By Europe & Me‘s Nicoletta Enria and Friederike Sandow
Nicoletta and Friederike are back with another rage: this time they write about male complacency and entitlement — physically and psychologically. Manspreading and silencing womxn in public spaces is tiring, outdated, and we are sick of it.
When I think of male complacency, I think of cis-men’s apathy towards fighting the feminist fight with antagonistic voices. Deconstructing the patriarchy is hard work, and no one can do it alone. This means that the groups that benefit from it the most, such as cis-males, need to be as active as possible in its deconstruction for it to have any impact.
The most important place for feminist voices is everywhere obviously, but mainly where there are none. Too often do I see guys tap out of difficult conversations and leave the hard intersectional feminist fight only to those who are most impacted. I get it guys, it is tiring to always be the boring person reminding people everything is problematic – but people’s actual lives and realities are impacted, and they cannot afford to tap out of fighting this fight because they are tired.
Also, an important and depressing reality is that for anti-feminist cis-men, other cis-men’s voices are heralded as supreme truth (I reserve my extreme doubt about this for another rage article perhaps). One example of this recently happened to me as I was in a club in the UK with my cis-male boyfriend. One man, out of the blue, started telling us how the EU is a supranational Nazi project (before you slap a Tommy Robinson-esque face on this guy he was a totally average’ middle-class British boy — the far-right wears many faces). I, with my degree in European studies and having worked in the European Parliament, felt best equipped to refute this, in a nuanced manner whilst acknowledging the EU’s faults. I was totally ignored, and when I was acknowledged, it was to be called an EU Nazi. Whilst my boyfriend is very intelligent and fighting the good fight, he too was shocked at how I was shut down and how he was given a platform he did not feel he was equipped for. Naturally, this booze-fuelled duel with someone with, one could argue, rather extreme views is a skewed example – one with increasing relevance in our society that is ever-more polarised at the extremes.
This is an argument that really does not only apply to cis-men, but also hugely to white women who I feel in a dire need to call out in this circumstance. Flavia Dzdoan’s famous quote reads: ‘My feminism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit’.
Obviously I am less likely to give up a fight on an issue that directly impacts me: I am less likely to be complacent about someone telling me that a slap on the ass is just a bit of good fun. But does this mean I get to be complacent about issues affecting my other sisters, like transphobia and racism? Absolutely not. As Bell Hooks powerfully said, “many white women have said to me, ’We wanted black women and non-white women to join the movement,’ totally unaware of their perception that they somehow ‘own’ the movement, that they are the ‘hosts’ inviting us as ‘guests’.”
White women need to understand that the feminist movement is not theirs only, and the reason their issues are the ones that get the uttermost spotlight is partly our own fault. The sooner we realise we are all in this together, and stop complacency in public, fighting sexism and all its hateful counterparts that intersect with it – ableism, racism, transphobia, homophobia – the sooner we can subvert this toxic culture. So in 2020 let’s bust some balls at dinner parties together and make this world a better place, please! All of us — for all of us.
Speaking of busting some balls: male complacency does not only happen verbally and psychologically, but also physically.
Yes, I am talking about the so-called manspreading on all kinds of public transport, seats in a theater, the cinema, at a gathering… and in any public space, for that matter, that we all share. I sincerely struggle with male entitlement of space in the public. I have argued with male friends over and over about this, and no, balls aren’t so big that they need all this extra space. It is comfortable, probably, I can’t argue with that. If one is broad shouldered and just generally a big human with big and long bones: yes, they will undeniably take up more space than petite men or womxn, and that is not what I mean. I am also not talking about the bags or purses that travellers cannot physically fit on their lap or when they are too tired to have them on their legs or back. Having a bag is not gender-specific. (Often putting a purse on the seat next to them, done by womxn, is the manspreader’s counter argument to legitimise their manspreading. It’s bullshit.)
What I mean is entitlement, for a lack of a better word.
I talk about the need to spread one’s legs, in the worst case inconveniencing others whilst they sit across from you or right next to you. And even if that is not the case, even if there are free seats next to the manspreader: the manspreaders are sending a message.
I use public transportation daily, but there was one incident, a few months ago, where I was really tired and closed my eyes, wanting to lean back into the seat… and couldn’t. I couldn’t because the two men sitting on either of my side both had their arms and legs in a comfortable position, leaving me with three options: forcefully putting my arms back (like a wrestle for the armrest on a plane) and taking up space myself; ask them to shuffle and constrain themselves, but that would have meant that I have to leave my comfort zone (that is silence on public transport, please!); or: do nothing. As so often, especially when in a public space, without knowing my allies or enemies, I opted to do nothing. I opted to just accept that, as it stands now, still, I do not feel as entitled as men do. And that chips away my spirit. Because taking up space in public, for me, is still a fight — whilst for many men it is not even worth a thought about their surroundings.
They are non-verbally communicating that they own the space. They make it necessary for someone to ask them to literally ‘move’ so they can sit. And they may oblige apologetically in an instant. However, a non-verbal hierarchy is established. It is not that I want everyone to be a mind reader, knowing that I want to sit down — but I want them to take their environment into consideration. Because womxn have been told to do so for centuries.
Womxn have been taught to sit with their legs crossed, or at least with their knees pressed together. Whilst for men, an idea has been transmitted, that the territory — any! — is theirs. It is not (and it has actually been made illegal in Madrid two and a half years ago). Do not inconvenience me, having to strike up a little conversation about wanting to sit down without being touched. Do not make me feel even smaller and physically inferior by the taking up of space. Let’s all be equally comfortable and equally respectful about our shared public spaces.
To follow the rage and laugh about it until we are all equals on public transport, I warmly suggest to follow the incredible @taking__up__space with its perfect doodles, @manspread.berlin for all the Berliners, @manspreadingvienna, @manspreadingnorway and @fragile_crystal_balls on Instagram. It helps the rage if you snap an (anonymous!!) photo, giggle, and spread awareness.
This article was originally published in Europe & Me (E&M), with which A Tribe Of Women (ATOW) collaborates.
Female Rage is a feminist series where E&M’s Nicoletta Enria and Friederike Sandow exchange what has made them quite frankly ‘rage’. They believe that in speaking up about feminist issues that womxn experience daily, womxn empower each other: no one is alone. And we all have a lot to learn and to teach about how to become better feminists.
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