in line at Tim Horton’s a few days ago, I noticed that
the man in front of me was standing with his legs wide apart,
astride the aisle. I nudged my husband, David: “He’ll
be getting a fine for manspreading if he’s not careful,”
they’ll let him off with a warning for a first offense,”
David whispered back, “especially if he agrees to take
re-education training.” We looked around and noticed quite
a few men standing incorrectly, taking up more than their fair
share of space, declaring their manly anatomy too recklessly,
and failing to manifest an appropriate shame at having been
born male in the West.
tickets are not actually being issued for manspreading. Not
yet. But feminists have certainly vociferated about the practice
as if it were nothing short of criminal: “The fact is
that most of the perpetrators taking up too much space in public
with their bodies are men,” asserted feminist activist
Davis Carr, who has expressed her contempt for men on Twitter.
“It’s hard to accept that something you do so naturally
can cause other people harm.” In response to the “harm”
experienced by “survivors” like Carr, manspreading
has become an advertising target in cities across North America,
particularly in New York, where “Dude … Stop the
Spread” posters have been put up by the Metropolitan Transportation
Authority. Ostensibly focused on men’s habit of sitting
with their knees apart, pushing into other passengers’
seating area, the anti-manspreading movement is only the most
recent in a spate of public service campaigns (the “Don’t
Be That Guy” anti-rape poster blitz perhaps the most outrageous)
to demonize (white) men by focusing on male attitudes and behaviors
as social problems requiring censure.
manspreading campaign, which has apparently cost New Yorkers
more than $76,000, has already received well-deserved ridicule
by such anti-feminist luminaries as PJM’s own feisty Dr.
Helen Smith (“And don’t give me the crap about the
patriarchy. If you shame men in this way, you are a nasty sexist
who deserves contempt”), the indefatigable Cathy Young
(“The anti-spread campaign has little to do with etiquette.
It’s part of a recent surge in a noxious form of feminism”),
and Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente (“A
new scourge stalks the land”). These writers, along with
many witty bloggers and journalists (hats off to Katherine Timpf
for best satirical survey of the feminist position) have ably
pinpointed the Freudian triviality of feminist ire. But the
fact that the cause has been taken up so seriously by transit
authorities in New York City and Seattle tells us something
about our present cultural moment.
is inconceivable that any other identifiable group would be
singled out in such a humiliating fashion for public correction.
Obese people whose thighs spill past their seat boundaries?
Women with large packages piled on adjoining seats or in aisles?
Mothers neglectful of their children, who squirm, howl, and
disturb other passengers unreproved while their mega-strollers
block exit doorways? All these are relatively common transit
inconveniences that most of us accept with equanimity. Reasonable
people would find it churlish and unnecessarily divisive to
mobilize against them.
it comes to maleness, however, the big guns always come out,
and seemingly with broad public support. Our feminist-compliant
authorities see men as fair game to be “lessoned.”
No foible or incorrect action—whether it be catcalling,
telling rude jokes, hanging a girlie calendar, proffering unwanted
compliments, or even kissing a workmate on the cheek—escapes
the ever-expanding net of the compliance enforcers. One of my
gloomy predictions for 2015 is that the move to discipline and
re-educate boys and men will proceed ever more vigorously and
to see many more campaigns in which feminist activists, local
police, academic administrators, politicians, government bureaucrats,
journalists, and community leaders form partnerships to quell
unruly male behavior. Boys and young men at public school and
college will be made to attend an increasing number of anti-sexual
assault classes, violence-prevention programs, “affirmative
consent” seminars, and “Check Your Privilege”
workshops. We will see many more poster crusades telling (white,
heterosexual) men what they are and are not allowed to say,
do, and think (see for example, Make Your Move, ostensibly targeting
sexual violence generally but focused exclusively on the supposed
violence of white heterosexual men—and now being enthusiastically
embraced by the same police who had sanctioned the “Don’t
Be That Guy” campaign, also targeting white men exclusively).
will see an increasing number of man-blaming organizations dedicating
to re-educating men away from violence. We will undoubtedly
witness more parades of wounded female accusers—some of
them stepping forward 25 years after the fact!—claiming
abuse by media celebrities; and news commentators will weigh
in on the problem of sexual predation as if the charges were
already proven. Our newspapers will fill with yet more reports
about the epidemic of women harassed in the workplace (43% according
to a recent report—but look at the innocuous behavior
defined as “harassment”).
university across North America will enact “affirmative
consent” policies, effectively criminalizing a vast swath
of non-coercive sexual activity defined after the fact as non-consensual.
Young men at these institutions will attend performances of
the Vagina Monologues, where they will see female sexuality
celebrated and masculine sexuality demonized. They will sit
through dozens or even hundreds of classes in which women’s
achievements and experiences are portrayed as worthy of sympathy
and admiration while men’s are mocked or dismissed (I
know—I live in the belly of the beast). In a multitude
of ways, they will be made to feel secondary, superfluous, offensive
in mind and body, always in danger of a social or even criminal
mis-step for which constant apology and vigilant self-monitoring
not the end of men just yet, but it is surely the end of the
unselfconscious masculinity of young men, who are increasingly
under siege by a society determined to make them uncomfortable
in their own skins, guilty, apprehensive of wrong-doing, convinced
that they are to blame for the world’s ills. Many feminists
will applaud such a result (shame on them) as necessary for
positive social transformation, but the deliberate emasculation
of men is certain to have repercussions (already seen in everything
from social withdrawal to self-slaughter) far more serious than
matters of subway etiquette.
also by Janice Fiamengo:
be That Feminist