Christmas Day, late afternoon. Subway train car a bit crowded, so my older daughter and I had to take seats across from husband, younger daughter, friend and her daughter. A few minutes later the man sitting beside my husband stood up and left, so I took the vacated seat. The woman who now sat on my left (my husband was now on my right) accused me of hogging too much room. She demanded that I move away– even though she had her own legs spread wide open, around her shopping bag.
She was the female exception to the recently and hotly debated problem in New York City (and elsewhere) that takes place on trains and buses– “manspreading”. Manspreading is the relatively minor yet irksome social problem of men (and yes, sometimes women) commanding too much space in public transit when they sit with their legs splayed wide open.
Public transit is a crucial sector of most cities and many towns all around the United States. Trains, buses, light rail systems, trolleys and ferries are among the main modes of transport that Americans take to and from work, school, pleasure excursions and for other business. But public transportation functions with many problems which plague its smooth operation. These problems involve serious flaws such as faulty infrastructure, economic constraints, labor mistakes, and passengers engaging in criminal or mischievous activities.
New York City’s subway train and bus system, the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) is the biggest urban transit network in the United States. Daily it deals with equipment breakdowns, crime, dirt, vermin, occasional fires and floods…and the recently named but age-old problem of “manspreading.” Often this deprives another customer of a seat, and makes adjacent passengers uncomfortable. This “taking up more than his fair share of real estate on public transit” is being exposed recently on social media to shame those who perpetrate these obnoxious deeds. In response to this, the MTA is going to roll out a new etiquette initiative that aims to school and scold those who manspread, eat sloppily or daub their nails with polish while in transit, and other acts of incivility.
In the works for the near future are advertisements and posters that tackle pole hogging, pushing, taking up seats for the infirm, wearing overstuffed backpacks and other activities deemed rude.
Even in the 1940s there were cartoon panels on NYC subway trains, drawn by Amelia “Oppy” Jones, that scolded people for such sins. “Seats Are For People, Not Packages” read one gem.
So, will the upcoming 2015 posters do their job? Or will they one day be as quaint as the old finger-wagging posters?
Take my advice, folks. If someone (male or female) is manspreading and invading your space on a train, subway, ferry or other mode of transport, do what I do: gentle but insistently push away his or her leg with your own and say “Excuse me.” Most people will respond properly. Don’t be a wimp; you paid for your seat too!
Ellen Levitt is the author of The Lost Synagogues of Brooklyn (2009), The Lost Synagogues of the Bronx and Queens (2011) and The Lost Synagogues of Manhattan (2013). (And hopefully a book about NJ one day, if her publisher gives the green light.)