Etiquette on public transport: Spread ’em


THERE is a reason why men tend to spread their legs as wide as they can when they ride on public transport. It’s just that it’s a bad one. The signal such men are are trying to send to others in the carriage is clear: anatomically speaking, bringing my knees any closer together is impossible. The irony is, of course, that for many the conclusion drawn is the exact opposite to the image the legs-akimbo man wishes to portray.

Gulliver was amused to read the news from New York—admittedly several weeks behind the times—that the city’s transit authority is cracking down on such “manspreading”. It is plastering posters on subway trains proclaiming “Dude… Stop the spread, please. It’s a space issue” in an attempt to shame offenders into being more considerate. Alas, it is probably a forlorn hope. Men, for some reason, cherish their right to squeeze their knees into their neighbours’ space. One man questioned by the New York Times summed up the attitude nicely: “I’m not going to cross my legs like ladies do, I’m going to sit how I want to sit.”

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There is a serious point here: men still feel entitled to invade women’s space in public, as the now-famous video of Shoshana B. Roberts being sexually harassed on the streets of New York highlights. But there is also a more positive aspect. As the Times points out, one of the reasons that attention can now be afforded to this relatively minor example of anti-social behaviour is because more serious crimes on the subway have fallen so dramatically in recent decades. And for that, we should put our knees together and be thankful.