Saving room for cats: Slouching and spreading on public transit

I have to say that the internet can be utterly redeeming.

As a young feminist at UCLA, where they are for-sure, for-sure more justice-oriented than all the rest of the planning world, I once made a point in a seminar with my fellow students that men who slouch and spread themselves all over transit seats were enacting male privilege. Of course, this statement was nonsense, utter nonsense, the male students went to to decry, and it was the dumbest dumb thing that could ever be dumb, as women who make knowledge claims should understand about the dumb things they say all the the time, particularly when critiquing male entitlement. (I will be forever grateful to have had the privilege of going through my doctoral program with Renia Ehrenfeucht, now at the University of New Orleans. I never would have finished without her; a brilliant mind and genuinely focused on justice.)

So when the whole Men Taking Up Too Much Space on the Train Tumblr went viral, along with the utterly, utterly hilarious Saving Room for Cats Tumblr, I was able to smirk a bit.

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This morning’s entry comes from Gabrielle Moss at Bustle, who writes about an experiment where she decided to sit like a man on public transit:

I decided, for the length of one weekend, to become a slouch-and-spreader. To truly understand the phenomenon, I decided I’d act like the worst examples I had encountered in my own commuting life: I wouldn’t budge for a knee nudge or exasperated expression. I would hold my ground. I would embody the worst of slouch-and-spread assholery to the letter. I would try very hard to imagine that I had balls, and that those balls were desperate for air. And by the end of the weekend, I hoped to understand what made the slouch-and-spreaders slouch and spread.

Her write up is funny and insightful. Inadvertently, I think she comes to the same point Cheryl Sandberg comes when, from her perch of unbelievable social privilege, she hands out advice on how to behave to other women who just aren’t going after what they want:

And then, as my weekend wore on, a funny thing happened: I registered the fear and displeasure of strangers less and less. I went from faking being absorbed in my book as I maintained a nervously wide stance, to actually being absorbed in my book, forgetting that my legs were splayed out like I was holding a beach ball between my knees.

In other words, I became unconscious of my own manufactured privilege. As people viewed my leg spread as an act of aggression and possible instability and steered clear of me, I slowly began to stop even noticing them.

Now, do I think hogging space in public is a particularly important aspect of male privilege? No. It’s not world-changing. But it is indicative.