Different Dimensions.

16 Dec

I take up physical space. At least 30 per cent more than many other people.  I fill out subway seats and bus seats and space on park benches; and you might have to scooch over a little when I ask you whether that seat is taken.

I seriously doubt that your balls do the same.

Yet, this dude in baggy sweat pants, taking a seat opposite to mine on the packed, rush-hour subway yesterday, had severe trouble in sitting somewhat upright in an already crammed 4 people compartment. And he thought it was appropriate that his crotch kept touching my knees.

So… Should the fact that he chose to wear loose crotched sweats make me assume that he has really big balls or a medical condition that requires him to sit spreadeagled in every possible sense of the word next to and in front of two women? If he had had a medical condition that required knee-crotching, would he have shifted with me as I awkwardly repositioned myself repeatedly instead of crouching a little lower to make up for the newly created space between us (due to my knee shifting)? Is it rude to assume that he might have had second thoughts about crotching other people’s limbs if I had been a fellow baller?

This is a subject that has been talked about very often, and I do not have anything new to add to the debate other than my recent annoyance with it, basically… People have talked and written wonderfully and adequately about the interlocking mechanisms of gendered ideas of public space, the perpetuation of power, dominance and the appropriation of the public sphere, sexism and images of women that portray them as ideally invisible when it comes to representing a whole person and highly visible when it comes to representing the sexaaaay.

Besides the multitude of more or less subtle indicators and messages, the physical appropriation of “ordinary” space in ordinary situations, such as the subway example, seems to be both crass and prevalent – the vast majority of *women I can think of has had experiences like the one mentioned above with cis-men in public spaces, especially public transportation.

I am particularly fond of the “sandwich”-move that has happened to me many times before on the subway: some bench seats that are designed for three medium-sized people are usually occupied by two at each end, but if things get full and hectic, someone has to take the awkward seat inbetween… Through some form of feminine, moon goddess magic, it is usually possible for women I have collectively travelled with to make this manageable. Yet, there is a “random dude with big balls” factor: the vast majority of men who employ the sandwich-move apparently feel the need to take up 66 per cent of the bench, spread their legs as widely as possible, and rub their thighs and arms against the bread slices (or: women next to them); reproachful glances are usually interpreted as encouragement in this scenario.

I have to break the news here, though: this is not a compliment. I do not want your crotch to touch my knees. I do not want you to rub up against me. I want 50 per cent of the goddamned shared arm rest of my airplane seat (dude, it’s economy class – I need all the space I can get!). I am not happy if you choose the bus seat next to me, the only *woman, although there are twenty seats closer to you but they’re next to another man and you would not dare invading his space.

You are not entitled to my space or to taking up more room than I do. Your balls aren’t anywhere near as big as you pretend they are (I’m sorry, but we both know that, and so does everyone else). This is not the way you always/’naturally’ sit, since you’re pretty damned good and quick at straightening yourself up and closing your legs when another dude sits down anywhere near you. There is no such thing as a signature subway swagger. Yes, dear, I know you have a penis and I do not; I am a fat woman in public space and I take up my fair share of it – could you let go of your imaginary pearls and get over it already?

8 Responses to “Different Dimensions.”

  1. Philip December 16, 2011 at 3:04 pm #

    I know that making a scene is not for everyone, every time, but reading this I really wished that you had suddenly slipped down in your seat when it might be justifiable by a sudden subway movement and actively sought a knee-crotching of the active kind, as we all know which of the two body parts is more sensitive.

  2. zweisatz December 16, 2011 at 3:36 pm #

    It is deliberate when he “comes after your knee” when you move away. My approach for those situations: if it feels really weird it probably is weird (= you have a person in front of you who uses the small space in trams etc. as an excuse to approach women* in an inappropriate manner) and in any case, if you feel bad about the situation it is totally justified to either tell the person to move or immediately remove yourself in order to feel comfortable again.

