Manspreading in Public Transport

Singapore commuter asks, “Why do people manspread their legs on MRT?”

Despite online campaigns and warnings against manspreading, it appears that this disrespectful behaviour is still prevalent today, according to one  Singaporean on Reddit. On Monday (May 13), the Singaporean posted on r/askSingapore, questioning why “some people still manspread on public transport.” “I can understand if it’s slight but sometimes its so obvious that you’re encroaching into someone else’s personal space no?” she added.  “How is it even comfortable? Bro’s actually almost doing a front split atp.”

The Singaporean also mentioned wanting to attach a photo they took to support their claims but realized that attachments were no longer allowed in the subreddit. In the comments section on Reddit, there’s a discussion about why men tend to sit with their legs spread apart. Some stated that they simply find it more comfortable that way, especially in cramped spaces like the MRT, where seats are often small. Another perspective shared was that larger thigh sizes might make it physically strenuous to keep their legs tightly packed, leading to unintentional spreading. Additionally, one Redditor mentioned, “I need to manspread because its actually uncomfy for me. Honestly, most of the time, I don’t realise it and will intentionally encroach.”

However, other Redditors expressed their displeasure with such behaviour, believing everyone should always be mindful of the passengers next to them. Some even shared strategies they use when encountering MRT passengers who ‘manspread.’ For instance, one person mentioned using their handbag to passively push the man’s legs back into their seat space, while another suggested asserting dominance by spreading their own legs towards the man. One Redditor added, “Otherwise, cross your legs like the coffee shop uncle, then bend your knee a bit more so your foot is slightly in front of them, bonus points if you have smelly feet.”

Revealed: The scientific explanation behind 'manspreading'
There’s a reason why men take up extra room when they sit down

For those still reeling from the arrival of "mansplaining" into our lexicon, fear not, this isn’t just another catchy portmanteau intended to scathe the male ego. A recent study showed that 82 per cent of British women have been subjected to "mansplaining", whereby a man “talks condescendingly to someone (especially a woman) about something he has incomplete knowledge of”, according to Merriam Webster.

Whilst lesser known, the act of "manspreading" is arguably a far more offensive crime - so much so that it was banned in Madrid. According to the online Oxford dictionary, "manspreading" describes “the practice whereby a man adopts a sitting position with his legs wide apart, in such a way as to encroach on an adjacent seat'. It is a behaviour that is commonly spotted on public transport. Now, experts are justifying the act, attributing a man's intrinsic need to spread himself on the physiological differences between men and women.

Many were quick to condemn that "practice" when it first came onto the rhetorical scene in 2014, as representative of a misogynistic patriarchy i.e. a man takes up as much space as possible on public transport in order to assert his authority and subsequently undermine a woman’s right to space. In 2015, Mic released a video showing what happens when a woman "manspreads" ("ladyspreads"?) on the subway in New York, in comparison to when a man does it. Interestingly, the women attracted more stares and glares then the men.

What is manspreading and where did the word come from?

The idea that manspreading exists (or the fact that it’s not just a natural part of life) is a controversial one. Today, it was reported that protesters had started pouring diluted bleach onto the crotches of those who participated on public transport. But what is it, and are you guilty?

Manspreading is the theory that some men take up way more space than many feel is necessary on public transport by keeping their legs as open as possible. Sometimes a manspreader will have their knees so far apart that they take up more than one seat on a train or bus. One of the first instances of the world (although in the format of ‘man spread’) appeared on Urban Dictionary in 2010, and it continued to be used more widely since then.

A Tumblr post in 2013 didn’t particularly mention manspreading, but spoke of the fact that some men take up more space on the train with their legs. In 2014, a New York City public service campaign saw signs which read ‘Dude… Stop the Spread, Please. It’s a space issue’ and urged men to be considerate with the amount of room they were allowing themselves on transport. It was added to the Oxford Dictionary website in 2015, and everyone from Tom Hanks to Helen Mirren have spoken about it in some form or another.

Possibly the most exhaustive study of “manspreading” ever conducted

“Manspreading” is a relatively new term.  According to Google Trends (below), the concept wasn’t really used before the end of 2014.  But the idea it’s describing is not new at all.  The notion that men occupy more space than women is one small piece of what Raewyn Connell refers to as the patriarchal dividend–the collection of accumulated advantages men collectively receive in androcentric patriarchal societies (e.g., wages, respect, authority, safety).  Our bodies are differently disciplined to the systems of inequality in our societies depending upon our status within social hierarchies.  And one seemingly small form of privilege from which many men benefit is the idea that men require (and are allowed) more space.

