The other day, I stumbled across this tumblr, entitled “Men Taking Up Too Much Space On The Train.” It’s exactly what it sounds like – photos of men sprawled across subway seats, legs akimbo, ballsacs fluttering in the breeze. The subtitle is “A classic among public assertions of privilege,” the thesis being that men spread their legs in public places because they are alpha dogs who want us bitches to know that they own this place and everyone in it.
The first time I saw this website, I laughed at the absurdity of it all, but that was a few weeks ago, and in that short time, I have begun to do what you should never do if you don’t want to become outraged: I’ve been paying attention. Isn’t it funny how sometimes you don’t even think to be angry about something until you sit up and take notice, but once you do, you notice it everywhere and it fills you with fiery rage?
While there have been valid arguments made about how men simply have longer legs and need a bit more room, I do think that there is a wide disparity between how the sexes are taught to manage their bodies in crowds or small spaces. Not only does it speak to the assumption of male ownership of property, but it is a lens into how the female body is expected to be small and unobtrusive. If we get in the way, it is because we are too big and clumsy and unladylike, and should probably just be euthanized now before our thighs give someone a concussion.
I go to a decently-sized university, and there are approximately five thousand male students with whom I traverse the campus every day. We also have a highly ranked athletics program, so on the whole these are men who were raised with certain values: grow, lift, smash. These are corn-fed boys, wholesome American boys, boys who listen to Kanye West while they study for their Marketing midterm exams.
And they take up a lot of space.
It is especially noticeable on the cramped stairwells in between classes. I have gone through a lifetime of squeezing myself against the walls of the corridor, tiptoeing precariously down steps so as not to touch too much of other people with myself, my overstuffed bag clutched tightly to my side so that I do not invade anyone’s personal space. I see other women navigating the hallways the same way: elbows tucked, chin down, not even daring to breathe in anyone’s direction, lest the air cause too much pressure in the cabin.
The men, on the other hand, seem unconcerned with such matters. They stride down the walkways confidently, limbs flailing, bookbag bouncing behind them. Their big, heavy shoes thud down the tiles with purpose, their broad shoulders ripple with strong, immovable muscle, their torsos moving unswayably down the halls like massive ocean liners, ready to tear apart any tiny, fragile icebergs that stand in their way. They don’t seem to know that they are the rhinoceri to my gazelle, and they could, if they so desired, trample me into a tiny pile of bloody pulp.
So one day, I decided to practice walking through campus like a dude. Let me begin by saying that it was with some trepidation that I commenced this experiment. Nobody of any gender has ever bodyslammed me against a cement wall or anything like that, but was that only the case because I always get out of the way? Would I receive physical injury in my quest for the privilege of walking space? I experimented with different ways of managing this for a few days, and here are my recommendations for women looking to up their college/work/home/grocery store walkway real estate:
1) Step One: Make eye contact. I’m not saying you have to sensuously eye-fuck every poor man who comes within eight yards of you. Just casually flick your eyes up to meet those of a prospective Space Invader. Now, instead of just an object who happens to be in his way, you are a person with windows to your very soul gazing out at him. He is less likely to lose control of his limbs and accidentally donkey-punch you if he is acutely aware that there is a living, breathing organism next to him who expects to at least be taken out to dinner before a good donkey-punching.
2) Have good posture. Aside from being good life advice, this really does make a difference. I know it’s difficult when burdened with an armful of textbooks or a load of laundry, but an upright physicality announces to your hallway opponent, “I matter to me, and I should matter to you, too.” Keep those shoulders back, chest out, butt tucked under so you’re not arching your spine. Carry that bookbag with chutzpah. Everyone will know you have arrived.
3) Maintain your trajectory. I’m not saying you should pretend you are the only person in the hallway and try to walk through everybody else’s molecules, but don’t apologize for needing to be somewhere. Walk on, sister, and walk hard. If someone else rounds the corner and starts heading in your direction, don’t wig out and stop, or squish yourself against the wall to avoid them, or crawl up on the ceiling, Spider-Man style. Just keep walking like you’re working the runway, and chances are, he will learn a valuable lesson in keeping his body and possessions to himself.
4) Use common sense. I shouldn’t have to say this, but don’t think this is a free license to behave like a total asshole and just knock people out of the way with a sledgehammer because you’re late to Pilates. It is merely a guide to existing in tight spaces with other people.
Have some balls. Take up space.