Men Taking Up Too Much Space on the Train

Transit etiquette for a #manspreading world.

What's all this "manspreading" I keep hearing about?

Manspreading is the term for when a man sits on public transportation with his legs spread so far apart that he encroaches on the space beside him and makes fellow riders uncomfortable. The meme gathered full steam earlier this month when the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York announced a new public awareness campaign aimed rider courtesy that will feature the slogan, "Dude…..Stop the Spread, Please" beside a male rider sitting with his legs and knees set wide apart.

MTA

Is this a real thing?

It has its own hashtag and was in the New York Times. So yeah, it's a real thing. And people in other cities, including London and Toronto, have taken notice and started anti-manspreading movements of their own.

Actually, the concept predates the MTA campaign. A number of blogs have been collecting images of manspreading offenders for quite some time. The most notable among them is probably the Tumblr "Men Taking Up Too Much Space on the Train," which rose to Internet fame after posting a picture of Game of Thrones star Richard Madden—aka Robb Stark—sitting with one leg in Winterfell and the other over the Wall.

What's so bad about sitting a little splayed?

That depends, in part, on the situation. If a train is empty and the mood strikes, there's nothing wrong with sitting back and spreading your business. (Although, fair warning, you may end up on the Internet.) But in a crowded train it's only courteous to take up as little space as necessary. New York magazine has issued seat-hoggers a full 10 on a Rudeness Factor scale of 10.

It also depends whom you ask. Some manspreading critics, if you will, submit that the practice smacks of male privilege. Here's Jezebel on "dudes who sit with their legs spread so wide that they take up two seats" back in 2012:

They want to sit there and be comfortable and—don't you know?—there's no way a dude as macho as him can be expected to sit with his knees together.

Is this really a "macho" thing so much as an anatomy thing?

Funny you should ask. The anti-manspreading wave has produced some pushback from those who feel there's a perfectly testicular explanation for the habit. A men's rights organization in Canada—yes, this is also a thing—has even started a petition against banning manspreading on transit because, as they put it, "men opening their legs is something we have to do due to our biology."

Though bear in mind, as one astute observer pointed out on Twitter, that by signing up for the petition you're voluntarily and publicly removing yourself from the dating pool.

It's kind of true that sometimes the boys need a little room to breathe, no?

Sure. But you might first try switching to boxers. Or, better yet, stand up and give your seat to someone else.

What exactly is the proper way to offer someone a seat on a subway or bus?

The proper way to do anything in life is the way Keanu Reeves does it. On the subway, that means recognizing a potential seating etiquette conflict, tapping the intended recipient of the courtesy, rising from your seat, then struggling to mask an air of self-satisfaction about the entire exchange.

If you don't want to interact with another human being—a perfectly reasonable preference, especially during a rush-hour commute—you may also simply stand up and move, with the courtesy implied.

Are there rules about who should get a seat and who shouldn't?

Miss Manners says society is in the midst of a transition away from gender-based transit seating etiquette toward an ability-based system. She proposes first-tier seating for anyone "who would obviously find it a hardship to stand." This includes the elderly, the infirm, or people taking care of born and unborn babies. A second-tier is dedicated to anyone with self-imposed burdens, such as shopping bags.

"After that, the strong may seat themselves wherever they like," she writes.

I'm tired after a long day of work. Can't someone else get up?

We're trying to have a civilization here, buddy. Fortunately, most people don't share that mindset. In 2005, the New York Daily News arranged for a six-month pregnant woman to ride five subway lines during rush hour and report back on whether or not she was offered a seat. Most seat offers were made within a minute. The quickest, on the A train, came in three seconds. The longest, on the 7 train, took about three minutes.

Another pregnant woman conducted a more recent experiment on the subway and found similarly decent results. Over a four-month period she found herself aboard 108 full trains, and was offered a seat 88 times. And in one recent survey, 92 percent of respondents thought people sitting down on transit should offer their spot to a pregnant woman without asking.

Who are those remaining 8 percent?

Good question. Probably a mixture of sociopaths, women who are even farther along in their pregnancy than the woman who's standing, Game of Thrones stars, and of course, hopeless manspreaders.

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