countless women point out (often in hilarious ways) that we’re manspreading all over the place, we quickly hear the refrains of “Women do it, too!” and “Stop conflating someone being rude with sexism and toxic masculinity.”
But the problem actually is toxic masculinity and, by extension, sexism – it’s just not as obvious as sexist name-calling or men being physically abusive.
After all, it’s our masculine socialization that ingrains in us from the youngest of ages the idea that we are entitled to what’s around us.
And this is intensified when we add in other forms of social power (or a lack thereof) to the equation.
When male entitlement compounds with class privilege, White privilege, and other forms of privilege, we see the amplification of this privilege and entitlement (all too perfectly exemplified in Donald Trump’s “I’m rich, so I can do what I want” braggadocio).
On the other hand, when White supremacist systems endlessly brutalize and humiliate men of Color while reducing them in the media to strict portrayals of hypermasculinity, then masculinity, the only sense of social power that some men of Color may feel, can show up in hypermasculine expressions or in a sense of entitlement to public space.
We as men have been so inundated with the idea that all space is our space that we, often subconsciously, act as if that’s true – both in our body language and in more overt expressions of entitlement like dominating conversations, talking over other people, and harassing women on the street.
A hilariously perfect illustration of male entitlement to public space, the KoolAid man busts through a wall of a party, shouting “not all men.”
Thus, I do think manspreading is a problem– not because it’s the ultimate example of misogyny, but because it’s a perfect, public representations of the much more concerning issue of sexist male entitlement.
So when we as men experience a lifetime of messages that tie up our identity with entitlement to space and bodies, it makes perfect sense that we would take up more than our fair space on a crowded bus – but we must also understand that this is indicative of something so much bigger.
The point is that, in and of itself, manspreading in public isn’t inherently sexist.
But when it’s taken in the context of power and oppression and all of the other ways that we consciously and subconsciously assert our entitlement into public space, it’s suddenly something entirely sexist.
With that in mind, here are six spaces in which our entitlement shows up in forms other than manspreading, offered with the hope that we as men will reflect a bit on how we can work toward better ways of being in community.