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Men take up too much space, like bulky wardrobes and stuff

October 17, 2013

When you roll with the politicals, you will occasionally come across the odd theory that is nothing less that downright weird, yet held in high regard in some circles. OK, so those circles may not be exactly mainstream influences – Tumblr and slam poetry, say – but since it’s difficult to know today what will be credible tomorrow, I always feel like I ought to head off the sillier parts of the movement before they get started.

So, apparently, men take up too much space by: spreading out on public transport; using both the armrests; and never stepping to one side when walking on a narrow street. This in turn is forcing women to take up less space which is causing anorexia. The way to tackle this is to purposefully take up more space than you need to force men to take up less space.

OK, I got that of out the way. I don’t think I could possibly pull a serious essay out of my arse on this one, so I’m just going to list my thoughts on the matter.

– To claim some subconscious level of misogyny about men who take up a lot of space would be literally blind. Anyone can see that men are generally larger, physiologically, so of course they take up more space. Moreover, the larger you are, the more space you have to take up, so the more unapologetic you become about taking it; unless, of course, you are fat – in which case you face such heavy stigma that you might constantly be ashamed. In which case, your rights are more worth defending than the those of the thin women who are having to nudge up slightly on a crowded train.

– Sitting with your knees at an obtuse angle that forces everyone around you to cram up is, of course, inconsiderate, and men find this equally as irritating as women – provided they have to sit next to it. The difference is that they are unlikely to notice this as being a problem specific to men. It’s considered to be a problem of arseholes, not a problem of men, and thus affects everyone. Anyone who takes public transport is annoyed by people who take up too much space; speaking as a commuter, I can tell you that the most irritating space-invader of all is entirely unisex; people who put their fucking bags on the seats during rush hour. I mean, honestly.

– If men never stepped out of the way on the streets, there would be a hell of a lot of bashed up men walking around. Unless I’m living in a kind of parallel universe where only members of the opposite sex pass each other in the street, men have to move out of the way for each other, or obviously, they’d walk smack into each other constantly. The fact that there are some men who try to stare you off the pavement as you walk past is, once again, proof of nothing except the existence of arseholes, something which I personally have been aware of for some time.

– When you walk around, you generally don’t pay attention to where other people are, particularly when you’re in a group or having a conversation. Any observer can tell that this, also, is unisex.

– Perhaps the fact that women are (purportedly) more likely to weave in and out of people coming in the opposite direction while they walk straight is not an indictment on the behaviour of men. In cycling, driving and evidently walking, people who are assertive in their choice of movement usually cause less trouble than people who dither. The favourite example is this picture, which depicts the notion of women on the street passing around human obstacles:

Highly scientific diagram denoting how women navigate the world of men

Highly scientific diagram denoting how women navigate the world of men

Maybe my spatial awareness is worse than I thought, but I could swear that the gap between the two reds is absolutely gigantic. I guess they have to be men, since if they were women, apparently the diagram would look like this:

Realistic diagram of commuters in the island of Lesbos

   Realistic diagram of commuters on the island of Lesbos

Judging by the first diagram, those two “men” are strangers, so in my view, if you don’t sail right through the middle and instead choose to weave around like Buridan’s ass, you’re the one who has made the mistake. Quite apart anything else, take advantage of your size! From the look of things, men are about three times the size of women and walk with twice the width of a woman between them. If you’re small enough to slink straight through like a cat, do it. I will accept the theory that it is our culture that makes women feel like they must weave around like this, but that is a reason to invert the culture and the change has to come from women, because women are the ones who are behaving unnaturally and selflessly in a way that is not working for them.

What is boils down to is not being the mug who thinks that being polite is about inconveniencing yourself and causing yourself discomfort so that some ungrateful stranger can every inch of that half foot of free space to marked out for yourself. As far as I can tell, ten or eleven trips during rush hour will cure you of that tendency. It’s a problem of our busy, crowded society that we all take up space and get in each others’ way. We can, of course, reduce this with a little thought and effort, but clearly some of us must do the opposite and be a little more assertive than we have been in the past in order to claim what we’re owed. Call it active spacial democracy.

