Inspired by New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the move to ban "man-spreading" -- men who sit on public transit with their knees spread so far apart that they actually take up seats next to them -- has reached Toronto and the Toronto Transit Commission, and it's caused some interesting gender chatter.
A Globe and Mail article on the topic mentions the Canadian Association for Equality (CAE) who started a petition to stop the ban on man-spreading. The group says, "This sets a very bad precedent as men opening their legs is something we have to do due to our biology. It's physically painful for men to close their legs and we cannot be expected to do so, and it's also a biological necessity for us to do so."
According to the petition, a ban on spreading one's legs would "be a big blow to men's rights." Men's rights to do what, I wonder? Take up unnecessary space on public transit? To be discourteous to others?
Mike Wood, a volunteer advocacy officer with CAE argues that men should be able to take up as much space as women who board buses with strollers, but he fails to understand that when women bring strollers onto a bus, there is another person in the stroller, and the baby in the stroller needs space, just like any other person.
I wouldn't agree that testicles have any independent rights and need their own seat on the subway.
In Heroes, Rogues, and Lovers: Testosterone and Behaviour, James Dabbs describes "panache" as a manner that seeks to get the attention and respect of others. "A person with panache," he writes, "scores points by looking dominant. Bluffing often works just as well as fighting when it comes to getting attention and respect. Male animals bristle, puff, strut, preen, spread their tail feathers, control space, intimidate their opponents, and show off to get their way and impress the opposite sex."
Is this not what man-spreading is? Puffing up to take up more space and display some form of power and superiority? Why else would a man would choose to sit in on public transit in a way that exposes his most vulnerable body parts, open to potential contact with knees and parcels at the sudden jolt of an expected brake. If I were a man, I would protect my fragile spheres, not make them targets.
Subway behaviour has its own etiquette and etiquette is about respecting other people and being considerate of them. Man-spreading is the opposite of this. Mr. Wood mentions men's biology a couple of times being the reason that men need to spread. Some men will need a little extra space for their tackle than others, yes, but how much space could comfort possibly require? Are your testicles so big that you need an extra foot to accommodate them? Perhaps it's time to change your style of underwear instead of hogging transit seating.
YOUR BALLS ARE NOT THAT BIG is a hilarious site seeks to out man-spreaders on the New York subway by posting pictures of the culprits (world-wide submissions are welcome). The blogger makes it clear that man-spreading is about men concerned only with display and their own comfort, not the comfort of others.
Display includes body language, the expression of our self-confidence. Individual self-confidence and self-esteem speaks through the way we move and position ourselves in space, including the way we sit. A man who sits with crossed legs looks comfortable, a man sitting with knees 6" apart also looks comfortable, but when men sit with knees wide apart, i.e. over 12", he's telling the world that a) he's desperate for attention, b) he's painfully insecure, and c) he wants to appear virile and spreads his knees far apart, so he can show off those "big" balls of his. Testosterone likes to put on a good show, as Dabbs says.
Funny thing about virility: it's often not what it seems. Like male animals, much of the virility is false but the display can be stunning. I had a boyfriend with a huge set of testicles that hung heavily under his pinkie-sized penis which only ejaculated prematurely, so I wouldn't say that large testicles necessarily indicate virility. The whole puffed-up, I-have-bigger-balls-than-you-and-that-makes-me-more-masculine mentality of man-spreaders is a delusion, mere posturing.
In the animal world as Dabbs mentions, panache works to look dominant and impress the opposite sex. I cannot imagine any woman being attracted to a man who tries so hard to show he's masculine by exposing what he thinks are mammoth testicles to prove his manhood, while simultaneously imposing himself into other people's space.
I'm not even sure that men are aware of how much space they take up because they haven't been challenged on it until recently. Once men are called on it however, many will acknowledge their puffed-up, space-taking wrongdoing and change their position (at least this is what happens in polite Toronto). Several times I've been on public transit and saw the only seat available beside a wide-kneed man. Instead of being intimidated, I walk over and say, excuse me!, then lower my bottom into the seat (young men will often scowl because I've messed up the big, powerful space he's created around himself). If a man's leg is in my space, I ask him to please give me some more leg room and I've never had an argument. Politeness and a kind smile can do wonders for personal comfort, so I recommend it.
Now that the New York subway system's anti-spreading campaign is on and the messages are travelling to other large cities, it's time for men (and women who take up more space than they need to) to pay attention and be more aware of the necessity to share space in our ever-increasingly populated cities. As subway posters in Philadelphia say, "Dude It's Rude... Two Seats -- Really?"
PS - Have a look at this site that features Japanese subway posters from the 1970s and 80s that even back then, tried to make people aware of how man-spreading negatively affects people.