A British designer has unveiled a piece of furniture that she believes could be the solution to manspreading.
Manspreading occurs when a man sits with his legs spread wide apart in a way that invades the space of others, with women typically bearing the brunt of this practice. Instances of manspreading can frequently be observed on public transport where men can be seen occupying two, or even three, spaces as a result of their wide-legged stance.
According to feminists, manspreading may appear to be an innocuous practice, but is actually a problematic assertion of patriarchal power.
Progressive journalist Liz Plank, writing for Mic in 2015, outlined the various ways the purportedly sexist phenomenon harmed society.
“By virtue of being occupied by both men and women, space is inherently gendered. The way women and men interact is guided by norms and scripts that steer our behavior in a way that is so powerful that it is often unconscious. Research shows that when in public, women tend to occupy less space, holding legs closer together and keeping their arms closer to their bodies. Men on the other hand are more likely to have their legs spread at a 10- to 15-degree angle and keep their arms 5 to 10 degrees away from their bodies,” she wrote.
“But this isn’t just about space. Researchers have found that taking expansive body postures doesn’t just make people feel more entitled, it also makes them more likely to steal, cheat and fail to respect traffic laws. So manspreading can breed bigger problems than just crowded subway cars: It reinforces attitudes and behaviors that are harmful for society as a whole,” Plank added.
To combat manspreading, feminist designer Laila Laurel has unveiled a chair that forces its male occupants to sit with their legs closed.
Laurel, 23, a University of Brighton graduate, created the “solution for man-spreading” as part of her final-year project after reading numerous accounts about the phenomenon from women around the world on the Everyday Sexism Project website, which documents examples of sexism experienced on a day-to-day basis.
“It seems like a universal issue,” Ms Laurel said. “I don’t think it’s an act of conscious sexism [but] even sitting can be a political problem. Women are taught to take up less space in public.”
Her design recently won the Belmond Award, which is a national prize granted at the New Designers event in London, which showcases university students’ work.
According to the New Designers website, the competition’s judges found Laurel’s work to be a “bold, purpose-driven design that explores the important role of design in informing space, a person’s behavior and societal issues of today.”
The designer also created a second seat, intended for women, which features a small piece of wood in the middle to encourage sitters to take up more space by positioning themselves with their legs apart.