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The Politics of Space

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Whether we’ve been squished into the glass of a LUAS window, or spent the morning avoiding a stranger’s armpit on Irish Rail, it can be more than unpleasant to have to brave other people taking up excessive space. This is especially true when it comes to public transport.

A recent article by Bustle, in which a female reporter spent a weekend ‘sitting like a man’ with her legs spread on the Subway, suggests that men taking up unnecessary space on public transport is something which we seem to just accept.

spaceImage via Bustle

What is not all that surprising about the article is that during the entire weekend nobody said anything to her regarding the fact that she was taking up enough space for two average commuters. After all, she suggests that this stance insinuates a disregard for the idea of being considerate to fellow passengers. This in turn, suggests that saying something to him/her may not be the best decision you’ve ever made. We are not entirely sure we would stride up to the woman above this and demand that she make room for us.

Bustle is by no means the first to earmark this phenomenon. An entire Tumblr account entitled, ‘MenTakingUp2MuchSpaceOnTheTrain’ has gained massive traction this year. Is it that sitting with your legs spread is genuinely more comfortable for men, or is it something deeper rooted? And why is it that it is considered so distasteful for a woman to sit with her legs spread the way a man would?

While we’re not entirely sure that excessive space consumption on public transport is a male-specific behavior (after all, women with excessively large travel cases/buggies/shopping bags spread out exactly where you could be sitting create the exact same problem), it does give us considerable food for thought.

Very definite social rules regarding gender and space are established from a very early age. Just take a look at these toy ads to see how little boys are encouraged to ‘make a mess’ and destroy things from as soon as they are able to understand ads. Little girls on the other hand, are encouraged by the toy industry to gain caring and beauty skills instead.

These learned rules do not limit themselves to space in a physical sense either. Bitch Magazine points to countless studies that suggest that men dominate conversation from as early as their school days right up to the time when they enter the board room, where a study suggested they can occupy on average 75% of all meetings.

In the online sphere, recent statistics suggest that men are re-tweeted almost twice as much as women on Twitter. Not even the medical industry is immune to this, as research suggests that female doctors are more likely to be interrupted by patients than male doctors.

As so many of the incredible women in our Loving Your Work series show, we must challenge these suffocating instances everywhere we find ourselves, whether it be the board-room, the university, or indeed on the 46A.

Hannah Popham @HannahPopham

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