Since mid-2013, the Tumblr blog Men Taking Up Too Much Space On The Train has been posting pictures of men sitting with their legs spread wide on public transportation in condemnation of their lack of regard for the personal space of others. In recent news, Turkey has joined the backlash crowd in a newer Twitter campaign called “Close Your Legs,” in which women tweet images of men on the subway, often captioned with “Bacaklarini Topla” and “Yerimi Isgal Etme” (“stop spreading your legs” and “don’t occupy my space,” respectively). The campaign, kick started by the Istanbul Feminist Collective, involves women throughout Turkey (and other parts of the world) posting images of people, primarily men, sitting spread-eagle on public transportation vessels.
Immediately, some men lashed out, defending the spread-legged people in the photographs, claiming the reason that men can frequently be observed in this space-hogging position is purely the result of anatomy–that it is uncomfortable for males to sit with their legs closed, as it squeezes their genitals painfully.
This sounds like a complete cop-out, but I thought I’d ask a few men in my life for their opinions, and I heard a resounding chorus of, “That’s total bullshit, I cross my legs all the time; the balls just move up to sit on top of your crossed legs and don’t get squeezed in the process.” So at least that’s been addressed. Let it be known from here on out that this excuse is no longer valid, dudes!
When I first saw the pictures of spread-eagled subway folk, my initial thought was the rampant inefficiency inherent to such a posture. Take a look at a few images of two random men doing it next to each other and you’ll see there is just way too much space in between them not being used, despite the fact that they’re totally violating each other’s personal space. Seriously, how is this okay?
Sure, this is about a personal lack of consideration for spatial efficiency, but it is men who are frequently depicted taking up too much room on trains and subways, and I am convinced this is no coincidence. While counterexamples can be found everywhere–as a woman, I am sure I have done the same once or twice when tired–women are highly discouraged from sitting in positions like those highlighted in the “Close Your Legs” campaign, and as such, most of the culprits are likely to be male. That women are so frequently seen with their legs crossed and tightened while men often sit with their legs spread wide is not simply anatomy–as some comments imply, this is a matter of male privilege and dominance manifest in subtle ways.
While I am not sure if a man’s act of sitting with legs widespread necessarily constitutes sexual harassment, it is inconsiderate, vaguely domineering, and it is a symptom of a greater problem in many societies: Consciously or not, many men frequently feel entitled–entitled to others’ personal space, entitled to success, entitled to money, entitled to jobs, entitled to things that do not naturally belong to them. Men in most societies are socialized in entirely the wrong ways, and this isn’t always illustrated necessarily by overt sexism, but often by microaggression.
And while some may argue that it’s not sexual harassment per se, it’s definitely (oft-unconscious) sexual aggression, which may be where women are coming from when they label it as a form of harassment. One of the many reasons women are told to cross their legs when sitting, especially when wearing a skirt, is to remind them of their duty to exhibit modesty. When a man sits with his legs wide open, it brings male sexuality to the forefront of our attention, whether they mean for it to or not. While I hate to get all evo-bio on y’all, it can be thought of as a subtle sexual display, showing dominance and virility. And that’s just not something people on the subway (including the other presumably straight males on the train) necessarily care to see on their way to work.
The FDA has not yet approved testicular immersion therapy as a concentration/occupational productivity aid.
It may not be obvious, but the “Close Your Legs” campaign gives us a glimpse into the greater problems in our world as they relate to gender roles. It reminds us that men are constantly pressured to demonstrate their sexuality by being dominant and aggressive, and this manifests itself even when a man is not necessarily excessively dominant or aggressive himself. I’m sure most of the men doing this don’t even realize that they’re totally weirding out everyone around them, especially the people across from them, but also the people who have to sit next to them and have their knees nudged or be pushed aside by the open thighs of their neighbor. But whether they’re aware of it or not, it shouldn’t matter; it’s unacceptable behavior, and we need to remind people (male or female) that it’s not alright to take up more space than is needed for a reasonably comfortable seating position out of laziness or a desire to look casual (or whatever it is that is motivating people to sit like this).
Again, this might seem like a minor and somewhat silly bone to pick when compared to such things as rape or female genital mutilation, but it is important because of the greater problems it represents: male privilege and female submission to male privilege. Instead of passive-aggressively taking covert pictures of men with their legs spread wide–which is honestly almost as creepy and privacy-violating in my opinion as the act of sitting like that itself)–we need to confront jerks who do this in public and ask them to please be more considerate. But only if we feel comfortable doing so, which many people may not. More importantly, the onus is on those who commit the crime: We need to stop the problem at the source and raise men to understand that the personal space of others is as valuable as their own, that they are no more important than other people, even when it comes to something as simple as sitting on the subway. They must be raised to understand they are just as annoying as the few women who sit with their legs wide open, and that, further, they may intimidate women and make them feel unsafe with such a brazen display.
So please, men, cross your legs. Or at least sit with them closer together in consideration of those sitting next to you. Your balls can probably handle it.