Margaret Wente has it wrong. Her Saturday, January 10, 2015 Globe and Mail column entitled: "Advice to younger women: Practice manning up" is an example of picking a trending topic to meet a deadline and appear current instead of examining the topic in an effort to understand a social concern. However, "man spreading" is a social concern.
Anyone who takes public transit or wants to sit on a public bench only to be denied by a "man spreader" understands this concern. Yes, "man spreading" is easily dismissed by the less self aware, but that's the social concern. People are increasingly more entitled and less self aware.
"Man spreading" is not new and not all men are "man spreaders". Yet, routinely some men spread their legs wide airing their testicles. They occupy a space feeling that they are entitled to occupy all the space without any regard for others.
I've witnessed "man spreaders" refusing to yield their space in a packed subway car during rush hour in many major cities. I've seen "man spreaders" berate people for asking them to move over or close their legs. What characterizes a "man spreader" is not that he occupies space, but it's how he occupies space.
Some "man spreaders" thrust their pelvis up suggestively. Others fling their legs and also arms wide; marking their territory not only with their bodies, but by spreading whatever other packages they're carrying. Some glare, daring someone to ask him to close his legs. Most exhibit zero self awareness seemingly ignorant of their surroundings. What's common to all is the unmistakeably air of entitlement and hostility that emanates from the "man spreader". The hostility flows from their disregard for others.
Putting aside the ageist and apologist tone of her column, what baffles me is Ms. Wente's inability to understand why women are calling men out on "man spreading". She seems egregiously unaware of the potential for harm when a woman asks a "man spreader" to close up shop.
To suggest, as Ms. Wente does, that women need not actively advocate for their equal space because they "are not weaker vessels" is ludicrous. She trivializes women taking on this issue by suggesting they are "monsterizing men". She then suggests society is to blame for creating as she writes: "an entire class of highly privileged, mostly affluent young women who feel unsafe on campus, microagressed at every turn, utterly unable to cope with the garden variety- misdemeanours of boys and men…". She is truly missing the point.
Ms. Wente's stretches her reductive "boys will be boys" view from "man spreading" to the recent Dalhousie dentistry scandal. Thankfully her inability to distinguish between offensive misogyny and boys having Facebook fun is not shared by the Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario ("RCDSO"), the governing body for Ontario dentists. True, the RCDSO is a hot bed of radical feminism; after all they graduated Caroline Louise Wells, the first female Canadian dentist, in 1893. However, the RCDSO's request for the male dental students' names is not a reaction to being pressured by feminists, but the actions of a responsible regulator.
In a society where a women is stabbed for turning down a prom date or verbally and physically assaulted for asking a man to move his bag so she can sit down, women calling "man spreaders" on their behaviour is "manning up". Actually, it's "femming up".
Since Ms. Wente feels free to lecture young women and give them advice, let me add to it. Women of all ages, continue to practice "femming up". Continue to advocate for equality on issues as small as a subway seat or as large as a country.
Claim your space. Whether it's claiming your place at the table or exclaiming your right to learn and work in a misogynist free environment. Demand an end to violence against all women and men.
Just keep "femming up" and ignore those who diminish your efforts by trivializing the impact of incivility with their "boys will be boys" mentality. You already know the world is cruel and there are jerks, you just have to look over at the "man spreader".