Sit to yourself: ‘Manspreading’ irks on the CTA

A CTA passenger takes up more than one seat in an act that has come to be called “manspreading.” Some argue the action demonstrates that some men think they can take up more physical space than women. (Courtney Jacquin / The DePaulia)
A CTA passenger takes up more than one seat in an act that has come to be called “manspreading.” Some argue the action demonstrates that some men think they can take up more physical space than women. (Courtney Jacquin / The DePaulia)

This month, the MTA in New York City rolled out a new series of placards for subway cars reminding passengers of common courtesies. One reads “Dude…stop the spread, please,” targeting manspreading.

Manspreading, or the act of a man on public transit spreading his legs widely outward, so widely that they stretch beyond his own seat, is often perceived as disrespectful, or even misogynist, as women typically aren’t seen doing it.

“It’s not cute, and I find it rude,” Kathryn Blais, a student at North Park University, said.

Even when not seen as a sexist act, most people seem to agree that it is impolite and makes riding on crowded public transit even more uncomfortable.

For Clare Healy, a student at DePaul University, manspreading isn’t a serious issue, but definitely an inconvenience. “I feel like I notice it more on the new trains, just because the seats are all together, and there’s a lot less personal space,” she said.

Healy doesn’t think men do it on purpose, but simply because it is more comfortable for them. Nassir Faulkner, also a DePaul student, agreed, and thought that most men would change their ways if they knew it was such a bother to many other CTA riders.

However, DePaul student and member of the DePaul Feminist Front, Laura Springman, said it’s part of a bigger problem of male entitlement, specifically in public spaces.

“It’s subconscious most of the time, I’m sure, but it all goes back to men controlling the public sphere,” Springman said.

Fellow member of the DePaul Feminist Front, Benjamin Shaffer, agreed.

“I think some men think they deserve more space than other people. They are mistakenly under the impression that their comfort is more important than the comfort or needs of those around them,” he said.

Blais said she didn’t immediately recognize the term “manspreading,” but Google imaged it and then immediately recognized the term, after seeing it many times on the CTA. Faulkner, from New York, said he hasn’t noticed it too much in Chicago but has many times in New York.

So, how can manspreading be stopped here in Chicago?

“I’m not sure if there are any policies the CTA could implement because there isn’t a way to stop manspreading unless a CTA worker asked someone not to. As DePaul students, we could tell our friends not to manspread and hope that they’ll tell a friend and so on,” Faulkner said.

Shaffer said he has heard of public transit in other cities using ad campaigns to call out manspreading, and said the CTA could do the same to shed some light on the issue.

“I think that DePaul students could do a lot to change the culture by being aware of how much space we take up on transit and letting people know when they’re taking up too much space,” he said.

While ad campaigns are one idea, both Springman and Shaffer agreed that CTA seats should be bigger, not just because of the issue of manspreading, but also to accommodate all body types and sizes. CTA seats have about 15 inches of blue cushion, with an extra inch on each side of the cushion, giving each person about 17 inches of space to sit without manspreading.

Unfortunately, it seems that 17 inches of space isn’t sufficient for many CTA riders.

“It’s just a little annoying to pass up a seat because there’s not enough space next to a manspreader,” Healy said. “CTA seats should be bigger.” She also added the element of Chicago weather: wearing big winter jackets makes it extra hard to squeeze into a seat, with or without a manspreader sitting in the next seat.

Blais, however, pointed out that if there were no manspreading and if citizens sat in their seats properly, there wouldn’t be much of a need for larger seats on the CTA. “As a student, if I walk onto a full train and there are people comfortably sprawled out, I’ll just say, ‘excuse me,’ and sit down,” she said. “Making a statement that it’s not an acceptable thing to do can help start to create change.”