    Concerning the “women are not allowed to take up space”: I really did not like it when I realized that women* are always the ones who move and make themselves smaller and change their track so that people don’t run into each other. And I avoid it. I officially bump into men* if I am not pleased because they do not step aside as much as I do, I try not to smile politely when people hold doors open for me in the “am I cool? I am cool”-manner (yes, you can see the difference), I started to spread stuff on seats next to me and try to relax my body in the tram instead of sitting squeezed into a corner (but I am considerate about the whole thing: I do not take space/seats other people need).
    It’s very satisfying to bump into people :)

  3. accalmie December 17, 2011 at 11:20 am #

    @Philip: Oh, believe me – it was very tempting and I briefly contemplated it… ;)
    @Zweisatz: Yes, of course it’s deliberate! I thought about getting up, but then the “fuck you”-mechanism set in and I thought: why? here are three women who have already been sitting down, and you’re coming in and make all of them uncomfortable – no way in hell I’m getting up… I’ve deliberately bumped into certain very busy and important white men before, too (although I hate doing that, it was a thing of principle but I haven’t found a proper way). Besides the fact that my radius is bigger than others’ :), I have, unsurprisingly, noticed the same thing about women* usually having to get out of the way.

  4. Marni Jane December 19, 2011 at 1:32 am #

    I don’t recall where I read it but there was some blog, or comment, or comic once upon a time that took the approach that one should simply go up to these guys, position yourself properly and start yelling PUSH! PUSH!

    It’s a method I’ve yet to employ but I also am not around public transportation too often.

  5. ninjanurse December 19, 2011 at 2:16 am #

    I believe that you used your best judgement. sometimes confrontation is not possible or safe. Perhaps next time you could cough on them, try to sound phlegmy.

  6. accalmie December 19, 2011 at 2:27 pm #

    @Marni Jane: That could be interesting, although I’m not quite sure if I’d be comfortable doing that… ;)
    @ninjanurse: Phlegmy cough, possibly combined with loudly bemoaning the newest flare-up of a rare and highly contagious illness – fantastic, thank you :)!

  7. Marieke December 20, 2011 at 12:17 am #

    Was mir öfters mal hilft ist, ganz fest auf das betreffende Knie zu starren, das mir zu nahe kommt. Also mit so einem moralisch-indignierten-Laserblick, empört und sauer das Knie fixieren, offensichtlich genervt sein. Die meisten Leute bewegen den Körperteil von ihnen, den man fixiert, früher oder später (geht auch mit Füßen oder sonstwas, auch wenn die Menschen gerade ein Buch lesen, während man ihren Schuh anstarrt, und sie es also garnicht wirklich mitkriegen können. Irgendwann bewegen sie ihn.).

    Manchmal nervt es mich auch einfach, zu sehen, wie selbstverständlich Männer 2-3 Sitze für sich einnehmen, auch wenn alle Sitze in der U-Bahn frei sind. Dann fixiere ich skeptisch und verächtlich den Schritt von dem breitbeinig sitzenden Typen mir gegenüber (irgendwann macht er die Beine weiter zu, verunsichert). Wenn einer seinen Arm über die Lehne eines anderen Stuhls gelegt hat, gucke ich eben den Arm an und atme dabei genervt aus oder sowas. Funktioniert echt oft.

    Ich denke, jemand einfach ansprechen und sowas zu sagen wie “musst du hier als einziger so viel Platz einnehmen” oder “Ich würd meine Beine auch gern noch irgendwo hintun” würde auch super funktionieren, nur traue ich es mich bisher noch nicht. Fände ich aber supercool!

    Was ich noch erstaunlich finde: ich hab in letzter Zeit bei sich berührenden (und nachfolgenden) Beinen oder Knien einfach mal gegengedrückt. Ich fand das eklig, weil ich den Mann eigentlich nicht berühren wollte, dachte aber auch, ich sehs einfach nicht ein, ihm den Platz zu überlassen. Leider hat das nie, wie ich es gewünscht hätte, dazu geführt, dass er das Bein wegnimmt, sodass sie sich nicht mehr berühren. Aber feindselige Reaktionen oder Anmache kamen dann auch nicht.

    Ich bin mal gespannt, wann ich mich das erste Mal traue, zu sagen: “Musst du hier eigentlich so viel Platz einnehmen?!”

  8. kiturak December 20, 2011 at 10:46 pm #

    I would like to point out this really relevant article on the subject! It has signs! I think I found it via Feministe, a couple of months ago, but I’m not sure.
    Some time ago I asked the group of guys I spent the evening with what it was like for them, because I was SO pissed off by the whole thing, having spent *another* bus ride ramming my knee into some guy’s leg (they don’t even *care* when you do it, they just move a couple of centimetres, if they really can’t avoid it) – and sure enough, they said that usually, if they approach, the other guy would move. Only sometimes, they wouldn’t, and then even they’d be forced into the Knee Wars, but, yeah. I’ve been pushing arms to the front half of armrests in planes for years now, and I’m so. sick of it.

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