It’s not uncommon to see advertisements on all manner of public transportation today condemning the practice of occupying “too much” space while other around you “keep to themselves.”  PSA’s like these are aimed at a very specific offender: some guy who’s sitting in a seat with his legs spread wide enough in a kind of V-shaped slump such that he is effectively occupying the seats around him as well.

I recently discovered what has got to be one of the most exhaustive treatments of the practice ever produced.  It’s not the work of a sociologist; it’s the work of a German feminist photographer, Marianne Wex.  In Wex’s treatment of the topic, Let’s Take Back Our Space: Female and Male Body Language as a Result of Patriarchal Structures (1984, translated from the German edition, published in 1979), she examines just shy of 5,000 photographs of men and women exhibiting body language that results from and plays a role in reproducing unequal gender relations.

Manspreading: Why We Do It and Why We Need to Stop

I learned quite early on as a teenager there was a wrong way and a right way for a man to sit. As with most harsh lessons, it came from a bully. The dickhead of the week currently enjoying the school bus's dazzling spotlight pointed out to everyone the way I was sitting.

"You sit like a girl. Poof. Is it because you've got a small dick?" I looked down at my knees and immediately felt even more prim and proper than usual. My default sitting position was with my legs crossed at the knee or bolt-up straight with my legs pushed together, usually a book balanced upon them so I could have free hands while I ate toast or a Pot Noodle or whatever I was pretending to be into at the time. I had assumed it was perfectly normal. I'm sure you don't need me to tell you that the people pointing out to me that I sat like a woman - like that's a bad thing - weren't the kind of people who would ever need to balance a book on their knees.

But of course I didn't wear a skirt and wouldn't have to endure boys trying to catch sight of my knickers or put their hand up there, so why would I close my legs? Bonjour patriarchy. Obviously, I fell into line and did an admirable impression of having rickets just so I could fit in. But I never felt right. As soon as I left my pea-brained hometown, I gave up sitting like I had a gross-weight of aubergines down my Y-fronts, but the manspreading phenomenon seems to be getting worse. We are almost at the stage where a man needs to have his thighs winched apart just to he can have the optimum angle for taking up more than one bus or Tube seat.


Manspreading remains the most misunderstood of modern evils
The more far-fetched defences of manspreading suggest that men have an anatomical right to ‘let the balls breathe’

week ago, 24-year-old Olivia found herself inside a “manspread sandwich”. Trapped between the muscular legs of the two men bookending her on the Tube, she pretzeled her limbs into a tiny ball. “I felt so small,” she tells me. “I didn’t notice their spreading until I lowered into the seat and accidentally nudged each of their knees as I sat down. The one on the left of me actually sank even lower into his seat – his knee bumped into my thigh. How can you be so rude? They must have known what they were doing, they just didn’t care.”

Discussion of manspreading – in which a man adopts a wide sitting position on public transport and encroaches on the person in the adjacent seat – sits at the murky intersection of debates about common courtesy and male privilege. The term was first used by the American newspaper AM New York in 2008, and was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2015, the years in between transforming it into one of the most provocative words in modern discourse.

It’s even been deemed to be so morally offensive that Madrid’s transport network issued a ban on manspreading in 2017, with the Empresa Municipal de Transportes rolling out signs asking passengers to refrain from taking up space by spreading their legs. Around the same time, Instagram accounts dedicated to capturing splayed stances on public transport began popping up across Europe. In France, @manspreadersofparis chronicled “Olympic-level spreaders”, while @manspread_dormunt in Germany and @manspreadersofnorway began showcasing everything from a humble V-shaped sprawl to men doing box splits.


"Manspreading" or "man-sitting" is a pejorative neologism referring to the practice of men sitting in public transport with legs wide apart, thereby covering more than one seat.

A public debate began when an anti-manspreading campaign started on the social media website Tumblr in 2013; the term appeared a year later. These campaigns have been heavily criticised as public shaming campaigns, as the subjects are often clearly identifiable,[4] and the associated practice of taking non-consensual photos of men with emphasis on their crotch has been compared to creepshots or revenge porn.

The usage of the term has received substantial criticism from both feminists and antifeminists. Law enforcement regarding manspreading has unduly targeted Latino men. OxfordDictionaries.com added the word "manspreading" in August 2015. Lyndsay Kirkham, an English professor at Humber College, Toronto, said the practice was a metaphor for the permission men were given to take up a disproportionate share of space in society.