Old age is getting the better of the city's subway...

Old age is getting the better of the city's subway stations. Credit: Getty Images / Spencer Platt

As we enter 2015, the latest feminist crusade seems to come straight from the life-imitates-satire department. It has everything one could want in a caricature of feminism: petty grievances, gleeful male-bashing, egregious double standards. And it also seems to have the official blessing of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. It's the war on "manspreading," the male habit of sitting with legs apart and (supposedly) taking up too much space on the subway.

Gripes about this alleged offense have been cropping up on feminist blogs for a couple of years. Now it is the target of a new public service ad campaign. MTA posters will show a figure seated with wide-open legs next to two standing passengers, with the tagline, "Dude . . . Stop the spread, please. It's a space issue."

Of course, hogging space in a crowded subway car is rude and inconsiderate. But are men really the worst offenders? After years of subway riding, I can say I've never noticed this to be the case. Neither have some of my female friends in New York City; others have said that while they've noticed male leg-spread, women can be just as bad with purses and shopping bags.

In the past year, I've tried to watch for subway space-hogging patterns myself. The worst case I saw was a woman sitting at a half turn with her purse next to her, occupying at least two and possibly three seats. Granted it was in a half-empty car, but the same seems to be true in most photos posted by activists to shame "manspreaders." Incidentally, in some of those photos, you can spot female passengers taking up extra space -- sometimes because of the way they cross their legs.

Yes, men tend to sit with their legs apart. (Many will tell you it's an issue of comfort and, well, male anatomy.) I haven't seen many do so in a way that inconveniences others. Indeed, the supposed offenders in some of the shaming photos are clearly not spreading beyond their own seats. It's also worth noting that when criticisms of bad subway manners first began to show up on the Internet five years ago, no one seemed particularly exercised about male postures. When street artist Jason Shelowitz (or Jay Shells) surveyed New Yorkers about subway etiquette violations for a series of posters in 2010, nail clipping topped the list, followed by religion and noise pollution. "Physical contact" and disregard of seating priority were also mentioned, but with no regard to gender.

The anti-spread campaign has little to do with etiquette. It's part of a recent surge in a noxious form of feminism -- or pseudo feminism -- preoccupied with male misbehavior, no matter how trivial. The activists believe that "man-sitting," as it has also been dubbed, is a matter of male entitlement, display of power or even sexual harassment. That says far more about feminist paranoia than it does about male conduct.

This brand of feminism is not about equality; it's about shaming directed at males, as the subway seating issue makes abundantly clear. Even the word "manspreading," with its nasty and somewhat obscene overtones, is a gender-based slur. Imagine the reaction if men took photos of inconsiderate women with large purses or shopping bags and posted them with exhortations to "stop the womanspread." You can bet such activism would not get positive media coverage or a sympathetic response from the MTA.

A public service campaign against space-hogging -- and other forms of incivility on the subway -- would be welcome. Selective male-shaming is not. Stop the bashing, please; it's a human issue.

Cathy Young is a regular contributor to Reason magazine and Real Clear Politics.


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