Movement against ‘manspreading’ on transit leads to MRA sads

The notion that one person should take up one seat on public transit is not a particularly radical one. I’ve been taking the bus regularly since I was about 12 years old and it’s just basic, human courtesy (albeit, “basic, human courtesy” many people choose to ignore) that we do not take up extra seats with grocery bags, purses, or legs. The bus does not have seats so that your bag has a place to rest or so that your knees don’t need to share a seat.

But the problem of “manspreading,” as the New York Times called it recently — the much-maligned and mocked phenomenon wherein men spread their legs out, either forcing whomever is in the seat next to them to squeeze into the tiniest corner of their seat, or simply taking up two (or more) seats entirely, preventing another person from sitting down — has become such a notable problem that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), New York’s public transit body, plans to launch a campaign to address it.

The movement to curb manspreading seems to be gaining support in Toronto as well.

Naturally, the MRAs are upset, claiming that efforts to “ban” manspreading are sexist and infringes on “men’s rights.” On Dec. 24, CAFE (a men’s rights group working out of Toronto) posted a petition on intended to stop the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) from implementing a ban on manspreading.

So first of all, my illiterate friends, no one is “banning” anything. The MTA is merely launching a campaign intended to discourage the practice of manspreading. As far as I know, the TTC is not (yet) planning on launching a similar campaign (though they are being encouraged to, and I do hope they — and other transit authorities — consider it) and, even if they did, this would not constitute a “ban”. So chill. Manspreading is still legal, bros.

Second. If anyone should be allowed to take up two seats on a bus on account of “rights,” it’s women. Because, in case you hadn’t noticed, it is women, not men, who are constantly being harassed and assaulted — by men — on the bus. It is women who must spend their entire commute to work in a panic because some man has decided to sit next to her with his hand purposefully touching her thigh, it is women who have to worry about being flashed or groped by a man who is sitting next to them on the bus, it is women who are sexually harassed and “chatted up” by men within a confined space from which they have no escape.

You need only to look to the Vancouver-based Harassment on Translink project started by Katie Nordgren (who I interviewed last year) to see how common these incidences are.

Women don’t feel safe on transit. Men, on the other hand, feel right at home — never having to or bothering to consider any other human sharing their space. While women must be on heightened alert, men treat transit like their living rooms. The entitlement men feel, in terms of their behaviour and the space they take up in public places in general and on transit in particular, says volumes about whose “rights” are really at stake and where the “sexism” really lies.

“I’m not going to cross my legs like ladies do… I’m going to sit how I want to sit,” one man told the New York Times.

Yeah. We know. Men do what they want because they feel safe and entitled to, while women, on the other hand, balance on the edge of their seats, wondering what creep will approach, ogle, or grope her today.

I do actually put my bag on the seat next to me sometimes, when there are other seats available on the bus and I want to discourage sketchy men from needlessly sitting next to me. I move the bag when a woman gets on, so that she has the option of sitting next to a non-male. That, and all the stories of harassment and assault, shows that taking the bus is far from relaxing for women. I’m not not even advocating that somehow women should be permitted to take up two seats instead of one for safety reasons. I’m just trying to illustrate what our experience is like and to point out that it’s literally the least men could do to close their legs so that someone else can sit down. Consider that other people’s experiences might differ from your own.

No one’s asking you to cross your legs if it’s uncomfortable. They are asking you to be considerate of other people (the horror!). They are asking you not to be ridiculous. And yes, this is ridiculous (via Men Taking Up Too Much Space on the Train):

The campaign is friendly, simply reminding commuters to mind their manners and space. One of the posters reads: “Dude… Stop the spread, please. It’s a space issue.” and shows an image of riders forced to stand as a man sits so that he takes up two seats. The campaign also addresses other acts discouraged on public transit like “eating, primping, spinning on the poles and blocking doors.”


The men who claim these decidedly unthreatening campaigns (you are still technically allowed to use your balls as an excuse to take up way too much space on transit, it just makes you an entitled prick) are “sexist” and impede “men’s rights” claim they “just want to see something gender neutral.” Ok, deal. How about women get a day off from living in fear every time they leave the house? How about we get to take the bus home from work without spending our commute in a panic because some dude has decided to stare us down for the entire ride? How about women get some time off from being hyper-vigilant every time they use transit, scanning for safe places to stand or sit? How about after all that’s resolved we talk “gender neutral.”

Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist from Vancouver, BC. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including The Spectator, UnHerd, Quillette, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and is now exiled in Mexico with her very photogenic dog.