Exercise 6: Public Space and Power
At the heart of the conflict over women’s tippling were questions of access and entitlement to public space. Such questions have animated many social, cultural, and political conflicts in U.S. history and, in turn, laid bare inequalities of gender, race, class, and sexuality.
- Can you think of other historical examples of conflict over public space?
- How do individuals or groups “claim” access to public space?
- Why does access to public space matter?
Public transit has often been a locus of conflict over access to public space–from nineteenth-century “courtesy crusades“ urging workingmen to cede their streetcar seats to ladies to the bus boycotts of the civil rights era. In 2014 the New York Times reported that a new struggle over public space had emerged on New York City subway cars–the problem of “manspreading,” or sitting with one’s legs spread apart, thereby occupying more than one seat.
After reading an excerpt from the New York Times and studying the accompanying public service advertisement, answer the questions below.
It is the bane of many female subway riders. It is a scourge tracked on blogs and on Twitter.
And it has a name almost as distasteful as the practice itself.
It is manspreading, the lay-it-all-out sitting style that more than a few men see as their inalienable underground right.
Now passengers who consider such inelegant male posture as infringing on their sensibilities–not to mention their share of subway space–have a new ally: the Metropolitan Transportation Authority [MTA].
Taking on manspreading for the first time, the authority is set to unveil public service ads that encourage men to share a little less of themselves in the city’s ever-crowded subways cars.
The targets of the campaign, those men who spread their legs wide, into a sort of V-shaped slouch, effectively occupying two, sometimes even three, seats are not hard to find. Whether they will heed the new ads is another question.
(Emma G. Fitzsimmons, “A Scourge Is Spreading. M.T.A.’s Cure? Dude, Close Your Legs,” New York Times, Dec. 20, 2014.)
- Why do you think the Metropolitan Transportation Authority objects to “manspreading”? Do you think riders object for the same reasons?
- Can you identify any similarities or points of connection in the debates over manspreading and women’s tippling?
- Is urban public space a male preserve in the United States today? Why or why not?
- Can you think of any other current battles over access to public space? How are the boundaries of that space marked and maintained?
- Emma G. Fitzsimmons, “A Scourge Is Spreading. M.T.A.’s Cure? Dude, Close Your Legs,” New York Times, Dec. 20, 2014, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/21/nyregion/MTA-targets-manspreading-on-new-york-city-subways.html?_r=0