27 February 2015

Man Spreading: What is it and what’s the big deal?

When we use the phrase Rape Supportive Culture, it can sometimes be difficult to know exactly what this means and what it looks like. Sometimes, men will get defensive because it implicates us as part of the problem (and we are part of the problem in a lot of ways and are trying to work against this. Either way, men benefit from Rape Supportive Culture. But that’s a discussion for another day…). Sometimes we can feel helpless when we gain a better understanding of Rape Supportive Culture. Because it’s a lot. And it can be difficult to know where to start. Ultimately, if we want to reduce rates of rape and sexual assault in our culture, particularly against women, children and trans-identified people,
we have to identify and dismantle pillars in the systems that support and allow epidemic rates of violence to occur. One of those pillars is male entitlement. And a component of that pillar is Man Spreading. Check out this tumblr full of examples: http://mentakingup2muchspaceonthetrain.tumblr.com/

As the images show, Man Spreading typically occurs in public spaces. Whether it’s intentional or not is not the point. The point is that it is generally men who take up more physical space than is necessary. Or needed. What is even more interesting to me is the invasion of other people’s spaces.

Not just other people, but it seems that these men invade a women’s space in particular. I wonder if two men were forced to sit next to each other if there would be any invasion of space. Or contact. I remember with my friends in high school, when we went to a movie together, we would leave one seat in between us. We said it was for comfort because we could use both armrests, but reflecting back, there was definitely homophobia involved as well. I also think that if I were to attempt to sit next to a Man Spreader on a crowded bus or train, I might experience some discomfort. I think this is because I am thinking that he owns that space. So even as I write about Man Spreading, I find myself abiding by the unspoken rules of masculinity and male entitlement.

Now I will acknowledge that there might be some anatomical explain-aways for why men do this. But I also see plenty of men cross their legs when they are sitting. In addition, I believe the concept of man spreading extends beyond public transportation as well. I frequently observe men in classrooms or libraries use multiple desks or chairs and spread their stuff all across the table. They either put their stuff in a second (or third) desk or use a second chair as a footrest. I also notice for myself that when I sit in an airplane, I immediately “claim” an armrest for myself.

To me, this concept of man spreading directly correlates to male entitlement. In this particular case, it is our entitlement to space in public spaces where space should be shared. And upon further observation, it appears that men also feel entitled to women’s space. If that is the case, this cultural norm in the context of Rape Supportive Culture is a dangerous one. When we as men believe that we are entitled to women’s space, it’s not hard to wonder why many of us seem to get angry when a woman rejects our advances. An angry reaction only makes sense if we truly believe that we are denied what we thought was ours. If we get angry at rejection from a romantic interest, perhaps this is an indication that we thought she was our “possession” in the first place. This process makes women become objects in the minds of men. This is why male entitlement is so dangerous and a key component to the existence of Rape Supportive Culture. When we get angry, we tend to behave in ways that can be perceived as scary. When most people are scared or threatened, then they’re less likely to say no or stop, even if they really need or want to.

I’m not saying that Man Spreading leads to rape. I’m not saying that a man who is unaware of the space he takes up is more likely to be a perpetrator. The act of Man Spreading is just a tangible result of a pillar that upholds Rape Supportive Culture. Maybe if we were more conscious and respectful of the space we take up and paid more attention to how our actions affect others, maybe we’d be more likely to respect “no” (and “im not sure” and silence) for an answer. Maybe if we cared more about the comfort of those around us, people of all genders, we would notice when a person’s body language is telling us that we are about to cross the line.


  1. This is the silliest thing I have ever read. Men spread their legs because it is comfortable and it shows dominance. GET OVER IT. I am actually going to start spreading my legs more thanks to this silly article. Stop overthinking things