New Yorkers hate trains, and with good reason.
There are the pole-hoggers who decide a packed train is the perfect place to body-hug one of the only poles in the car, leaving everyone else to swing around like pinballs. Then, there are the idiots who don't give up their seats for pregnant or elderly people. There's a special place in hell for those.
The kind I really can't stand, however, are the manspreaders.
If you don't live in a city with a mass transit system, let me break it down for you. Manspreading is when a dude plants his pompous ass on a seat and spreads his legs out at an angle higher than 90 degrees, squashing the people (read: women) on either side of him.
I assure you, gentlemen, your balls are not so big that you need to intrude on my personal space.
Every once in a while, if I'm in a particularly snappy mood, I tell the offending sir next to me to move his leg. Once, I even used my knee to sort of kick his legs out of the way. It's my train as much as his.
The MTA has launched ads discouraging manspreading, but it doesn't feel like enough to me. I decided to go a little more drastic, beating these men at their own game. I became a ladyspreader.
The rules were simple: If I was sitting between two men, I'd purposely spread out my legs as wide as theirs. The goal was to see if they'd say anything, or ask me to move over. I wouldn't do it while sitting between two women, because #sisterhood.
The first time I tried ladyspreading, I was on a packed train at 7:30 am. I was able to snag a seat on the packed train, but only barely.
I sandwiched myself between two men in suits. Their legs were luxuriously spread so far apart that people comfortably stood between them, holding on to the railing overhead. After saying a pointed “excuse me” to both men, I spread my legs like I was diamond posing on my yoga mat. One of the men next to me glared, but didn't say anything. The other kept his eyes on his paper.
If I wanted a reaction, I needed to get even more obnoxious. I got my wish during my train ride home later that day. A man was sitting alone in the mostly empty car, playing on his phone. I plopped down on the seat next to him, and spread my legs out just as wide.
I realize I had no reason to do that. He wasn't bothering me in any way, being weird or doing anything out of the ordinary. In fact, I'd have been just as spread out if I had the bench to myself.
To me, though, he represented something more. He was the poster child for all the men unapologetically spreading their legs out, thinking they're more entitled to space than a woman is. -- or worse, never considering women at all. Guess what? My vagina needs to breathe, too.
I glanced over at him as the train whizzed past. I watched him close out his game and turn to his texts. He was pounding the keys. I leaned in a little closer, praying he wouldn't notice.
The text read: "Empty train and this girl just sat down next to me."
I tried not to laugh. I've sent a similar text a million times before, wondering why a guy felt the need to creep up in my space on an empty train, or take the treadmill next to me in a quiet gym.
I could tell I was making him uncomfortable, just the way I feel when someone's bursting my personal space bubble. I was physically uncomfortable, too. Stretching my legs out that wide just didn't feel good.
This small act of taking up space, demanding a certain level of respect for the needs of my body, felt so foreign to me that I felt the need to apologize. I swear, it took every effort not to do so. Women are culturally wired to feel guilty about every action, apologizing for even the smallest invasion of space. I felt like I was in the wrong, even though so many men have done the exact same thing to me.
I only lasted a few stops before getting up and sprinting to the next subway car. If I'd stayed splayed out next to the man, I would've burst into apologies.
If I learned anything, it was that next time, I should just take an Uber.