From Manspreading to Mansplaining — 6 Ways Men Dominate the Spaces Around Them

manspread1Originally 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.

1. Men Dominate Physical Space

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10 Ways Men Can Combat Sexist Entitlement in Public

After the tragic mass murder in Isla Vista, CA in May, violence driven by Elliot Rodger’s misogyny and racism, countless women used the hashtag #YesAllWomen to voice the endless ways in which overt and microaggressive misogyny shows up in their everyday lives.  It was an incredible response to a terrible tragedy, one with the power to raise awareness of the constant assault on their lives, bodies, personhood, and livelihoods that women-identified people face.  I, along with a number of other pro-feminist men, called on men to read as many of the tweets and to reflect on what they cumulatively call on us to change.

Sadly, though, many men saw it as a chance to question and challenge women’s experiences with misogyny rather than to listen.

One of the most common refrains, despite the thousands of voices cumulatively calling on men to realize the harsh realities of misogyny, was “PROVE IT!”  Men, and not just your hardcore MRAs, were challenging women (without a hint of intended irony) to show evidence that misogyny exists while the evidence rained in tweets all around them.

One dude in particular tweeted at a number of women, asking for proof that men are socialized to feel entitled to women, women’s bodies, women’s accomplishments, women’s space, and so on.

As one example, someone tweeted the “Men Taking Up Too Much Space on the Train” Tumblr, trying to help him understand that male entitlement extends beyond overt commodification of women’s bodies, and that it extends into how we are socialized to be in society.  Literally, we are socialized to take up more than our fair share of space!

MT2MSOTT

Source: Men Taking Up Too Much Space on the Train

From there, someone linked to the “Your Balls Are Not That Big” Tumblr, and someone else posited that maybe the men on trains are just “Saving Room for Cats:”

SavingRoomforCats Source: Saving Room for Cats

The guy didn’t really get the connection.

But there is an important connection to be made.  #YesAllMen are socialized to feel and act entitled in society, and we tend not to see and understand the ways we act with entitlement because, well, privilege.  And for many of us, this entitlement just plays out through microaggressions like asking a woman to smile or touching a woman’s hair without her permission.

But it doesn’t just impact women.  Last week I was on a plane, and I was exhausted. I had just spent the night in the airport after a series of annoying delays, and it was a long flight.  The guy sitting behind me was pretty obnoxious during boarding, cracking stupid jokes and being overall way too loud for a 7 am board time.  I was in the exit row, which meant there was a gap between my window seat and the actual window/door, and a few hours into the flight, I was woken up my a terrible smell.  This is what I found:

MyFlightCompanionYeah, that is my arm rest, and those are his shoeless feet.

Now before you rush in with a #NotAllMen trope or a story of a woman being super entitled in public space, listen: no, not all men would have the gall to put their stank feet up on someone else’s armrest, and yes, I have seen women get super entitled about how their drink was made a at a coffee shop.  However, when we pair the entitlement that men too often feel and act upon with the everyday misogyny that women face, we have a dangerous combination.

No, not all men will be an Elliot Rodger, killing women who reject us, but if we are not actively working to dismantle the ways in which men learn the type of entitlement that Elliot Rodger felt, then we are surely contributing to the wider problem.

So here are 10 simple ways that men can combat sexist entitlement in public:

1.  Don’t Act Like the World is Your Living Room, and Call Out Men Who Do

This one’s simple.  Be aware of the physical space you take up in public: on trains, in coffee shops, at the library, on airplanes.  I’m plenty guilty of waking up on a plane, only to realize my large legs have taken over some of the space afforded to my neighbor when they bought the ticket. I simply apologize and reposition myself so I’m not taking over!  See a dude with his feet up and shoes off in a crowded Starbucks?  Politely ask him to consider how much space he is using.

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