The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2011

All Issues
NOV 2011 Issue

Gentlemen Close Your Legs

How many seats are you entitled to? Learn how to sit on the subway, or did you not notice it is driving us crazy!?!  And no, not in a good way. 

Let me start off by saying, not ALL MEN are doing this. And to those men, I say, well, I’m not going to salute you or thank you for just doing what most women are already doing (and what anyone with a modicum of respect for other humans should do). But I will say kindly, please keep it up. 

To the rest of you, read on. 

Aside from being disrespectful, rude and downright annoying, most of you are also being:

All of our lives, most of us women are taught to take up as little space as possible. Aside from metaphysical space, we are taught to take up less physical space by thinning down, keeping quiet, and yes, crossing our legs. It’s just not ladylike to spread your legs wide in a skirt or dress, or otherwise, for that matter. (People would look at us like we were crazy if we sat like that). I see women on the subway every day, regardless of their size (and yes, sometimes women are bigger than men), hunching their shoulders, folding their arms and crossing their legs to make room for the men sitting next to them or, god forbid, the two men spread out on either side of them. 

Men do not make room for women. You seem to think you are entitled to our space. Aside from displaying daily that you feel entitled to our attention, consolation, to our bodies, to our privacy, you actually seem to think you are also entitled to a portion of our seats. We don’t really need it. We’ll make room for you. Right?

Unfortunately, you are. We do make room for you. Even when I try pushing you over, you just stay there, your leg pressing against mine, your foot crossing in front of my foot, your arm on top of my arm. You don’t mind touching a woman, and never stop to think about whether or not we mind touching you. But you do make room for other men.

You make lots and lots of room for other men, because you are...

God forbid you would touch another man. No No. You might just keel over and die if you sat for ten minutes with the outside of your thigh or arm even brushing against another man’s! When there are three seats and two of them are filled by men, you actually scoot over and put me (the woman) in the middle. Thanks. If you think I want to be your heterosexual insulation, you’ve got another thing coming.

Even those of you with otherwise left-leaning political views are not exempted from this outrageous behavior. A female friend of mine experienced this after hailing a cab with two male acquaintances from the World Social Forum. She got in first and sat by the window.  Her two “comrades” actually got in on either side of her and requested she move to the middle. They then spread their legs so widely, they were each taking up a portion of her seat. This woman called them on it. Rather than adjust their positions, one of them took this as a cue to flirt with her by informing her that he needed the extra space for his legs because he has something between them.

Ohhh, gentlemen, I’m afraid you’re being….

Wildly Insecure:
(We have something between our legs too. Vaginas, in case you didn’t know. And often women are wearing thick, bloody pads, but they can still somehow manage to close their legs with little to no thought or effort.) 

Queen, please! If you think spreading your legs wide is a sign of endowment, or masculinity, go kid someone else. Just two generations ago it was normal for even the most working-class, hard nosed, grizzled gentleman to sit with his legs folded. It was a sign of good breeding and often a sign of nothing at all. It was normal behavior for any human being. Spreading your legs wide enough to take up two seats is either a gross overcompensation for… something, or maybe you’re being just plain….

Do you really think you’re the only one who deserves to sit down comfortably? Didn’t you ever learn to share? Didn’t you ever watch Sesame Street? Or maybe you don’t even notice this mess at all, because you’re so damned….

Yes, there are other humans around you. You may not notice, but most of them make space for you, and would like the same in return. It’s the golden rule boys, remember it? Or maybe you don’t want to live in a cooperative society. Maybe you don’t want to do to others as you would have them do to you. I guess you just want to divide and conquer because you are very, very….

I suppose if you got there first, you own it, all of it. And I guess even if you didn’t get there first, if you just force your way in and aggressively spread yourself out, it’s all yours anyway. There’s nothing anyone can do about it. You win. You’re the king of the subway seats.

Taking up extra space and being in control of the territory, feeling obliged to women’s space, avoiding contact with other men, and taking more than is your share may make you feel like a BIG MAN.

But it will never make you a Respectable and Respected Gentleman, sir. 


Chavisa Woods


The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2011

All Issues