– The response of simply taking up more space than you would naturally take is foolish because then you are purposefully being inconsiderate just to make a point against people who are potentially doing very little to deserve it, which is not only hypocritical but downright rude, far more than simply failing to recognise that your elbows are on the other side of the carriage.

As a person who weaves around like diagram two because he feels far more awkward just waltzing right through, I tend to think that anyone expect kids, people on mobility scooters and harassed parents who look like the don’t know where their own head is let alone random strangers are just generally rude if they don’t murmur a word of thanks or try to accommodate me to take the burden off of my going out of my way for them. Since discovering all of this though, if I walk past a young(ish) woman on the street who barges past, rather than brushing it off as just another inconsiderate commuter, I now think that there’s a possibility she’s living up to some flimsy feminist girl-power nonsense advice from Tumblr, which makes me feel unwarranted irritation towards the movement in general. So, good job.

– Assuming that people do things only because of gender disregards all the other potential reasons. I don’t use the arm rests of the Underground because they would set my arms up in the wrong configuration for using my laptop. Similarly, the woman currently opposite me is using both her arm rests to steady her hand as she types on her phone. If you want to complain about how each person is allotted only one to one-and-a-half armrests each depending on whether they are at the side or stuck in the middle, please go right ahead. It’s hardly a feminist issue.

– Our current society still holds a prejudice against men who do not give up their space for women, thanks to ancient notions of chivalry. This isn’t exactly in keeping with the theory that men object to women taking up space – unless it’s a counter-response to notions of chivalry, which would be an interesting example of male rejection of patriarchy.

– Train seats typically have allotted and equal amounts of space. It’s actually quite difficult to invade someone else’s. You might argue that it’s all a bit sizeist and that actually uneven on non-compartmentalised seating would be a better use of overall space, but as it is, those armrests that are causing you such problems are acting as barriers to protect your space, not the other way around.

– If men do naturally spread out more inconsiderately, there must be a social reason, unless you want to go down the murky path of “men are naturally that way”. If there are reasons, you had better have an idea what they are before you start talking.

– We seem to have collectively decided (quite contrary to feminism) that taking up space is a masculine trait, and furthermore that as a masculine trait it is oppressive of women. But, since we live in a society where demanding your own space is essential, it would be better to imagine that it’s perfectly acceptable and easy for women to do as men do, rather than the other way around. Sometimes, part of being n the back foot involves assuming that doing the opposite of what the front-footers do is the expected option. The inversion of this always involves changing someone’s behaviour and perception, but that does not always mean than it is the oppressive group that need to change. Sometimes their ideas on conduct are more practical than the alternative.

– Anorexia is a very serious illness. It may be tempting to think of it as an easy-fix social problem, because that will mean we’ll have it sorted in a jiffy. The sad fact is that we won’t. A number of factors come into play, and men’s domination of space seems like a comparatively trivial one, compared to the pressures of looking thin and “attractive”. There is better evidence for the effects of advertising on female body image than there is for male domination of space, the effect of which is hard to determine, since the amount of space allotted to women throughout history has hardly been comprehensively recorded. The ancient Greeks may not have insisted that their women live like veal, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they gave them a wide berth on the street, either.

The trouble with arbitrarily asserting that slightly curious social behaviour is causing a serious psychological disorder is that it is unhelpful. It isn’t easy to research, prove, stop, treat or change and distracts from other more pressing issues. While we’re all busy insisting that men should scrunch up their shoulders when they walk down a narrow street, pro-anorexia websites still exist, teenage girls still get scolded for “worrying too much” about weight yet fat shaming runs rampant and we all get a horrible, screwed up mixed message. These things have a more obvious, direct effect on body image.

– If the ancient Greeks had given women a wide berth on the street, it would hardly be seen as positive , pro-active expressions of gender equality by today’s standards. Men jumping out of the way for women would not be an improvement on the current system, as it would just rewind back the clock to the slightly patronising view of women as something frail which one must take special care to accommodate Before claiming something as misogynistic, it’s important to think about whether or not the alternative would be better or worse. I find this point to be missing from many debates.

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From → Gender Politics

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