Tuesday, October 6, 2015



If you do not spend much time on public transit or you are not in step with third- or fourth-wave feminism (I can never keep up), you may not have encountered the word "manspreading."  

It's a new thing.  

It arose sometime last year when women began posting social media photos of guys taking two subway seats by spreading their legs.  

The issue rocketed around the world -- from New York to Europe to Canada and everywhere in between, including of course Seattle.  

By last December, it had its own blog, mentakingup2muchspaceonthetrain.tumblr.com., subtitled "A CLASSIC AMONG PUBLIC ASSERTIONS OF PRIVILEGE."  (Privileged subway riders, I wondered? Who knew?)

Then the MTA, New York's subway authority, began posting placards like this: 

By the spring, men had rallied back with social media complaints about womanspreading, adding illustrations like the one below.

(In fact, womanspreading -- if that is the word -- is practiced by both sexes on all commuter rides of 20 minutes or more.  People are wary of seatmates who might have oversized briefcases, loud cellphone voices or body odors.)

In May, the twitterverse crackled with reports that the NYPD had arrested its first two manspreaders, but the facts didn't match the situation.  Police rounded up a couple of guys on a late-night subway ride; they may have been manspreading on the empty train but, more to the point, they were wanted on outstanding warrants.

This summer, the term "manspreading" was added to the Oxford English Dictionary.  This means we will have it for all time. 

A Puzzle

This phenomenon honestly took me by surprise.  My point of view has always been this:  If someone is blocking your space, tell him to move over.  If this doesn't work, say it again louder.  And again if necessary. Eventually, he or she will get out of your way.   

But a number of feminists seemed to see it differently.  I wondered if the projection of clothed male organs triggered unhappy thoughts.  But that seemed ridiculous. 

Then one comment got me to thinking.  It came from a spokeswoman for the Istanbul Feminist Collective, who I would have expected to be concerned with bigger issues. Anyway, here's her point:  

"Trying to have the majority space is completely to desire power."

Finally, I understood.  This may not apply so much to schlubs on trains, but it does describe one world leader.

Vladimir Putin

I'm pretty sure the Russian president doesn't ride in buses or subways.  He's a quick-to-anger fellow with a big army and a fortune of $200 billion; nobody would try to crowd his seat anyway.

But Putin is about nothing if not power.  And if power is projected by a wide spread, then he embodies power every time he sits down for a conversation. 

Vlad chatting with Barack

Vlad glaring at Bibi

Vlad with his frenemy Jinping

Vlad ignoring Francoise's comments on Syria 

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