Geography, Space, and Everyday Public Life

I regularly think and observe geographically.

I have noticed over several years at restaurants and elsewhere that (people who present themselves as) men generally take up far more room than is strictly necessary and far more room than women or male children. And apparently this phenomenon is called “manspreading” and has mainly received attention where public transportation is concerned.  

Men are more guilty than women of having their arms, legs, and any personal belongings positioned such that they occupy more space and as a result, seem bigger. For instance, when I’m at Panera Bread to get my drink, I’ll stand such that people can walk around me and can reach on either side of me. I don’t need immediate physical access to the entire soda machine, and there is no reason two or three people can’t use it at once. But, it’s nothing for another man to stand such that no one can do anything in the vicinity until he is finished.

Such use, such monopolization (?) of space, I’m sure is largely unconscious, but there it is and is nonetheless a manifestation of Male Privilege. 

Similarly, when I am eating at restaurants, more and more often there is a little plate, bowl, or something coming all the time, in addition to sometimes a new glass for each refill. In a typical dining experience I might–through no autonomous choice–end up being given 5-7 plates of some kind or another, 2-6 glasses, plus silverware, and napkins. This all adds up, especially when viewed as an extension of the space I take up, and it tends to make me feel very uncomfortable. For this reason, I do my best to consolidate extra plates and whatnot as possible. 

This also makes me think about the geography of restaurants (more on the rhetoric of restaurants specifically in a forthcoming post). Too many restaurants have tables and booths that are far too small when you consider that people are taller and bigger than ever before. Given my 6’6″ height and leg brace, I need all the leg room possible, which generally means no one can sit in front of me, or I have to have my legs positioned in somewhat odd ways. And these tables are especially too small when we consider the space people take up vis-á-vis personal belongings such as cell phones and wallets and items brought out by the restaurant on large and numerous platters.  

And to be clear, I’m not thinking about concepts of “personal space” that inevitably differ greatly from culture-to-culture. I’m talking about the “raw” space a person takes up, both by reading their body and by reading their clothes, exact positioning of arms and legs, and use of objects as an extension of the self–all a combination of the voluntary, involuntary, conscious, and unconscious. Conversations about the space (or lack of space) between people would be completely different. 

Andrew Joseph Pegoda